Skip to main content Accessibility help

Writing Eritrea: History and Representation in a Bad Neighborhood

  • Richard Reid


This paper reflects on the ways in which Eritrea has been written about since circa 2001, the point at which the country entered a new phase of heightened authoritarianism and increased international isolation. It considers the ways in which Eritrea has been seen largely in “presentist” terms, due in no small way to the Eritrean government’s own intrinsic hostility to independent historical research, with an overwhelming fixation on its dire human rights and governance record, and on the nature of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), which governs in all but name. The paper urges a more historical approach, beginning with the critical three decades that preceded the emergence of the EPLF in the early 1970s.

Cet article porte sur les manières par lesquelles l’on a écrit sur l’Erythrée depuis 2001, au moment où le pays est entré dans une nouvelle phase d’autoritarisme et isolement international accrus. Il prend en considération les modalités par lesquelles l’Erythrée a été largement vue dans des termes “présentistes,” en raison de l’hostilité intrinsèque non négligeable du gouvernement vers la recherche historique indépendente, avec une propagande débordante sur les points marqués sur les droits de l’homme et la gouvernance ainsi que la nature du Front de Libération du Peuple Érythréen (EPLF), qui gouverne dans tout sauf que dans le nom qu’il porte. L’article prone pour une approche historique plus poussée, en ouvrant avec les trois décennies critiques qui ont précédé l’émergence de l’EPLF au début des années 70.



Hide All
Ammar, Wolde-Yesus, “The Role of Asmara Students in the Eritrean Nationalist Movement, 1958–68,” Eritrean Studies Review 21 (1997), 5984.
Amnesty International, “Eritrea: No Progress on Key Human Rights Concerns,” June 2013. Available at
Amnesty International, Eritrea: 20 Years of Independence But Still No Freedom (London: Amnesty International, 2013).
Aressa, Tuquabo (ed.), Mrutzat Anketzat Ato Woldeab [Selected Articles of Ato Woldeab] 1941–1991 (Asmara: Hidri Publishers, 1995).
Barrera, Giulia, Dangerous Liaisons: Colonial Concubinage in Eritrea, 1890–1941 (Evanston IL: Northwestern University African Studies Working Papers, 1996).
Bereketeab, Redie, Eritrea: The Making of a Nation, 1890–1991 (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2007).
Bernal, Victoria, “Eritrea On-Line: Diaspora, Cyberspace, and the Public Sphere,” American Ethnologist 32–4 (2005), 660675.
Bernal, Victoria, “Diaspora, Cyberspace and Political Imagination: the Eritrean Diaspora Online,” Global Networks 62 (2006), 161179.
Birhan, Addis, Eritrea: A Problem Child of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Marran Books, 1998).
Bozzini, David, “Low-tech State Surveillance: The Production of Uncertainty among Conscripts in Eritrea,” Surveillance and Society 9–1/2 (2011), 93113.
Cliffe, Lionel, and Davidson, Basil (eds.), The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 1988).
Chelati, Uoldelul, “Colonialism and the Construction of National Identities: The Case of Eritrea,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 12 (2007), 256276.
Clark, Jonathan C.D., Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism and History (London: Atlantic Books, 2003).
Cooper, Frederick, Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
Connell, Dan, Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution (Lawrenceville NJ: Red Sea Press, 1997).
Connell, Dan, “Inside the EPLF: The Origins of the ‘People’s Party’ and its Role in the Liberation of Eritrea,” Review of African Political Economy 89 (2001), 345364.
Connell, Dan, Taking on the Superpowers: Collected Articles on the Eritrean Revolution (1976–1982), volume I (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2003).
Connell, Dan, Building a New Nation: Collected Articles on the Eritrean Revolution (1983–2002), volume II (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2004).
Connell, Dan, Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2005).
Connell, Dan, “Eritrea: On a Slow Fuse,” in: Rotberg, Robert I. (ed.), Battling Terrorism in the Horn of Africa (Cambridge/Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2005), 6492.
Connell, Dan, “The EPLF/PFDJ Experience: How it Shapes Eritrea’s Regional Strategy,” in: Reid, Richard (ed.), Eritrea’s External Relations: Understanding its Regional Role and Foreign Policy (London: Chatham House, 2009), 2444.
