Greater Ethiopianist Narrative on Eritrea: A 75-Year Ruse Exposed (Part 1)

This article is the first in a series on the “Greater Ethiopianist Narrative on Eritrea.” The series is a response to the frantic campaign over the past year by a special group of Eritrea-Ethiopia experts to reframe understandings of emerging unfavorable news on the countries to fit a false narrative on Eritrea designed to justify Ethiopia’s militaristic territorial expansion in the name of regional stability, economic growth and global strategic interests. The series will contextualize the extraordinary claims of these perennially wrong “Greater Ethiopianist” experts (e.g. “no famine,” “economic miracle,” etc.) and their deceptive narrative that has misled the world, bringing endless conflict and profound human misery to the Horn of Africa. Part 1 gives a broad introduction of the narrative, its origins and impetus, its main peddler’s and its evolution towards today’s understanding.

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” – Hopi Proverb

A narrative is simply a story. These stories are built by news reports—sometimes accurate, sometimes inaccurate—framed by expert analysis. Due to lack of coverage, the conventional narratives on African nations have been notoriously inaccurate. However, narratives can be challenged and changed for the better. As such, a recent barrage of news reports on political developments transpiring in the Horn of Africa have poked new holes in the checkered conventional narratives on two notable, disputing states within the region—namely, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

For the better part of the last year, Ethiopia, which has been trumpeted in the media as an economic powerhouse of “stability” and a Western ally, has undergone a dramatic sociopolitical and economic unravelling that now challenges the very survival of the Ethiopian nation-state. Some of Ethiopia’s many growing problems include looming famine, mass protests, political repression, mass incarceration, ethnic warfare and genocide. These developments challenge the notion of an economically successful and stable Ethiopia.

In contrast, Eritrea, which has long been portrayed by the media as an isolated, failing state and an unruly force of regional instability that is unfriendly to Western interests, has very visibly strengthened her relationship with Western nations and entrenched herself as a critical piece in promoting regional stability. Some of Eritrea’s recent actions towards these positive ends include entering into Red Sea security agreements, strengthening diplomatic and financial ties to the EU and becoming a leader in achieving all health-related Millennium Development Goals. These actions challenge the notion of an isolated and unfriendly Eritrea.

This recent turn of events inside the Horn have led to growing criticisms about the dominant narratives on both Ethiopia and Eritrea. For instance, respected French journalist René Lefort, who has reported on Sub-Saharan Africa for Le Monde and other publications since the 1970s, rang the alarm bells in an article from February this year concerning the growing unrest in Ethiopia’s Oromia region triggered by the government’s failed “Master Plan” that Lefort called “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Listing a host of issues, including drought affecting 20 million citizens, and reminding his readers that the overthrow of the last two Ethiopian regimes came after the “famines that preceded them”, Lefort went on to predict that the “worst is yet to come”, that the Ethiopian state was “a crumbling pyramid” and that “faced with these challenges…maintaining the status quo, has become untenable.”

Such negative critiques are growing and fly in the face of much more sanguine reporting this past year that has heralded Ethiopia as an “economic miracle”, “East Africa’s big success” and “Africa’s next hegemon.” Contradictions have sparked new questions: How can there be an “economic miracle” when more than 20% of Ethiopia’s population survives on foreign food assistance? Likewise, developments this past year have also poked holes in the story on Eritrea. American diplomat Herman Cohen wrote in February that Eritrea, which the Western media has called a regional “spoiler” and a candidate for the US’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list, had joined a regional anti-terrorist coalition where “the list of countries in that coalition are all good friends of the United States”. How can one address this contradiction? Is the narrative on Eritrea correct?

It has been impossible to ignore the gaping plot holes that have emerged this past year, which have invited radical academic critiques that attempt to reframe the national narratives to fit—rather than contradict—ground realities in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Over this same interval, a special coterie of Western academics on the conflict-riddled Horn, who wield unparalleled status as authoritative experts, have taken up a new, insidious campaign to reframe the national narratives in creative ways that address outstanding contradictions and rehash storylines to fit the same “Greater Ethiopianist” narration that has shaped US policy in the region for almost three-quarters of a century.

One is at loss to explain how the very same people who initially created, shaped and promoted the checkered narratives on Eritrea and Ethiopia, which has turned the Horn into the most conflict-riddled region on Earth, are now the ones who provide the world—via leading foreign policy mediums—with their same “expert” analyses on the two countries that appear to only reiterate rehashes of the same Greater Ethiopianist narrative.

