I.M. Lewis, ed., Nationalism and Self-Determination in the Horn of Africa, (London: Ithaca Press, 1983).

James Firebrace with Stuart Holland, Never Kneel Down: Drought, Development and Liberation in Eritrea, (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1985).

The war in Eritrea is one of the least studied contemporary conflicts. Only the recurrence of massive drought and famine in the region has prompted the cursory media attention now given to this 24-year-old national liberation struggle. These two books add significantly to the sparse literature on the region. Nationalism and Self-Determination is the first work since Bereket Selassie’s Conflict and Intervention in the Horn of Africa (Monthly Review Press, 1980) to discuss the self-determination struggle there within a theoretical framework. The book, a collection of essays from a workshop funded by the Ford Foundation and the Anti-Slavery Society, is worthwhile reading for persons interested in contemporary practical and theoretical aspects of self-determination, even if their focus is not the Horn. These essays, for the most part, will not interest the general reader. With titles such as “Language, National Consciousness and Identity” (Hussein Adam) and “The Changing Idiom of Self-Determination in the Horn of Africa” (Sally Healy), most are dense and scholarly. There are three exceptions: Patrick Gilkes on “Centralism and the Ethiopian PMAC,” Paul Baxter on “The Problem of the Oromo” and David Pool on “Eritrean Nationalism.” The contributions of Baxter and Pool were not presented at the conference, but were solicited afterwards to balance the “vigour and comprehensiveness” of Gilkes’ essay (p. ix). While I would disagree with most of Gilkes’’interpretations, he does offer a more sophisticated argument against Eritrean self-determination than any of the Ethiopian regime, and the contributions of Baxter and Pool are two of the more lively essays in the collection.

Never Kneel Down is the first book to cover in depth the history and achievements of the Eritrean movement. This is an excellent resource for political activists who want a compact history and lots of data on the current situation. James Firebrace is a sympathetic but critical observer. He spent over five years working in the Horn with independent development agencies, and is presently program officer on the Horn for War on Want; Stuart Holland is the Labor Party spokesperson on overseas development and cooperation. They explain Eritrea’s political and economic history, Ethiopia’s colonial conquest and the beginning of the liberation struggle. Their main focus is on the current situation, including the war, famine and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front’s (EPLF) implementation of its new development model. The detailed explanations of their health, educational, vocational, agricultural and small industrial projects provide a comprehensive picture of conditions in Eritrea today.

The authors’ purpose is not simply educational. They clearly argue for recognition and support of Eritrean self-determination and the EPLF’s program for self-reliant development. The book is partisan, but that is not a fault. It concludes with ten recommendations to aid agencies and the Labor Party, including increased relief assistance to the Eritrean Relief Agency, political upport for Eritrean self-determination, and opposition to participation in Ethiopian government or United Nations programs to repatriate Eritrean refugees from Sudan or Djibouti. The book has several useful appendices: the 1950 UN resolution on Eritrea; the EPLF’s National Democratic Program and its 1980 unity and referendum proposals; the Ethiopian Nine-Point Peace Plan; and relevant documents from the EEC, the Socialist International and elsewhere. There is also a very interesting interview with Isseyas Aferworki, a founding member of the EPLF, which discusses Soviet policy, the goal of independent autonomous socialism, and recent military developments.

How to cite this article:

Lynne Barbee "Two Books on Eritrea," Middle East Report 135 (September/October 1985).
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