Davidson, Basil, Cliffe, Lionel and Selassie, Bereket Habte (eds.), Behind the War in Eritrea (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1980).
De Lorenzi, James, “Missionaries and the Making of Colonial Notables: Conversions to Modernity in Eritrea and Ethiopia,” in: Sharkey, Heather (ed.), Cultural Conversions: Unexpected Consequences of Christian Missionary Encounters in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013), 157175.
Ellingson, Lloyd, “The Emergence of Political Parties in Eritrea, 1941–1950,” Journal of African History 18–2 (1977), 261281.
Fekadu, Tekeste, Journey from Nakfa to Nakfa: Back to Square One, 1976–79 (Asmara: [publisher unknown], 2002).
Fekadu, Tekeste, The Tenacity and Resilience of Eritrea 1979–1983 (Asmara: Hidri, 2008).
Finaldi, Giuseppe M., Italian National Identity in the Scramble for Africa: Italy’s African Wars in the Era of Nation-Building, 1870–1900 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009).
Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and the Last Man (London: Penguin, 1992).
Gebre-Medhin, Jordan, Peasants and Nationalism in Eritrea: A Critique of Ethiopian Studies (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 1989).
Gebremedhin, Yohannes, The Challenges of a Society in Transition: Legal Development in Eritrea (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2004).
Gettleman, Jeffrey, “Coup Attempt by Rebel Soldiers is Said to Fail in Eritrea,” New York Times, 21 January 2013.
Guazzini, Federica, Le Ragioni di un Confine Colonial: Eritrea 1898–1908 (Turin: L’Harmattan Italia, 1999).
Habte Selassie, Bereket, Wounded Nation: How a Once Promising Eritrea was Betrayed and its Future Compromised (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2011).
Habte Selassie, Bereket, The Crown and the Pen: The Memoirs of a Lawyer Turned Rebel (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2007).
Haile, Bocretsion, The Collusion on Eritrea (Asmara: [publisher unknown], 2000).
Healy, Sally, Lost Opportunities in the Horn of Africa: How Conflicts Connect and Peace Agreements Unravel (London: Chatham House, 2008).
Healy, Sally, and Plaut, Martin, Ethiopia and Eritrea: Allergic to Persuasion (London: Chatham House, 2007).
Hobsbawm, Eric, “Ethnicity and Nationalism in Europe Today,” Anthropology Today 81 (1992), 38.
Hoehne, Markus, and Luling, Virginia (eds.), Milk and Peace, Drought and War: Somali Culture, Society and Politics. Essays in Honour of I.M. Lewis (New York: Hurst, 2010).
Human Rights Watch, Service for Life: State Repression and Indefinite Conscription in Eritrea (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2009).
Human Rights Watchl, Ten Long Years: A Briefing on Eritrea’s Missing Political Prisoners (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2011).
Institute for Security Studies Situation Report, “The Eritrea-Djibouti Border Dispute,” (15 September 2008).
International Crisis Group, “Ethiopia and Eritrea: Preventing War, Africa Report 101,” (December 2005).
International Crisis Group, “Eritrea: The Siege State, Africa Report 163,” (September 2010).
International Crisis Group, “Eritrea: Scenarios for Future Transition, Africa Report 200,” (March 2013).
Kibreab, Gaim, Critical Reflections on the Eritrean War of Independence: Social Capital, Associational Life, Religion, Ethnicity and Sowing Seeds of Dictatorship (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2008).
Kibreab, Gaim, Eritrea: A Dream Deferred (Woodbridge: James Currey, 2009).
Kibreab, Gaim, “Forced Labour in Eritrea,” Journal of Modern African Studies 47–1 (2009), 4172.
Iyob, Ruth, The Eritrean Struggle for Independence: Domination, Resistance, Nationalism 1941–1993 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Kifleyesus, Abbebe, “Folk-Fairs and Festivals: Cultural Conservation and National Identity Formation in Eritrea,” Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines 186 (2007), 249276.
Killion, Tom, “Eritrean Workers’ Organisation and Early Nationalist Mobilisation, 1948–58,” Eritrean Studies Review 2–1 (1997), 158.