Before providing background on “Greater Ethiopia” and the “Greater Ethiopianist” narrative, the names within the special coterie of experts that have helped to create and/or shape it are as follows:

  • Paul Henze (American);
  • Christopher Clapham (British);
  • Patrick Gilkes (British);
  • Alex de Waal (British);
  • Dan Connell (American);
  • Martin Plaut (British).

With the exception of the late Henze, who’s now deceased, all of these individuals have been busy writing, touring, interviewing, advising and lecturing this past year to stifle all critiques against them, mislead the public and obfuscate the truth on Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Take for example, Alex de Waal’s article last week in the New York Times entitled “Is the Era of Great Famines Over?” Shockingly, he declares that “20 million Ethiopians—one-fifth of the population—desperately short of food…aren’t starving to death” to suggest that the democratic governance of the Ethiopian regime, which won 100 percent of the vote last year, is mainly responsible for “success in averting another disaster” since “there is no record of people dying of famine in a democracy.” His claims are so exquisitely absurd and so unfitting for toleration by the NYT’s editors who deemed them worthy for publishing that it behooves all rationale thinkers to challenge those claims and question NYT’s decision to publish them.

What’s more surprising—and the primary impetus for this article series—is the disconcerting fact that de Waal and the aforementioned experts are publishing these very types of articles in major publications regularly and are the most authoritative voices in the Eritrea-Ethiopia discourse, framing the official narrative on the two countries. This narrative adopts the “Great Ethiopianist” version, which leads us to the following important question: What, exactly, is the Greater Ethiopianist narrative?

75 Years of Greater Ethiopianism

According to a May 2000 article by Eritrean historian Alemseged Tesfai:

Apart from strategic interests in the Horn, which obviously gives priority to huge Ethiopia over its smaller neighbors, our problem with the West has also been their blind and total acceptance and fascination with the Ethiopian myth. An array of their own scholars – the Pankhursts, Clapham, Gilkes, Erlich, Marcus, Rubenson and a former American spy named Paul Henze, to name a few – have seen to it that the Ethiopian ruling class version of history is firmly implanted in the minds of Western thinking. These are career Ethiopianists whose every prediction about Eritrea has been disproved by its present existence and status. They can’t wait to see it go, even re-conquered by Ethiopia, if it were possible.

This “myth” was given a popular name three decades prior. In his 1974 book Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society, Donald N. Levine introduced the name and concept of “Greater Ethiopia,” which he candidly admitted was an arbitrarily contrived “image” based on a “popular” historical “assumption”. In the name of creating one common, indigenous “Ethiopian” identity for “autonomous and distinct ‘African’ tribes” native to the Horn that was not defined by subjugation to an “alien Semetic minority…of the first millennium B.C.”, he proposed creating an older pre-Semetic “Greater Ethiopia” as an “image of an arbitrary empire composed of numerous isolated and vastly diverse subject peoples with the image of a vast ecological area and historical arena in which kindred peoples have shared many traditions and interacted with one another for millennia.”

After arbitrarily proposing the “image” of Greater Ethiopia, he further proposes to arbitrarily impose “unity” upon the peoples in its realm, in spite of their divergent histories, on the grounds that they share the following: “(1) a continuous process of interaction of the differentiated Ethiopian peoples with one another; (2) the existence of number of pan-Ethiopian culture traits; and (3) a characteristic mode of response to the periodic intrusion of alien peoples and cultures.”

Thus, Levine defined, for Western academia, a mythical polity superimposed over the Horn region that would give the modern Ethiopian state a popular name for an ensuing narrative (i.e. “image”) that gave it the justification and pretext to expand its territories for the “unity” of all Ethiopian peoples (Note: The cogency of the argument that the existence of Greater Ethiopia is indeed a myth, never existing in the Horn—even in name—hitherto the late 19th century, will be thoroughly elucidated and expounded upon in later parts in this series).

Though Levine may have introduced the official term into the public lexicon that would inaugurate an official narrative, the principle ideas and conceptual framework behind the Greater Ethiopia narrative actually emanate from the 1940’s machinations of British colonialists in Eritrea, who previously allied themselves with Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia for an Allied victory in World War II.

