Eritrean War of Independence: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eritrean War of Independence
Part of Conflicts in Africa
Map of Eritrea
Date 1 September 1961 - 29 May 1991
Location Eritrea
Result Eritrean victory
Independence of Eritrea, Ethiopia became a landlocked country
Logistical support:
 Soviet Union[1][5][6][7]
 East Germany [8]
 South Yemen [8]
Isaias Afewerki
Petros Solomon
Ethiopia Haile Selassie (Monarchy era)
Ethiopia Mengistu Haile Mariam (Communist era)
Casualties and losses
~60,000 soldiers[9]
~90,000 civilians[9]
75,000 soldiers[10]-500,000 civilians[11]
5,000 soldiers[12]
Soviet Union:
1 soldier

The Eritrean War of Independence (1 September 1961 – 29 May 1991) was a conflict fought between the Ethiopian government and Eritrean separatists, both before and during the Ethiopian Civil War.

The war went on for 30 years until 1991 when the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), having defeated the Ethiopian forces in Eritrea, took control of the country. In April 1993, in a referendum supported by Ethiopia, the Eritrean people voted almost unanimously in favour of independence. Formal international recognition of an independent and sovereign Eritrea followed later the same year.

The two main rebel groups fought two Eritrean civil wars during the war of liberation.



Unlike the rest of African struggle against European colonisation, there was limited resistance to Italian colonisation of Eritrea that lasted for more than half a century. During the 1960s, the Eritrean independence struggle was led by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). The independence struggle can properly be understood as the resistance to the annexation of Eritrea by Ethiopia long after the Italians left the territory. At first, this group factionalized the liberation movement along ethnic and geographic lines. The initial four zonal commands of the ELF were all lowland areas and primarily Muslim. Few Christians joined the organization in the beginning, fearing Muslim domination.[13] After growing disenfranchisement with Ethiopian occupation, highland Christians began joining the ELF. Typically these Christians were part of the upper class or university-educated. This growing influx of Christian volunteers prompted the opening of the fifth (highland Christian) command. Internal struggles within the ELF command coupled with sectarian violence among the various zonal groups splintered the organization.

The war started on 1 September 1961 when Hamid Idris Awate and his companions fired the first shots against the occupying Ethiopian Army and police. In 1962 the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia unilaterally dissolved the Eritrean parliament and annexed the country.


In 1970 members of the group had a falling out, and several different groups broke away from the ELF. During this time, the ELF and the groups that would later join together to form the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) would fight a bitter civil war. The two organizations were forced by popular will to reconcile in 1974 and participated in joint operations against Ethiopia.

In 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted in a coup. The new Ethiopian government, called the Derg, was a Marxist military junta led by strongman Mengistu Haile Mariam. With this change of government, Ethiopia came under the influence of the Soviet Union.

Many of the groups that splintered from the ELF joined together in 1977 and formed the EPLF. By the late 1970s, the EPLF had become the dominant armed Eritrean group fighting against the Ethiopian government. The leader of the umbrella organization was Secretary-General of the EPLF Ramadan Mohammed Nur, while the Assistant Secretary-General was Isaias Afewerki.[14] Much of the equipment used to combat Ethiopia was captured from the Ethiopian Army.

During this time, the Derg could not control the population by force alone. To supplement its garrisons, forces were sent on missions to instill fear in the population. An illustrative example of this policy was the village of Basik Dera in northern Eritrea. On 17 November 1970, the entire village was rounded up into the local mosque and the mosque's doors were locked. The building was then razed and the survivors were shot. Similar massacres took place in primarily Muslim parts of Eritrea, including the villages of She'eb, Hirgigo, Elabared, and the town of Om Hajer; massacres also took place in predominately Christian areas as well.[13]

By 1977, the EPLF was poised to drive the Ethiopians out of Eritrea, by utilizing a predetermined, simultaneous invasion from the east by Somalia to siphon off Ethiopian military resources. But in a dramatic turnaround, the Derg managed to repulse the Somalian incursion, thanks mainly to a massive airlift of Soviet arms. After that, using the considerable manpower and military hardware available from the Somali campaign, the Ethiopian Army regained the initiative and forced the EPLF to retreat to the bush. This was most notable in the Battle of Barentu and the Battle of Massawa. Between 1978 and 1986, the Derg launched eight major offensives against the independence movements, and all failed to crush the guerrilla movement. In 1988, with the Battle of Afabet, the EPLF captured Afabet and its surroundings, then headquarters of the Ethiopian Army in northeastern Eritrea, prompting the Ethiopian Army to withdraw from its garrisons in Eritrea's western lowlands. EPLF fighters then moved into position around Keren, Eritrea's second-largest city. Meanwhile, other dissident movements were making headway throughout Ethiopia.

