THE #ERITREA’n REVOLUTION ON THE ROAD OF LUMUMBA, CABRAL, SANKARA, CHE GUEVARA, GRAMSCI: Interview with Elias Amare for the documentary film “ERITREA, A STAR IN THE NIGHT OF AFRICA”
[Note: This is a rough translation from the Italian original, which can be accessed at:
“In Africa, all that is progressive, all that tends to progress is said to be communist, destructive. They demand of us to always bow down and accept anything offered by the colonialists. We are just honest men and our only goal is: to free our country, build a free and independent nation.”– Patrice Lumumba
“Our revolution is and must be the collective action of revolutionaries to transform reality and concretely improve the situation of the masses of our country. Our revolution will be successful only if, looking back, around and in front of us, we could say that people are, thanks to the revolution, a bit happier because they are drinking clean water, have sufficient food, access to healthcare and education, because they live in decent housing, because they are dressed better, because they have the right to leisure, because they can enjoy more freedom, more democracy, more dignity.” – Thomas Sankara
I had the good fortune to meet Elias Amare before in Italy, on the occasion of the congress of the youth movement of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, the organization set up by the EPLF (Eritrean People’s Liberation Front), star of the anti-colonial war and today the government in Eritrea. And then in his country, he has been with us from one end to the other, enriching our experience of study and visual insights with an extraordinary knowledge of the present, the past and the ongoing revolution. In turn our documentary film on Eritrea could not have been possible without the information, details, curiosities, suggestions, meetings, contacts of this great revolutionary African intellectual, knowledgeable of the world and also of crucial geopolitical and geoeconomic issues (he lived long in the US), he has shared with us as they touched the various social, cultural, environmental, historical realities of this beautiful country, true vanguard of the continent of Africa. Our documentary film, “ERITREA, A STAR IN THE NIGHT OF AFRICA” could not have succeeded without the fundamental contribution of Elias. Elias is a writer, journalist and senior fellow of the Peacebuilding Center for the Horn of Africa.
As it is known, the area has experienced, after the Italian colonization, an unbroken series of conflicts with its bigger neighboring state, Ethiopia, neocolonialist trustee of the West today, and the countries bordering on the strategic Red Sea coast. Somalia, after the disastrous US intervention and NATO in the 90s, is currently occupied by a brutal US-backed African Union force. Abandoned to chaos, under a puppet regime, it lives in a struggle of unresolved liberation. Eritrea, overlooking the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden and the mouth of the Red Sea, is the only African country to reject US military presence, and anyone else, and to move along a line of independence and social justice. This, and its location on one of the most crucial geo-strategic nodes of the world, coveted by the Great Powers, has cost it fierce sanctions and constant pressure, aggression, and demonization campaigns.
Our conversation with Elias took place in the shade of a baobab tree, the tree symbol of this part of the world, “tree of a democratic forum” where the elderly, young, and, today, even the women of the village come together to discuss and deliberate, according to a substantial democratic formula.
Fulvio Grimaldi: What does the Peacebuilding Centre for the Horn of Africa do?
Elias Amare: It conducts research on the origins of the conflicts in the Horn. As we know, the Horn of Africa is one of the most turbulent regions of Africa. Our Center organizes conferences, seminars, working groups to identify paths and means to promote peace and resolve conflicts.
F.G.: It does not seem, though, that in the Horn of Africa there are prospects for peace, because this region is precipitated in a succession of tensions and conflicts?
E.A.: The Horn of Africa has always been a crossroads between Africa and the Middle East, but also between South and North. The European colonial powers and then the superpowers have always tried to dominate the region and promote neo-colonial states that they are to serve them, arouse ethnic conflicts, marginalizing peoples, plunder territories. In 50-60 years of the post-colonial period this part of Africa has been the scene of uninterrupted conflicts, of vicious cycles of wars, resulting in a frightening impoverishment of populations. It is one of the most strategically important areas of the world connecting the Red Sea, the Bab el Mandeb, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian-Persian Gulf. The interest of the great powers, especially those imperialist ones, focuses on this area in light of a global domination strategy that assumed control over all the crucial roads. Not to mention that all of Africa is currently under attack. The large predators can not resist controlling Africa that owns about 50% of the world’s natural resources, and much of its biodiversity.
F.G.: How can the peoples of the region respond to such a fate, at such a high concentration of interests with its military and economic potential?
E.A.: The peoples of the region have struggled against this domination with their national liberation movements. The Eritrean liberation struggle was one of the most successful of these. Elsewhere, in the Ogaden, in the region of Oromo in Ethiopia, there have been and still remain strong movements of national struggle. All around our region there was a long period in which people have organized and led the national liberation struggle against colonial rule. The success was not always as hoped, but resistance, in one form or another, has been ongoing for the past 60 years. It’s just that the media is not allowed to report it.
F.G.: How would you rate the situation in Somalia, by the overthrow of the pro-American despot, Siad Barre, in 1991, dragging between aggression and internal conflicts. TheUS accuses Eritrea of supporting the guerrillas of the Islamic forces against the government installed by the West.
