AFRICA: Africa World Press Guide

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Eritrea and Namibia

Two success stories of African liberation struggles to celebrate are those of Eritrea, formerly a province in Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, and Namibia, known as South West Africa during the decades when the former German colony wa s occupied by its neighbor, South Africa. In 1994 Scarecrow Press published two volumes in its Historical Dictionaries reference series that integrate some relatively recent information on both Eritrea and Namibia into the detailed and well-organized hist orical material that is the hallmark of the Scarecrow directories. The Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia and Eritrea (Prouty and Rosenfeld 1994) was completed shortly before Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in May 1993. The book contains a fair amount of material on Eritrea, though--as the book's title suggests--the bulk of the historical references in the alphabetically arranged dictionary and in the bibliography are to Eritrea when it was still a region within Ethiopia. The two nations are not treated independently in the dictionary. The final entry in the 4-page chronology in the Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia and Eritrea reads "24 May 1993--Eritrea declared itself an independent country after a UN-supervised election."

In the case of the Namibia dictionary, by contrast, enough time elapsed between the date of Namibia's independence, March 21, 1990, and the book's publication date to allow for the incorporation of a considerable amount of post-liberation material. Pub lications on Namibia's long struggle for independence are so voluminous, in fact, that the compilers of the Historical Dictionary of Namibia (Grotpeter 1994) had to use a heavy editorial hand to balance this material with other information that pai nted a broader picture of the nation. "We have been amply informed about [Namibia's] struggle for independence, the debates in the United Nations, and South Africa's role," series editor Jon Woronoff writes. "But many other factors have been largely overl ooked. There was an earlier struggle for freedom," Woronoff points out, "one which influenced the more recent phase. Looking further back we must consider how the land was peopled and developed prior to colonization. These aspects are included in [the Historical Dictionary of Namibia] and make it broader and deeper than most."


Pre-liberation books that describe the Eritrean struggle for independence include

Eritrea and Ethiopia: From Conflict to Cooperation (Tekle 1994) is a bridge from pre- to post-liberation Eritrea both in the sense of its time span and its purpose. The book grew out of discussions begun in Atlanta, Georgia, by Eritrean and Ethi opian scholars in 1989--two years before the final victory of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Army. Convinced that Eritrea's liberation was as imminent as it was certain, the scholars put aside political differences and began to explore ways that Ethiopia and an independent Eritrea could work together cooperatively.

"The major objective of the book," Amare Tekle writes, "is to evaluate the conditions of, and the relationships between, not only Ethiopia and Eritrea but also the rest of the countries in the region with the hope of identifying the real (as opposed to the 'political') root causes of conflict between the peoples of the region and making recommendations which would contribute [among other things] toward the...inauguration of a durable peace based on justice, freedom and equality" (p. ix).

The recent history of Eritrea's liberation struggle is told most accessibly in U.S. journalist Dan Connell's investigation of Eritrea's "unreported" war, Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution (Connell 1993), and in a highly re commended video documentary produced in 1993 by Grassroots International (Somerville, Mass.), Eritrea: Hope in the Horn of Africa.

Eritrea: Miracleland (Ghebrai 1993) is "a very personal account of the visceral pain" suffered by the author, an Eritrean, and by "so many Eritreans" who longed and fought for their national independence from Ethiopia.

Other publications of note include

For further information: request catalogs from Red Sea Press (Lawrenceville, N.J.) and from the Africa Faith and Justice Network (Washington, D.C.).

Eritrea Chronology

1916-30--Empress Zewditu, daughter of Menilek II, is crowned. Ras Teferi Mekonnen is named as her regent and heir.
1930--After Zewditu's death, Ras Teferi is crowned Emperor Hayle Sellase I (on 2 November).
1935-36--Italy invades and occupies Ethiopia until 1941; Emperor Hayle Sellase flees to England.
1941-74--Hayle Sellase I returns to govern as the British army defeats Italy. Despite several attempted coups, he remains on the throne until September 1974, when he is overthrown after a "creeping revolution."
1974-91--The rule of Mengestu Hayle Maryam and the Derg (Marxist socialists); the People's Democratic Republic is established. Famine and civil war devastate the country.
1991--Mengestu Hayle Maryam flees to Zimbabwe in May, when the army of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) occupies Addis Ababa. In July, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia is established under the leadership of Meles Zenawi, head of T PLF. Some fifteen political-ethnic-regional groups are organized, with the Oromo demanding a separate nation and the relationship of Eritrea to Ethiopia yet to be determined.
1993--Eritrea declares itself an independent nation on 24 May after a United Nations-supervised election.

Adapted from Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia and Eritrea (Prouty and Rosenfeld 1994). Used with permission of Scarecrow Press (Lanham, Md.). See also: Chronology of Conflict Resolution Initiatives in Eritrea (Becker and Mitchell 1991).


