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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Brits Captive in Ethiopia may be victim of a thousand year problem.

History anhors determinism but cannot tolerate chance-

-Bernard de Voto


BULLETIN: The burned-out cars of five British Embassy employees have been found in the Afar region of notheatsern Ethiopia. The 5 Europeans as well as 13 Ethiopians connected with the British Embassy in Addis Ababba had been abducted on March 1 in Hamed Ela in the Afar region in the northeast of the country. Five of the Ethiopian abductees have been found in the Eritrean border region.

Peoples of the Red Sea Region of northern Ethiopia have had a separate history going back over a thousand years. That history has been breaking up northern Ethiopia.

IN THE NEWS TODAY. Britain and Ethiopia continue efforts to find the abducted foreigners and obtain their release. On March 3, Eritrea denied reports by the president of the Afar region that Eritrea was involved in the abductions. While historical tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea have begun to sharpen over responsibility for the kidnappings, an elite British SAS unit is on standby in Kenya in case rescue is required.

LOOKING BACK Ever since 550 BC, when Sabean Arab traders crossed the red sea and found the kingdom of Axum in what is now Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, the region’s northern, Red Sea coast has always had a different history and a tendency toward secession from the south. As long as Christian Axum remained close to the Red Sea, it maintained an association with the Arabian Peneninsula and particular Yemen, which it invaded in 525 AD in order to rescue Yemeni Christians from persecution. Around 1000 AD, attacks from Falasha Jews and Muslim sultans from the Red Sea coastal region caused the kingdom of Axum to withdraw into the mountainous interior. Since then, there would be a recurring break between a northern, Muslim and Arab-influenced coast and a Christian, Ethiopian African central highland region. It seems that the Afar people of the coastal Danakil Desert in the northeast shared a sense of separateness from Ethiopia. By the 19th century, the Afars, formerly pirates, professed Islam and lived by herding inland and by fishing on the Red Sea. They were ruled by a hereditary sultan. The 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica described them as "desperate fighters" who believe that "guns are only to frighten cowards"

In 1865, Egypt occupied the Eritrean coast, to the north west. In 1875 the Afars repelled a further invasion by the Egyptians. After the completion of the Suez Canal, Italy, France and Britain sougt ports to capture the new red Sea trade. In 1870, the Afar Sultan Berehan of Raheita, in eastern Afar territory (adjacent to Djibouti), sold the port of Asab to the Italians. In 1883 the sultan agreed to treaties placing the Afars under Italian prorection. In 1890, the Italian possessions on the Red Sea coast, including the region of the Afar, were incorporated into a single colony of Eritrea. 1900 saw a French-Italian convention determine a border between French Somaliland (Djibouti) and Eritrea, further dividing the Afar. With Eritrea and Ehtiopia, the Afar remained part of Italian East Africa until liberation by the Brtish during Wolrd War Two. "A convention of the 16th of May, 1908, settled the Ayssinian-Eritrean frontier in the Afar country, the boundary being fixed 60 kilometres from the coast" (Ecyc. Brit, 11th ed.). In 1952, all the fractious, northern terriotires of Eritrea, Tigre and Afar were, at the request of the UN, federated with Ethiopia.

Eritrea’s protracted struggle for independence, beginning in 1963, resulted in Eritrea becoming a state in 1993. The Afars objected to a new Eritrea because the boundary split their homeland. In the same year, the Afar Democratic Revolurinary Unity Front (ADRF) was founded by uniting smaller groups with the intention of creating an independent Afar. Currently, Afar remained divided between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. In neighbouring Djibouti, between 1991 and 1994, the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy waged its own liberation struggle

In 1998 the Afars allied themselves with Ethiopia in Ethiopia’s border war with Eritrea until Ethiopia and Eritea signed a ceasefire. Currently, the Afars and ARDUF continue to wage a low-lefel insurgency against Ethiopia and Eritrea, protesting against any borders that divide their homeland.. The ceasefire between Ethiopia and Eritrea continues to hold but the Afars’ ADRF now controls southeastern Eritrea and that country’s access to the Red Sea.

FROM PAST INTO PRESENT: Whether or not the Afars captured the British Embassy employees, they are only one in a series of peoples of the Red Sea coastal region of northern Ethiopia- including Eritrea and Tigre who have felt deeply separate from Ethiopia. That seems tro be due to Islamic faith, their proximity to the Arab world and perhaps the need the need to control their own access to Red Sea due to the barrenness of the inland region. Since the Afars continue to have separatist grievances with Ethiopia and Eritrea, the missing foreginers, until they are found, will continue to be a political weapon used by all three sides. It's all part of a conflict between coast and interior that is almost as old a Ethiopia itself.

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