E.A.: Unfortunately, Somalia is a classic example of interventionism. After the fall of Siad Barre, Somalia has never been allowed to reconstitute itself as a unified sovereign state. They have promoted internal conflicts and foreign interventions, the most recent of which was yet another invasion by Ethiopia, the client state of the USA. It is a textbook case. During the last quarter of a century, Somalia was not allowed, by the imperialist powers and their surrogates in the region to live in peace. The charge against Eritrea is totally baseless. It is to cover up for the colonial interventions as well other powers’ destabilization.
F.G.: How does Eritrea cope with this dramatic situation in the Horn?
E.A.: The biggest threat for Eritrea is the Ethiopian vassal state, which is pressed by the imperialist powers to conduct constant wars, creeping or open, against Eritrea. They use various pretexts. The war of 1998-2000 is presented as a conflict over borders, but the root causes go beyond this. Borders can not be a pretext for major wars. Eritrea is constantly presented as a “spoiler” and a factor of destabilization, which reverses the roles of victim and aggressor. You have to wonder why it is victimized by the great powers. The answer is because it insists on its independent political path, also of economic self-determination that focuses all its resources on the development of an autonomous policy and does not accept the neoliberal orthodoxy and the diktats from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and other large institutions that work for the West’s hegemony.
F.G.: How do you see the immediate future and in the medium term, taking into account that Ethiopia continues to occupy Eritrean territories and to threaten new attacks, the last conducted in June this year ?
E.A.: For over 25 years, Eritrea has managed to maintain its independence and sovereignty against overwhelming hostile forces. This is already a success and a source of optimism. In spite of all these hostilities, Eritrea has refused to be diverted, to be held hostage, and instead has invested heavily in significant economic and social progress, continued to invest in important social programs such as education, health, basic services, infrastructure. But the overwhelming hostility, sanctions, demonization that are imposed on us, involve constraints and challenges that we must constantly strive to overcome. It is clear that they are designed to block our progress.
F.G.: After the fall of Gaddafi’s Libya you are, with very few African countries —Zimbabwe, Algeria, Egypt, perhaps, one country — one of the nations that insist on its own way, which have not had to subdue and have not yet been destroyed by the great powers, as happened to Libya, Somalia, the Sahel countries. What does this suggest?
E.A.: The great imperialist powers want to impose isolation on us. But they have not succeeded, despite great political maneuvers and propaganda, calumnies and lies. Eritrea broke free from this isolation and now has significant cooperation relations with various countries who appreciated the choices of the country and have realized the mutual benefits that can be drawn. In Africa, it is true, there are few truly independent countries. But the people in Africa are beginning to awaken. After the last three decades of dead ends, of rampant neo-colonialism, after what has been done to Libya and Somalia, people are asking questions and, among other things, looking to the Eritrean model for answers.
F.G.: A model, an inspiration, as it was at one time, say, Vietnam?
E.A.: Why shouldn’t we be able to contribute, indicating an alternative route? Eritrea is a relatively small country, with limited resources, but is doing well in terms of economic self-reliance and progress. Our watchword is resilience, which means many things: endurance, self-reliance, self-confidence, held steadfastly in difficulties. They are qualities that, if they spread, I believe can give us hope for the future of the African continent. I am convinced that this type of solidarity network between peoples and movements in the end can be decisive. After all, what matters when it comes to democracy is popular participation. Not democracy that is imposed by the West, but a real democracy, genuine, participatory. This must expand and can be achieved.
F.G.: Do you think that to achieve these results a multi-party system, as practiced and promoted in the West, is a prerequisite?
E.A.: No, no, not at all. I do not think that the multiparty system that the West wants to impose on African countries is the solution. Indeed, it would be a dead end. It is up to Africans to decide what kind of democratic path functions best for them, a model based on their own needs, constraints, shortcomings, and history. However, the prerequisite for genuine democracy remains the process of popular participation. And on this point the outcomes of many national liberation movements were not satisfactory. Many of these movements, once they are in power, have taken possession of the state power and they forgot the citizens.
F.G.: What makes you particularly proud of being Eritrean?
E.A.: Proud? That despite all the difficulties we have not succumbed. We did not become yet another post-colonial client state. We managed to maintain our independence and sovereignty. This makes me extremely proud. Then, as the national liberation is primarily an act of culture, as Amilcar Cabral emphasized long ago, we now have a good base from which to liberate ourselves, liberate our minds to regain our heritage of civilization and history that had been suppressed: the works of art, oral and written literature, traditions. The fact that we were able to emancipate our people from the oppression of colonial times is a good basis on which to build a new Eritrea, a free Eritrea that has confidence in itself, at peace with itself and with the world.
F.G.: Could you mention some person who has left an important mark in your life?
E.A.: To name them all would make a beautiful mosaic: Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Hugo Chavez, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Evo Morales …. A lot of people, as you see, with which the World has been blessed . And in your country another great personality that I admire is Antonio Gramsci. I hope to be able, one day, to translate extracts of his Prison Notebooks and see how his concept of culture and hegemony can be expressed in our language and adapted to our lives.