CAUSES OF THE ERITREAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE 1961 – 1993

CAUSES OF THE ERITREAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE 1961 – 1993
  • Divergent historical background, the Eritreans refused to accept Ethiopia as her 2nd colonial master reasoning that her transfer to Ethiopia 1952 was by mistake. On the other hand Ethiopia contended that Eritrea was part of her provinces in the ancient Ethiopian empire therefore failure to come to a compromise over a common historical background, Eritrea opted to fight for her independence.




  • The growth of Eritrean nationalism due to the blowing wind of change across the continent of Africa was another cause of the struggle for independence, by 1961 ELF was formed influenced by the UN charter which advocated for self determination. Therefore when Ethiopia refused to give up, Eritrea nationalism surged to the fore hence beginning of the war of independence.
  • The rigging of the 1960 referendum by Emperor Haille Ssellassie where the UN showed the double standards as it watched Ethiopia rape Eritrea and failed to discipline countries supporting Ethiopian colonialism in Eritrea. This caused discontent among the Eritrean nationalists and the only option left was an armed struggle.
  • The discovery of Asbestos in Eritrea in1963 which were a highly paying mineral at the time. Eritrea did not wish to see Ethiopia modernizing while exploiting Eritrean resources. This forced the Eritreans to struggle for their own independence so as to protect their wealth.
  • Cold war politics while USA supported Ethiopia between 1961 and 1974, USSR opted to support Eritrea. However there was later change in support after the 1974 coup where by USA supported Eritrea secessionists while USSR supported Ethiopian government under Mengistu. This made the secessionist crisis inevitable because each party expected support from the external countries.




  • The economic blessings of Eritrea, it had good infrastructural facilities good communication network, schools, hospitals and above all blessed with the Port Asaba and Massawa around the Red Sea, on the contrary Ethiopia was backward in terms of socio-economic facilities perhaps due to the absence of a colonial power in the country thus for effective exploitation and use of these facilities by Eritrea, definitely led to the war of independence since Ethiopians were dominating all spheres of the Eritrean territory.
  • The language ulcer, while the Ethiopians spoke Amharic, the Eritreans spoke Tigre and Attar. To make matters worse the Emperor Haille Sellassie had declared Amharic as a national language to be used in schools, offices and public places. This alarmed the Eritreans leading to revolutionary armed struggle fought for over thirty years in a bid to recognize the Eritrean native languages.
  • The presence of the Israelites in Ethiopia advising the government of Ethiopia, training the army of Haille Sellassie and giving aid to Ethiopia was another cause for the war of independence. To make matters worse Israel was given access to the Ports of Assab and Massawa, so this Zionist expansion in the horn of Africa insulted the Moslem state of Eritrea and the Arab world because Israel is a natural enemy to the Moslem world. This therefore resulted into conflict and a war of independence was fought.




  • The 1972 – 1974 famine where an estimated 200,000 Eritreans were left dead caused great bitterness among the Eritreans. To make matters worse the government of Haille Sellassie failed to express humanitarian sympathy and food to the Eritreans. Therefore they were grieved and compelled to fight the war of independence so as to find solutions for the problems incase of any catastrophe.
  • The failure of Mariam Mengistu’s government to include the Eritrea Popular Liberation Front (EPLF) formed in 1968, the ELF and the Tigris People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the coalition government after the 1974 coup. He instead by 1977 adopted a military approach towards the Eritreans thereby violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Eritreans. Therefore peace for Eritreans could only be achieved by war.
  • Political and constitutional development of Eritrea during the Italian and British colonialism. They had witnessed western democracy of political parties, enjoyed some degree of freedom of Speech and Press so when in 1952 Eritrea was given back to Ethiopia and the Emperor denied the Eritreans their liberty it was a sign of backwardness and despotism that could not be allowed especially after the wind of change that was blowing all over the world after world war11.
  • Open tribalism of the Emperor where the Amharic tribe was highly privileged, the Amharas were the ones to take up important positions in government meaning that promotions were not on merit. Other Ethiopians also benefited yet the Eritreans were discriminated and they lived a life of poverty and disgrace that could only be averted by war.




  • The negative attitude of OAU towards the Eritrean people, OAU had interpreted this war of independence as a secessionist tendency and therefore did not recognize the Eritreans struggle, Emperor Haille sellassie had succeeded to convince other Africans that Eritrea was part and parcel of Ethiopia. This convinced the Eritrean nationalists that table talks would not yield positive fruits thus decided to take up arms.
  • The role of UNO can not be under estimated in causing the Eritrean war of independence. The UN pressurized Ethiopia to grant Eritrea her independence and this encouraged the ELF rebels to wage a revolutionary war against Ethiopia and attain Ethiopian independence. However the UN is blamed for failure to act and effect the independence of Eritrea for it always stopped at condemnation.
  • The military confidence of Ethiopia after world war II and Italo-Ethiopia crisis, Haille Sellassie had recognized the need for military strength, he accordingly sent a number of Ethiopian army officers to foreign military academies like Britain, he went further to equip his army thus Emperor Haille Sellassie was confident to confront the Eritrean rebels and keep Eritrea under Ethiopian governance. This explains why it took over thirty years for the Eritreans to achieve their independence.

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