Monday, November 06, 2006

Treating Eritrea right

In my continuing efforts to prove college doesn't preclude pleasure reading, I’m reading Michela Wrong’s book about the Eritrean struggle for independence, I Didn’t Do It for You. I liked her last book, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, about Congolese dictator (and friend of Morocco) Joseph Mobutu, so I figured I’d like more of her writing about Africa.

This has to do with your own favorite African independence struggle because Eritrea, like East Timor, is something of a blueprint we can follow to work for Western Saharan independence.

Like the Western Sahara, Eritrea was annexed, with international collusion, by a stronger neighbor. Also like the Western Sahara, the Eritreans fought a decades-long struggle for their independence. Their paths diverged in 1991, when Eritrea won its freedom from Ethiopia.

But while Eritreans are trading Kalashnikovs for constitutions, they haven’t forgotten their friends outside Africa. Next time you get down about the Western Sahara because you’re being hassled about pre-colonial borders or general public apathy, think about how foreign supporters of Eritrea’s revolution were treated after it became independent. In this passage, Wrong calls supportive foreigners “True Believers.”

“The rebels-turned-ministers had grasped a vital truth. True Believers are worth a hundred spokesmen to guerrilla organizations and the cash-strapped governments they go on to form. Sharing the religious convert’s belligerent frustration with those who have not seen the light, quicker than the locals to detect a slight, they are tireless in defending the cause…They had remained loyal during the hard times and now reveled in the sight of their old friends, once regarded as tiresome nuisances by Western governments, holding executive power on both sides of the border.”

That’s a heartening passage, even if Eritrea’s current government is too corrupt and dictatorial to retain many “True Believers”. I’ll mention if anything else in the book has relevance to the Western Sahara.

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