"A great future awaits Namibia in the years to come as we continue with my government's policy of national reconciliation, peace, stability, and development."
--Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma, first president of Namibia
Speech to the National Assembly, J une 10, 1991

On March 21, 1990, Namibia won its independence from South Africa after decades of war. The "ambience of tranquillity" that has characterized the southwest African nation in the years since the March 1990 elections, Namibian author and educator Joseph Diescho has noted, "distinguishes the country from what it used to be during some 24 years of armed struggle for independence, when the now ruling party, the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), confronted the colonial administration and its p olitics of racial domination and economic exploitation" ("An Ambience of Tranquillity," in Namibia Yearbook 1992-93, p. 13).

The history of Namibia's long struggle for liberation is chronicled in books such as

Helao Shityuwete's autobiography, Never Follow the Wolf (Shityuwete 1990), puts Namibia's liberation struggle in personal terms. Shityuwete, one of the first in Namibia to take up arms against the occupying South African armed forces, tells of h is involvement in the SWAPO resistance movement, his capture and torture by the South African military, and his imprisonment on South Africa's notorious Robben Island for sixteen years.

Changing the History of Africa (Deutschmann 1989) focuses attention on Cuba's political, economic, and military support for the Namibian independence struggle, and Disengagement from Southwest Africa: Prospects for Peace in Angola and Namibia (Kahn 1991) examines the role of the Soviet Union and its allies in the conflicts in Angola and Namibia.

In Namibia: Land of Tears, Land of Promise (Enquist 1990), theologian Roy Enquist, a former missionary in what is now Namibia, looks at the Namibian independence struggle through the lens of religion. Enquist's concern is how Namibian churches-- with their "conservative, apolitical, and pietistic religious traditions"--could have become such ardent supporters of the liberation effort.

The roles of women in Namibia's struggle for independence are described in Namibia: Women in War (Cleaver and Wallace 1990) and "It's Like Holding the Key to Your Own Jail." Women in Namibia (Allison 1986).

The essays in the highly recommended Namibia's Liberation Struggle: The Two-Edged Sword (Leys and Saul 1995) focus attention on the way that Namibia's independence struggle affected "both the liberation movement itself and the political culture bequeathed to the country at independence" (p. vii).

Building a new nation

Two books take up the story of the Namibian people's efforts to build a new nation:

The Sparks and Green volume surveys the history, politics, economy, society, and culture of Namibia before offering some informed prognostications about what the future might hold for the newly independent nation. The Transition to Independence in N amibia concentrates on the period of transition from the "final act of decolonization" (the cease-fire in 1989) to the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly and the March 1990 elections. It was during this transition period, the authors explain, t hat the majority party, SWAPO, transformed itself "from a largely exile movement of struggle into a political party" and that the country's leadership began to define the institutional structures that would provide the basis of the new state.

Accountability in Namibia: Human Rights and the Transition to Democracy (Dicker 1992), a Human Rights Watch report published in August 1992, calls on the governments of South Africa and Namibia "to begin accounting for the abuses [of the past]. " By setting forth "the testimony and experiences of the victims of both the South African regime and SWAPO," the report states, "we signify our respect for them and for their suffering" (p. 6).

Anthropologist Wade Pendleton's study of "life in a post-apartheid township in Namibia," Katutura: A Place Where We Stay (Pendleton 1996), is a sweeping and engagingly written comparative study of life in Katutura, a township outside of Namibia' s capital city, Windhoek, during the occupation by South Africa and after Namibia's independence.

Namibia Chronology

1886-90--Namibia's present international boundaries are established by German treaties with Portugal (1886) and Great Britain (1890).
1889-90--First German troops arrive; Germany annexes the territory.
1892-1905--German suppression of uprisings by Herero and Namas; armistice signed on 20 December 1905 ends the German genocide (after the murder of 80 percent of the Herero population).
1915--South Africa invades and occupies Namibia. Germans surrender at Peace of Korab, 9 July 1915. Namibians try to reclaim land taken by the Germans. South Africa imposes martial law.
1920--Council of the League of Nations grants South Africa the right to govern Namibia as an integral part of its territory ("South West Africa").
1946--United Nations refuses to allow South Africa to annex South West Africa (SWA). South Africa refuses to place SWA under UN Trusteeship Council.
1953--UN General Assembly forms Committee on SWA to supervise mandate without South Africa's cooperation.
1958--Herman Toivo Ya Toivo and others organize the opposition Ovamboland People's Congress, renamed the Ovamboland People's Organization (OPO) in 1959. OPO becomes the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in 1960.
1959--South West Africa Nation Union (SWANU), the oldest Namibian nationalist party, is founded in August.
1961--UN General Assembly demands South Africa terminate the mandate and sets SWA's independence as objective.
1966--SWAPO announces plan to begin armed struggle against South African occupation.
1968--South West Africa officially renamed Namibia by UN General Assembly in April.
1972--UN General Assembly recognizes SWAPO as "sole legitimate representative" of Namibia's people on 12 December.
1989--Elections held for a Namibian Constituent Assembly. SWAPO wins.
1990--Namibia becomes independent on 21 March and joins the United Nations.

Adaped from Historical Dictionary of Namibia (Grotpeter 1994). Used with permission of Scarecrow Press (Lanham, Md.).

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