It’s hardly a coincidence that a disproportionate majority of today’s leading Greater Ethiopianist figures (e.g. Clapham, de Waal, Plaut, Gilkes, etc.) arise from Britain, a nation with perhaps the most enduring colonial legacy; a nation that brought Africa the globally-unmatched barbarism of Cecil Rhodes and the most masterful—yet subtle—application of imperial Roman “divide and conquer” tactics upon its colonial African subjects, whom still have yet to recover. In fact, it was the British, itching for their “Cape to Cairo Red Line,” that were key in the Italian colonialization of Eritrea that “was connived at and, indeed encouraged by the British, who saw in the development of Italian influence in the Red Sea a useful counter to the French.” (Trevaskis, G.K.N. Eritrea: A Colony in Transition, 1941-1952. Oxford University Press. London. 1960. pp. 7-8.)

From the earliest days of the British Military Administration (BMA) in Eritrea, the British worked to dismember the nation and extinguish all aspirations for independence by portraying it as fragmented and non-viable. Rather than using direct force, they employed cunning, covert action and political sabotage in order to deceive Eritreans into willingly buy into the illusion of a democratic “choice” and “free press”; to instigate division among the people and ultimately weaken their final bid for self-determination.

It is at this critical juncture in history, under the decade-long rule of the British that the seeds of the Greater Ethiopianist narrative on Eritrea would be cultivated to develop the sturdy roots of a conceptual framework, based on mythology and revisionism, that would mislead international audiences on the Eritrea-Ethiopia discourse for the next 75 years. Brigadier Stephen H. Longrigg, the BMA’s Chief Administrator from 1942 to 1944, wrote in his 1945 book A Short History of Eritrea that “rich or great, Eritrea will never become; it may, indeed, disappear as a political unit completely from the map.” Much like today’s Greater Ethiopianists, Longrigg employed fraud and propaganda to meet his objectives for Eritrea.

In an illuminating 2006 study published in the Nordic Journal of African Studies, Tufts professor Astier Almedom’s contextualized retelling of the account by Eritrean national hero Ato Woldeab Woldemariam about a high-profile fraud scandal involving Longrigg (first captured in Alemseged Tesfai’s popular history book Aynfalale 1941-50), highlights the essence of the British narration on Eritrea as well as the elaborate and deceptive lengths at which they went to divide Eritreans and procure dominance of their narrative in the public mind.

Writing under the pseudonym “Hade Ertrawi” and impersonating a Tigrinya-speaking Christian highlander, Longrigg penned a highly incendiary essay in the August 3, 1944 issue of the Eritrean Weekly News (EWN) that cast the writer as a well-educated ethnic and religious chauvinist who argued, by misleading yet convincing reasoning, the following points: (a) Eritrean independence was no longer possible; (b) the need to partition Eritrea with the lands of Muslim Arabic-speaking lowlanders going to Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and the lands of Christian Tigrinya-speaking highlanders going to imperial Ethiopia; (c) the superiority of Tigrinya speakers; and (d) the reality that Tigrinya and Tigrayan ethnic groups were “one people” responsible for Ethiopian civilization that peaked when center on Axum (i.e. Northern Ethiopia).

With the essay, Longrigg crafted the precursor to the Greater Ethiopianist narrative on Eritrea that, much like today, markets the interior Ethiopian highland as the most natural and historic center of the region’s political gravity (Abyssinian-/Axumite-centrism) with the historic right to absorb the otherwise politically unstable peripheral territories of their long-lost Christian Tigrinya kin, who occupy Eritrea’s highlands and central coastlands.

The essay instigated tensions and was followed by a campaign of similar inflammatory submissions to EWN, both real and fraudulent. Violence followed. The BMA countered by reducing the police force patrolling streets. The ensuing crime was branded as “banditry” by politically divided peoples (Foreign Office, 371/90319) and, according to Nene Mburu’s 2001 study, was used to portray Eritreans as “hopelessly fractionalized along ethnic and religious lines” so that “the international community could accept [Britain’s] recommendation on Eritrea’s sovereignty”. In 1945, Longrigg’s publication “Disposal of Italian Africa” in the journal of Royal Institute of International Affairs echoed his fraudulent essay and proposed that Eritrea be partitioned and absorbed into imperial Ethiopia and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (see Figure 1).

longriggs map

Figure 1. Longrigg’s map of proposed partitioning of Eritrea with (1) North going to Sudan; (2) the southeastern “Dankali coast with Assab (useless to Eritrea, invaluable to Ethiopia) should be handed without restriction to the Emperor” and (3) the central region (shaded dark) that he infamously called “Greater Tigrai” to be “administered, at least for a considerable term of years, on the Emperor’s behalf and authority, by a European Power in alliance with him” because central Eritrea was “highly developed: it has superb roads, a railway, airports, a European city as its capital, public services up to European standards” that its conferral to imperial rule that has the “sort of administration seen today elsewhere in Ethiopia” would usher “the loss in progress, the increase in human misery, would be too tragic.” Source: International Affairs [Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-], Vol. 21, No. 3 [Jul., 1945], pp. 363-369.

