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How outsiders devastate Africa.,
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This review is from: I Didn't Do It For You: How the World Used and Abused a Small African Nation (Paperback)
Funnily enough,my first knowledge of Eritrea's liberation struggle is mentioned in this book-BBC World Service news items on the war between the EPLF and Ethiopia in the 1980s.
Michela Wrong writes a wonderfully readable book about how outsiders(Italy,the UK,Ethiopia,USA,USSR,even Cuba)interfered in and almost destroyed Eritrea from the late 19th century onwards.The total amorality and cynicism of the outside world towards Eritrea is well documented in the mid-section of the book,roughly from 1974 to 1978,when the superpowers changed sides in the regional conflict in the Horn of Africa-the US swapped Ethiopia for Somalia as allies,and the USSR did the opposite,and the Eritreans,on the verge of a victorious offensive against Ethiopia,were forced to retreat and the war continued till 1991.
Wrong justly points out that other African countries hardly covered themselves with glory during the Ethiopian occupation of Eritrea.Even those states that came to independence throgh liberation wars found the Eritreans an embarrasment,and the OAU(based in Ethiopia's capital)couldn't bring itself to denounce one African country for occupying another.The fear of post-indepeenence boundaries being altered,and potentially every African country's borders being open to revision,was a nightmare Africa's leaders couldn't face.
After victory over Ethiopia,Wrong's depiction of the Eritrean leadership's attitude towards the tyrants,kleptocrats and corrupt incompetents who made up most of Africa's leadership cadre in the early 1990s is very well done.Also well done is the story of how the arrogance of Eritrea's new leaders led them into a disastrous war with Ethiopia(what,again?)in the late 1990s.This also led to the hope of a homegrown democracy in Africa giving way to an increasingly authoritarian government within Eritrea.
Wrong correctly points out that,post-independence,most outsiders romanticised Eritrea as a possibility of an African country following a path of good governance and respect for human rights,rather than as the messy outcome of decades of war and internal struggle.The war with Ethiopia and the internal clampdown caused such disappointment amongst western well-wishers because it led to the smashing of their own illusions about Eritrea.
The heroes of this book are the ordinary Eritrean men and women who endured so much in the independence war,only for independence to lead to yet more war and repression,this time from their own government.Wrong correctly salutes their feats,but seems to try too hard to look for a silver lining and a happy ending.She obviously knows more about Eritrea than I do, but I can't be so optimistic.
In short,a great,readable book about a part of the world that is,despite the constant meddling of the outside world,largely unknown in Europe.