Last, Murray, “From Dissent to Dissidence: The Genesis and Development of Reformist Islamic Groups in Northern Nigeria,” Nigeria Research Network Working Paper No. 5, University of Oxford (Oxford, 2011).
Last, Murray, “Contradictions in Creating a Jihadi Capital: Sokoto in the Nineteenth Century and its Legacy,” African Studies Review 56–2 (2013), 120.
Lemarchand, René, “Reflections on the Recent Historiography of Eastern Congo,” Journal of African History 54–3 (2013), 417437.
Lewis, Ioan M., “History ‘Functionalised,’” in: Lewis, Ioan M. (ed.), Arguments with Ethnography: Comparative Approaches to History, Politics and Religion (London/New Brunswick NJ: Continuum, 1999), 126.
Locatelli, Francesca, “Oziosi, Vagabondi e Pregiudicati: Labour, Law and Crime in Colonial Asmara, 1890–1941,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 40–2 (2007), 225250.
Locatelli, Francesca, “Beyond the Campo Cintato: Prostitutes, Migrants and ‘Criminals’ in Colonial Asmara (Eritrea), 1890–1941,” in: Locatelli, Francesca and Nugent, Paul (eds.), African Cities: Competing Claims on Urban Spaces (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 219240.
Makki, Fouad, “Subaltern Agency and Nationalist Commitment: The Dialectics of Social and National Emancipation in Colonial Eritrea,” Africa Today 58–1 (2011), 2952.
Markakis, John, National and Class Conflict in the Horn of Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
Mengisteab, Kidane, and Yohannes, OkbazghiAnatomy of an African Tragedy: Political, Economic and Foreign Policy Crisis in Post-Independence Eritrea (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2005).
Mengisteab, Kidane, and Okbazghi, Yohannes, “What Has Gone Wrong with Eritrea’s Foreign Relations?,” in: Reid, Richard (ed.), Eritrea’s External Relations: Understanding its Regional Role and Foreign Policy (London: Chatham House, 2009), 4570.
Mehreteab, Amanuel, Wake Up, Hanna! Reintegration and Reconstruction Challenges for Post-War Eritrea (Lawrenceville NJ: Red Sea Press, 2004).
Miran, Jonathan, Red Sea Citizens: Cosmopolitan Society and Cultural Change in Massawa (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009).
Müller, Tanja, The Making of Elite Women: Revolution and Nation-Building in Eritrea (Leiden: Brill, 2005).
Müller, Tanja, “Human Resource Development and the State: Higher Education in Post-Revolutionary Eritrea,” in: O’Kane, David and Hepner, Tricia Redeker (eds.), Biopolitics, Militarism and Development: Eritrea in the Twenty-First Century (New York/Oxford: Berghahn, 2009), 5371.
Müller, Tanja, “Beyond the Siege State: Tracing Hybridity during a Recent Visit to Eritrea,” Review of African Political Economy 133 (2012), 451464.
Negash, Ghirmai, and Cantalupo, Charles (eds.), Who Needs a Story? Contemporary Eritrean Poetry in Tigrinya, Tigre and Arabic (Asmara: Hidri Publishers, 2005).
Negash, Tekeste, Eritrea and Ethiopia: The Federal Experience (Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute, 1997).
O’Kane, David, and Hepner, Tricia Redeker (eds.), Biopolitics, Militarism and Development: Eritrea in the Twenty-First Century (New York/Oxford: Berghahn, 2009).
Oxford Analytica, “The Red Sea Region: Geopolitical and Security Risks and Implications for Eritrea,” (18 June 2010).
Palma, Silvana, L’Italia Coloniale (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1999).
Pateman, Roy, Eritrea: Even the Stones are Burning (Lawrenceville NJ: Red Sea Press, 1998 [revised second edition]).
Plaut, Martin, “Seething Discontent in the Horn of Africa: Eritrea’s Strange ‘Coup,’” New Statesman, 23 January 2013.
Plastow, Jane (ed.), Three Eritrean Plays (Asmara: Hidri Publishers, 2006).
Pool, David, From Guerrillas to Government: the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (Oxford: James Currey, 2001).
