- Introduction:Postliberation Eritrea
annotated “O.K.” “⨁”
Twenty-two years ago the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), armed with Kalashnikov rifles and tanks, entered Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, announcing that it was liberating Eritrea from Ethiopian rule. The thirty-years' war between the Eritrean nationalist front and the Ethiopian government has been termed the long struggle (gedli) (Cliff and Davidson 1988). Right after winning the war, in 1991, the EPLF was on the world stage, struggling to establish a new political order in Eritrea, replacing the Ethiopian regime that had ruled from 1952 to 1991. This had included a ten-year federation (1952-1961) and thirty years of direct rule (1962-1991).
Eritrea is the name given in 1889 by the former Italian colonial administration to a strip of land on the Red Sea coast of North East Africa. In 1992, the EPLF leader Isaias Afwerki declared that the Eritrean People's Liberation Front would be the provisional government of Eritrea, thus assuming the role of running the state institutions left by the collapse of the Ethiopian administration. Soon after conducting an internationally supervised referendum on April 23-25, 1993, the provisional government of Eritrea declared itself an independent state. As a new African state, Eritrea received immediate membership in the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations as well as recognition from the major world powers and the neighboring African countries. This support gave the new state legitimate power along with authority over its territory and citizens. The referendum gave the new Eritrean state an international mandate to rule the Eritrean population and the land. The referendum was the crowning achievement of the EPLF, which had just won the longest armed conflict in Africa's history. In 1994, the EPLF conducted its first postliberation congress and reconstituted itself as the only party of the new state, calling itself the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).
The authors in this special issue treat the PFDJ's construction of dominance and the rupture of the national consensus that had been established by a referendum and a declaration of independence in 1993. The essays deal with the fragments of culturally constructed social divisions, such as young people, refugees, and diasporas, and their relationship to the nation and the state. The Eritrean state can be characterized as a state of exception (Agamben 1998, 2005), a state in which the leader of the nation, Isaias Afwerki, used the crisis following the border war with Ethiopia (1998-2000) as a cover to exert absolute control over the society and state and consolidate his power [End Page v] over the nation. The papers focus on the structures of domination and sub-ordination that have emerged in postliberation, postindependence Eritrea. They contend with the cultural politics of Eritrea and show how certain people's exclusion is unsustainable in the long term. They pay special attention to young people, the generation of Eritreans who are fully affected by the domination of, and exclusion and disconnection from, the dominant culture. The articles collectively bring into question the popular wisdom that Eritrea's political instability would end once the political issues of the war between the liberation movements and the Ethiopian government ended. This demonstrated that gaining sovereignty or autonomy was insufficient to resolve the political, economic, and social crisis in Eritrea
This introductory essay is divided into five parts including (a) a brief exploration of the rise and fall of Eritrea from the group of African Renaissance states and (b) how it became a state of exception ruled by an arbitrary and absolutist state; (c) how the absolutist state created a bifurcated social hierarchy in which the population was divided into "citizens" and "subjects" with differentiated gradation of citizenship in relation to the state (Mamdani 1996, Ong 1999); and (d) how this "graduated citizenship" has created a "Refugee-Diaspora Nexus" that could explain the current refugee crisis in Eritrea. This introductory essay ends with a brief description of the articles in this volume. Collectively, the articles provide a deeper examination of the refugee-state-diaspora nexus through five case studies: (1) Assefaw Bariagaber's exploration of how globalization has facilitated the...