Throughout the conflict Ethiopia used "anti-personnel gas"[15]. Napalm was also used,[16] as well as other incendiary devices.

At the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union informed Mengistu that it would not be renewing its defense and cooperation agreement. With the cessation of Soviet support and supplies, the Ethiopian Army's morale plummeted, and the EPLF, along with other Ethiopian rebel forces, began to advance on Ethiopian positions.

Map of Eritrea while still attached to Ethiopia.


After the end of the Cold War, symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States played a facilitative role in the peace talks in Washington during the months leading up to the May 1991 fall of the Mengistu regime. In mid-May, Mengistu resigned as head of the Ethiopian government and went into exile in Zimbabwe, leaving a caretaker government in Addis Ababa. Having defeated the Ethiopian forces in Eritrea, A high-level U.S. delegation also was present in Addis Ababa for the July 1-5, 1991 conference that established a transitional government in Ethiopia. The EPLF attended as an observer and held talks with the new transitional government regarding Eritrea's relationship to Ethiopia. The outcome of those talks was an agreement in which the Ethiopians recognized the right of the Eritreans to hold a referendum on independence. The referendum helped in April 1993 when the Eritrean people voted almost unanimously in favour of independence and this was verified by the UN observer mission UNOVER. On May 28, 1993, the United Nations formally admitted Eritrea to its membership.[17]

Referendum Results[18]
Region Do you approve Eritrea to become an independent sovereign state? Total
Yes No uncounted
Asmara 128,443 144 33 128,620
Barka 4,425 47 0 4,472
Denkalia 25,907 91 29 26,027
Gash-Setit 73,236 270 0 73,506
Hamasien 76,654 59 3 76,716
Akkele Guzay 92,465 147 22 92,634
Sahel 51,015 141 31 51,187
Semhar 33,596 113 41 33,750
Seraye 124,725 72 12 124,809
Senhit 78,513 26 1 78,540
Freedom fighters 77,512 21 46 77,579
Sudan 153,706 352 0 154,058
Ethiopia 57,466 204 36 57,706
Other 82,597 135 74 82,806
% 99.79 0.17 0.03


  1. ^ a b Connell, Dan (March 2005). Building a New Nation: Collected Articles on the Eritrean Revolution (1983–2002). Red Sea Press. ISBN 1569021996.  
  2. ^ "Eritrean War of Independence 1961-1993". Retrieved 2007-09-06.  
  3. ^ "A Little Help from Some Friends".,9171,916434,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-06.  
  4. ^ "F-15 Fight: Who Won What".,9171,919695,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-06.  
  5. ^ "Communism, African-Style".,9171,950926,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-06.  
  6. ^ "Ethiopia Red Star Over the Horn of Africa".,9171,961908,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-06.  
  7. ^ "Ethiopia a Forgotten War Rages On".,9171,960451,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-06.  
  8. ^ a b "In Eritrea". Retrieved 2009-08-14.  
  9. ^ a b Cousin, Tracey L.. "Eritrean and Ethiopian Civil War". ICE Case Studies. Retrieved 2007-09-03.  
  10. ^ "Eritrean War of Independence 1961-1993". Retrieved 2007-09-03.  
  11. ^ Pool, David (July 1993). "Eritrean Independence: The Legacy of the Derg and the Politics of Reconstruction". African Affairs (Royal African Society) 92 (368): 389–402.  
  12. ^ "Eritrean War of Independence 1961-1993". Retrieved 2007-09-03.  
  13. ^ a b Killion, Tom (1998). Historical Dictionary of Eritrea. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow. ISBN 0-8108-3437-5.  
  14. ^ "Discourses on Liberation and Democracy - Eritrean Self-Views". Retrieved 2006-08-25.  
  15. ^ Johnson, Michael; Johnson, Trish (April 1981). "Eritrea: The National Question and the Logic of Protracted Struggle". African Affairs 80 (319): 181–195.  
  16. ^ Keller, Edmond J. (December 1992). "Drought, War, and the Politics of Famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea". Modern African Studies 30 (4): 609–624. doi:10.1017/S0022278X00011071.  
  17. ^ "Eritrea". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2006-08-25.  
  18. ^ "Eritrea: Birth of a Nation". Retrieved 2007-01-30.  

See also

Further reading



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address