Though Eritrea was the second most industrialized country in Sub-Saharan Africa after only South Africa, the British misled the world about its economic viability as a sovereign state, going so far as to dismantle, destroy and uproot entire Eritrean industries to strengthen its case. On April 18, 1946, a memorandum from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the British Cabinet deemed British-administered Eritrea as “disunited and economically non-viable” such that it provided “no good reason for preserving it as an administrative unit under any form of administration.”

By 1952, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, addressing the UN Security Council on the Eritrean question, infamously stated, “From the point of view of justice, the opinion of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea Basin and world peace make it necessary that the country be linked with our ally Ethiopia.”

In essence, it was the British narrative that portrayed Eritrea as unfit for sovereignty and in need of Ethiopian unification that afforded the US to present before an unwitting world public the claim, on superficially reasonable grounds, that Eritrea had negative strategic value as a sovereign state and would make for a more peaceful world under Ethiopian rule. Ethiopia ultimately federated and illegal annexed Eritrea, leading to the Eritrean people’s 30-year liberation war (1961-91)—then Africa’s longest.

The Rise Greater Ethiopianist Experts

In the same vein as the British colonialists, a small circle of Ethiopianist academics and experts, some of which linked to intelligence agencies, surfaced during the twilight, famine-stricken years of Haile Selassie’s reign to undermine Eritrean liberation war efforts by marketing Longrigg’s narrative on Eritrea—rebranded as Levine’s “Greater Ethiopia”—and perpetually reframing it thereafter to withstand the inevitable barrage of honest critiques without ever veering from the same false storyline.

The leading voices among the pre-liberation Ethiopianists were the following three: (1) Paul Henze, CIA Station Chief in Ethiopia from 1969-72 who wrote on Eritrea and Ethiopia for the RAND Corporation from 1985-92; (2) British former journalist Patrick Gilkes, who covered the HOA for BBC, worked for Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and lectured at Haile Selassie University; and (3) British professor Christopher Clapham, who lectured on African studies at Addis Ababa, Lancaster and Cambridge Universities and has written extensively on Eritrea and Ethiopia since the 1960s.

All three spent extensive time in Addis Ababa and served as the go-to academic authorities on the unfolding “insurgency” in “northern Ethiopia” (i.e. Eritrea). All three were notorious for repeatedly failing to acknowledge major Eritrean battlefield victories, blatantly lying, downplaying the changing tides of war, peddling anti-Eritrea bias and projecting unduly gloomy forecasts about Eritrea’s prospects. Other journalist and academics followed in suit, misinforming policymakers and public opinion.

Attempting to tie the myth of Eritrean disunity into supposed Eritrean battlefield weaknesses, Henze wrote in his January 1985 RAND report that “There is no Eritrean nationality or Eritrean language. Eritrea is a patchwork…language and religious divisions overlap. Eritrean insurgents were sharply divided…and these cleavages remain important today.” Knowing full well that any connection to the Soviets would deter Washington support for Eritrean liberation fighters, he alleged, “Soviets played an active behind-the-scenes role in supporting [the Eritrean] insurgency through East European and radical Arab proxies and…Cubans.” In actual fact, were it not for staunch Soviet support for the beleaguered Derg in 1977 bringing endless MiGs, tanks, Katyusha rocket launchers and advisers liberation would have likely came a decade earlier.

His December 1985 report prepared for the US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy warned that “Catering to separatist delusions serves no purpose. Tactical support…serves no purpose…They are more anti-Derg than anti-Soviet.” Boldly, he asserted, “An independent Eritrea could never secure broad recognition in Africa.”

