Speech at the Stavanger college of theologu (Misjonshøgskolen) 6th march 1985
By  Emnetu Tesfay


Dear students and staff members of the college

I would first like to express my gratitude to the Student Union leaders for inviting me to deliver a speech on the situation in Eritrea. The Eritrean situation is rather unique in many ways that many seem uncertain if the Eritrean question is one of cessation or a struggle to be independent from the Ethiopian occupying forces.

After the end of second world war all the African countries which were colonized by Italy got their independence, except Eritrea. Those who got their independence are Libya and Somalia. To understand the uniqueness of the fate of Eritrea it is important to know the conspiracy organized by the American government for Eritrea to be annexed by its neighbor Ethiopia which happens to be a good ally of the Big power. Hailesellasie, the king of Ethiopia, had established very good relations with the West in general and America in particular.

In addition to the good relationship Ethiopia had with the Western nations it also gained sympathy by presenting itself as an island of Christianity in the region. The Americans opened a military base in Asmara and were the suppliers of military hardware to the Ethiopian army. All these are components of the conspiracy for Ethiopia to annex Eritrean and deny the Eritrean people their right to self determination just like the other African countries who gained independence from their former colonialists.

Historical background

Eritrea is an African country situated in the horn of Africa with a population of about 3.500.000 and with an area of 125.000 sq. kilometers. Because of its strategic location by the sea coast, successive colonizers have tried to control it partially or totally since ancient times.  In the 15th century the Ottoman Turks sailed to the Eritrean shores of the Red Sea and built harbors for supply stations. They later occupied most of the eastern lowlands.  Later, the Egyptians pushed the Turks away from the coastal areas until they themselves were expelled by the Italians in 1882. The Italians completed their control in 1889 and called the area Eritrea. Italy exploited Eritreas natural wealth and labor power and begun to turn Eritrea into a base for further expansion in the region. They ruled over Eritrea until its defeat by the allied forces in 1941, at which time Eritrea was put under British “trusteeship” until the big powers decided on the question of self-determination of the former Italian colonies.

The United Nations, while granting independence to the other ex-Italian colonies namely Somalia and Libya, decided to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia against the expressed wish for independence of its people. After 10 years Ethiopia unilaterally and in contravention to U.N. resolution 390 (v) of 1950 abrogated the federation and in 1962 made Eritrea one of its provinces.

The start of armed Struggle

After a long peaceful struggle for independence and justice, Eritreans chose to start an armed struggle against Ethiopia. The armed struggle began in September 1961 when a contingent of eleven fighting men, under the leadership of Idris Hamid Awate formed the first armed forces of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF).  In 1977 the Eritreans, after a long and painful struggle, managed to liberate more than 90 percent of the Eritrean territory. In 1978, with massive delivery of military hardware from Russia and other Warsaw Pact countries to the Ethiopian side the Eritreans were forced to withdraw from all cities and towns, except from the town of Nakfa. Today the Eritrean Liberation fronts are faced against formidable forces. The biggest and best equiped army in Africa backed by the two Super Powers and their allies at different times. Eritrea does not have a single meaningful backing from a foreign power. In terms of numbers and sheer force, it was a very unequal fight. Eritrea is a small country with 3.5 million people while Ethiopia's population is around 60 million. But the Eritrean people are armed with the determination to be free and readiness to make the necessary sacrifice.

The present situation

In the last few years a genocidal war has been raging involving large-scale use of napalm and anti-personnel cluster bombs among other deadly weapons.  The present preparations of the Ethiopian government which includes the use of lethal nerve gas comes in the wake of the utter failure of six large scale offensives involving scores of thousands of soldiers accompanied by Russian military advisors. The failure of these offensives is, on the one hand, proof of the determined and developed nature of the Eritrean people’s struggle. On the other hand it shows the determination of the Ethiopian government and its Soviet backers to use any means to maintain their occupation of Eritrea.

With this background to the justness of our cause, the Eritrean people have and are paying the high sacrifices needed to achieve the goal of attaining the right to nationhood and self-determination. On the other hand, the Ethiopian people have long realized that the war is contrary to their interest  and have consistently opposed the war and refused to fight in Eritrea. So the war is prolonged and taking a dangerous turn only because of the massive involvement of foreign troops. That is why we conclude that the unjust war on the part of the Ethiopians is fought to keep a fascist military dictator in power through whom his backers enforce their rule over the Ethiopian people.

Considering the seriousness of the situation today, we strongly appeal to all peace and justice loving individuals and organizations to condemn the Soviet backed aggression in Eritrea and show their sympathy towards the victimized people of Eritrea.

Thank you.

Last updated: 13.03.2011 © Emnetu