In their book Ghosts and Shadows, which explores African immigrant communities’ varied perceptions of their home-nations, John Sorenson and Atsuko Matsuoka explain that the “discourse on Eritrean nationalism remained marginal until the final years of the war, when an EPLF victory began to seem inevitable. Even then, many journalists and academics continued to endorse Ethiopian hegemony.” For example, only eleven months before the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front’s (EPLF) March 1988 victory in the Battle of Afabet, which saw 20,000 Ethiopian troops killed in 48 hours and hailed by Basil Davidson as “the most significant conventional battle in the Third World…since Dien Bien Phu”, Clapham published a paper claiming that the Derg’s socialist economic transformation was a success and would lead to a defeat of Eritrea—a nation “of marginal economic importance” (African Affairs, V86, No. 343, 1987).

Contrary to their assertion and distorted misrepresentation of facts on the ground, the Eritrean people, under the leadership of the EPLF, militarily and politically defeated the Ethiopian occupation army and declared Eritrea’s independence on May 24, 1991. On May 27, 1991, the forces of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) also took full control of Ethiopia. From 1991 to 1998 peace prevailed between Eritrea and Ethiopia with free movement of goods and people. The Ethiopian people were given full access to the ports of Eritrea free of charge.

In the wake of liberation in 1991, a traumatized and disgruntled Gilkes, writing in African Affairs, complained that “writing on Eritrea has been…a product of the ‘guerilla groupie'” that has taken “EPLF, at its own evaluation, and its historical claims as fact” resulting in a “distorted national mythology” (V90, No. 361, 1991). In essence, Gilkes, who witnessed EPLF’s popular nationalist narrative wholly supplant his own anti-national Greater Ethiopianist version, was simply making a case to support development of new, revisionist, non-nationalist narratives mirroring his own.

With peace between the Eritrean and Ethiopian people after 1991, the veteran Greater Ethiopianists all went into hibernation disgraced by their analytical failures. In 1998, however, Eritrea and Ethiopia returned to war under the pretext of the contested border town Badme. Immediately, Henze, Gilkes and Clapham resurfaced.

As proven, long-time Greater Ethiopianists, their biased coverage of the war was not lost on Eritrea-Ethiopia observers. According to Sorenson and Matsuoka’s book, “Gilkes’s own coverage of the war conveyed sympathy for Ethiopia, although he hardly matched the fervent boosterism of Paul Henze…Henze’s 18 January 2000 essay ‘Eritrea’s War Against Ethiopia,’ posted on Ethiopian government websites, claimed that ‘all problems derive from Eritrea’s invasion of Ethiopian-administered territory…Historian Christopher Clapham consistently attacks any scholar he judges favorable to Eritrean or Oromo nationalism, deriding them as blinded by sentiment while denying his own emotional commitments.”

Although there were certainly other notable pre-1991 Greater Ethiopianists, which included Peter Schwab, Hagaii Erlich, Richard and Sylvia Pankhurst, Harold Marcus, Sven Rubenson and John Markakis—just to name a few—these experts lacked the (1) authoritative agenda-setting status, (2) longevity of Eritrea-antagonism and (3) close association to the British, American and Ethiopian foreign policy apparatus. However, all were toxic to improving public understanding, opinion and debate on the Horn to varying degrees, while some were employees of intelligence agencies. For example, while driving from Filfil to Asmara during a visit to Eritrea in 2015, a geriatric Markakis revealed to a group of three others, including this author, that he was recruited in his youth by the Central Intelligence Agency and sent to Ethiopia to field intelligence under the cover of conducting “research.” Notably, Markakis is an editor of journal Review of African Political Economy.

A New Generation  

Emerging alongside the three bona fide pre-liberation Ethiopianists was a new generation of academics and experts, taking a more leftist, activist position that would be palatable to Eritrean audiences tired of overt Greater Ethiopianism, to continue propagation of a rehashed Greater Ethiopianist narrative in the ensuing Eritrean-Ethiopian War. The new breed included Martin Plaut, Dan Connell and Alex de Waal.

British journalist Martin Plaut, a former Africa editor for BBC World Service news and adviser to both the UK FCO and US State Department (USSD) with a leftist leaning that spans back to his days as a Young Fabian in Apartheid South Africa, worked under the tutelage of his close friend and fellow BBC journalist Gilkes. Writing books together and covering the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, they used their influence within BBC to tailor reporting against Eritrea and worked incessantly to portray Eritrea as the aggressor in a petty “border dispute”, exactly as suggested by Sorenson and Matsuoka. Plaut, unlike openly anti-Eritrean Gilkes, was considered friend of Eritrea during his time there as a journalist in the 1980’s.

Alex De Waal, a social anthropologist by training who studied famine in Sudan during the mid-1980’s, worked for the Africa Watch division of Human Rights Watch (HRW) from 1989-92 and was peace mediator in the Darfur crisis. In September 1991, four months after Eritrea was already liberated, he published his “Evil Days” report for HRW chronicling the egregious human rights abuses in the 30 years hitherto by the Ethiopian occupying regime, giving him just enough credibility in his Eritrea dossier to call him an expert on the Horn. Like Plaut and Connell, de Waal was initially considered to be a friend of Eritrea.

His political bias towards Eritrea first surfaced in 1999, after he cofounded the London-based human rights organization Justice Africa with an Eritrean regime-change activist of dubious history during his time as leader of the once-prominent Eritrean Relief Association (ERA). De Waal’s own ex-wife and former colleague at Tufts, Astier Almedom, gave some background on de Waal’s collaborator:

Brutal disinformation campaigns aiming to penetrate and break up the Eritrean leadership continued even after the border conflict ended. Eritrean (insider) pundits also played their part. For example, the organizer of the meeting of Eritrean ‘intellectuals’ who drafted of the so-called ‘Berlin Manifesto’ of 2001, a former civilian member who had deserted the EPLF in 1990 amidst allegations of fraud and misappropriation of ERA funds in Khartoum…working for reputable European NGOs who funded in good faith his campaigns against Eritrean unity cloaked under a ‘human rights’ banner.

Interestingly, this same Eritrean collaborator, in addition to others, worked closely with Connell in South Africa following the signing of the Eritrea-Ethiopia peace agreement in Algiers in 2000.

Connell worked as a freelance journalist in Eritrea since the 1970’s and, like Henze, appears to be linked to US intelligence (agent or asset). According to a leaked September 23, 1978, US embassy cable from Khartoum, he was sent under the cover of a journalist “to observe the military situation” in Eritrea “as a guest of EPLF” and “expected to brief [EMBOFF] after.” Since his emergence as an Eritrea “expert” in the late 1990s, Connell has published a large body of publications, ignoring Ethiopian failures and aggression while vehemently attacking the failures of the Eritrean leadership, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ; formerly EPLF). Later articles in this series will cover Connell in greater detail.

According to Sorenson and Matsuoka’s book:

Those journalists and academics who have lived and worked in Ethiopia echo the discourse of Greater Ethiopian nationalists while denouncing opposing views as biased. They emphasize Eritrea’s belligerence by citing previous disputes with Sudan, Yemen, and Djibouti, even while downplaying Ethiopia’s own disputes with neighboring states. Under the guise of objectivity, they exclude alternative perspectives, thereby denying identity and history to groups such as Eritreans or Oromos. Their goal is less to defend truth than to produce a version of it that excludes and discredits dissident voices.

In this fashion, Connell, de Waal and Plaut have worked together against Eritrea, citing each other’s publications as once did Henze, Plaut and Clapham, and are now the leading proponents of the Greater Ethiopianist narrative on Eritrea. Unlike their predecessors, who spent significant time inside Addis Ababa, they have focused more of their work on human rights activism from Western capitals.

Whereas the pre-liberation Ethiopianists focused on cold geopolitical strategy and propaganda that sought to shape pro-state perceptions of the war (pro-Derg), the neo-Ethiopianists instead focus more on civil society activism and human rights campaigning that seeks to promote anti-state sentiments (anti-PFDJ). In both cases, the target remains the same: the Eritrean people’s leadership.

Connell, de Waal and Plaut, all of whom have histories of leftist orientation and/or human rights advocacy, may have been recruited by older Greater Ethiopianists on the basis of their progressive resumes better enabling them to make prodigious use of the rapidly growing body of institutions, instruments and treaties designed to enforce international human rights law.

With the grooming and subsequent rise of their protégés following the 1998-2000 war, Henze and Gilkes went to Addis Ababa to work as advisers of the ruling ethnic minority regime, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Henze sat on the Ethiopian National Security Council until he passed away in 2011. After working as a Horn of Africa expert for the UK FCO from 2002-04, Gilkes has since moved to Addis Ababa (married to an Ethiopian), serving as strategic advisor to the Ethiopian Foreign Minister. Clapham, continues to publish and speak at seminars about Eritrea-Ethiopia, using his global influence as former, long-time editor of African Affairs and as professor at the Centre of Africa Studies at Cambridge University to sully Eritrean leadership and depict Eritrea a “tragedy”.

Instead of the MFA in Addis Ababa, the post-1991 Greater Ethiopianists convene at invite-only conferences on Eritrea under the banner of “African studies” or human rights activism in Western academic and political centers such as London, Brussels, Boston and Washington. However, the downward spiraling of the situation in Ethiopia has forced this new generation to Addis Ababa and take on new frenzied campaign to allay concerns about Ethiopia and provoke fear about Eritrea.

Notably, there are a number of honorable mentions for other supposed experts who help buttress official narrative on Eritrea and Ethiopia to fit the Greater Ethiopianist agenda. One can point to Richard Reid, Michaela Wrong, Kjetil Tronvoll, Nicole Hirt, Mirjam van Reisen, David Bozzini a handful of other names. However, unlike these smaller players, Connell, de Waal and Plaut have been groomed, like Henze, Gilkes, and Clapham to become the agenda-setting experts that collaborate closely with the USSD, UK FCO and Ethiopian MFA to ultimately continue the same divisive 1940’s Greater Ethiopia policies in the Horn of Africa.

It appears that the common thread among most of today’s Greater Ethiopianists experts on Eritrea is that most of them started their careers as friends of Eritrea (e.g. Connell, Plaut), lived or taught in Eritrea (e.g. Hirt, Wrong) or were in intimate relationships with Eritreans (e.g. de Waal, Reid). After gaining a following during an incubation period, they often turn against the state—almost overnight—referring to their former closeness to Eritrea as proof of their credibility. Soon enough they publish papers with the older, more established Greater Ethiopianists, repeating their same narrative and working to turn their honest Eritrea-sympathizing colleagues against Eritrea (as Connell attempted to do with the renowned Africanist scholar Basil Davidson). This is the modus operandi of today’s Greater Ethiopianists.

This concludes the first part of this series. Subsequent parts will cover the recent publications and work of the individual Greater Ethiopianist over this past year, who have essentially told us that “everything is okay in Ethiopia” and that “everything is falling apart in Eritrea.” We give these claims by these specific persons a closer look.

7 thoughts on “Greater Ethiopianist Narrative on Eritrea: A 75-Year Ruse Exposed (Part 1)

  1. To creat a peacefull Coexistence with neighbours people must not dig in the differences or historical conflicts.Eritrea has many neighbours and in a democratic Eritrea governments or Lawmakers can build peace and friendship with neighbours and farther than that. The situation in 1991 was simply a situation where two guerrila fighters took over the power in both countries.They were both groups proffessional fighters and not peace makers. Unfortunately these former freedom fighters did not see the wisdom of Peacefull Coexistence and went to war for the simple reason of showing their muscles.The People of the two countries became victims of war and devastation.

  2. These Abyssinians need to stop pretending like Medri Bahri didn’t exist. It is a centuries-old kingdom. We are the people of the sea. Not to mention major parts of Eritrea have been a part of the Ottoman Empire/Ottoman Egypt. A state that is now called Eritrea was already starting to form long before the Italians arrived. Eritreans are nationalists through and through. While other Africans are engaged in ethnic/tribal fights and identify solely on their ethnic group, Eritreans do no such thing and rep their country

    Typical of colonizers to try to white-wash and/or erase our history. It makes it easier for them to lay a claim to our land. Medri Bahri needs to be studied and further analyzed in order to fight Ethiopian nonsense and delusions of grandeur. A lot of people associate colonization with Europeans, but Ethiopians are just the same. And we should consider them as such. Even to this day, they are occupying our land and starting wars just to try to invade. Historically, we have not benefited from allying with them. Their empire needs to disintegrate on its own – which it seems is already happening what with Ogaden, Oromia, etc.

  3. Pingback: Greater Ethiopianist Narrative on Eritrea: Agent Dan Connell | Red Sea Fisher

  4. “With the exception of the late Henze, who’s now deceased,…” he died after being late one too many times? — Otherwise great writing!

  5. Pingback: Martin Plaut and Ethiopia’s Politics of Famine | Red Sea Fisher

  6. Pingback: Kingdom of Medri Bahri: 400 years of David v. Goliaths victories against Ottomans -

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