Redeker Hepner, Tricia, Soldiers, Martyrs, Traitors, and Exiles: Political Conflict in Eritrea and the Diaspora (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).
Reid, Richard, “The Challenge of the Past: The Struggle for Historical Legitimacy in Independent Eritrea,” History in Africa 28 (2001), 239272.
Reid, Richard, “Caught in the Headlights of History: Eritrea, the EPLF and the Postwar Nation-State,” Journal of Modern African Studies 43–3 (2005), 467488.
Reid, Richard, “Traumatic Transitions: Open Season on the Eritrean State,” African Affairs 421 (2006), 637644.
Reid, Richard, “War and Remembrance: Orality, Literacy and Conflict in the Horn,” Journal of African Cultural Studies 18–1 (2006), 89103.
Reid, Richard, “The Trans-Mereb Experience: Perceptions of the Historical Relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 12 (2007), 238255.
Reid, Richard, “The Politics of Silence: Interpreting Apparent Stasis in Contemporary Eritrea,” Review of African Political Economy 120 (2009), 209221.
Reid, Richard (ed.), Eritrea’s External Relations: Understanding its Regional Role and Foreign Policy (London: Chatham House, 2009).
Reid, Richard, Frontiers of Violence in Northeast Africa: Genealogies of Conflict since c. 1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Reid, Richard, “Past and Presentism: The “Precolonial” and the Foreshortening of African History,” Journal of African History 52–2 (2011), 135155.
Rosoni, Isabella, La Colonia Eritrea: La Prima Amministrazione Colonial Italiana (1880–1912) (Macerata: Edizioni Universita di Macerata, 2006).
Schmidt, Peter, “Postcolonial Silencing, Intellectuals, and the State: Views from Eritrea,” African Affairs 435 (2010), 293313.
Schmidt, Peter, Curtis, Matthew C. and Teka, Zelalem (eds.), The Archaeology of Ancient Eritrea (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2008).
Tadesse, Medhane, The Eritrean-Ethiopian War: Retrospect and Prospects (Addis Ababa: [publisher unknown], 1999).
Tareke, Gebru, The Ethiopian Revolution: War in the Horn of Africa (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009).
Tesfai, Alemseged, Aynefalale (Asmara: Hidri Publishers, 2001).
Tesfai, Alemseged, Two Weeks in the Trenches: Reminiscences of Childhood and War in Eritrea (Lawrenceville NJ: Red Sea Press, 2002).
Treiber, Marcus, “Dreaming of a Good Life: Young Urban Refugees from Eritrea between Refusal of Politics and Political Asylum,” in: Hahn, Hans-Peter and Klute, Georg (eds.), Cultures of Migration: African Perspectives (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2007), 239260.
Treiber, Marcus, “Trapped in Adolescence: The Postwar Urban Generation,” in: O’Kane, David and Hepner, Tricia Redeker (eds.), Biopolitics, Militarism and Development: Eritrea in the Twenty-First Century (New York/Oxford: Berghahn, 2009), 92114.
Treiber, Marcus, “Lessons for Life: Two Migratory Portraits from Eritrea,” in: Triulzi, Alessandro and McKenzie, Robert (eds.), Long Journeys: African Migrants on the Road (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 187212.
Trevaskis, G.K.N., Eritrea: A Colony in Transition (London: Oxford University Press, 1960).
Triulzi, Alessandro, “The Past as Contested Terrain: Commemorating New Sites of Memory in War-Torn Ethiopia,” in: Kaarsholm, Preben (ed.), Violence, Political Culture and Development in Africa (Oxford: James Currey, 2006), 122138.
Tronvoll, Kjetil, The Lasting Struggle for Freedom in Eritrea: Human Rights and Political Development, 1991–2009 (Oslo: The Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights, 2009).
Tronvoll, Kjetil, and Mekonnen, Daniel R., The African Garrison State: Human Rights and Political Developments in Eritrea (Woodbridge: James Currey, forthcoming).
Venosa, Joseph, “‘Because God has Given Us the Power of Reasoning:’ Intellectuals, the Eritrean Muslim League, and Nationalist Activism, 1946–50,” Northeast African Studies 12–2 (2013), 2962.
Venosa, Joseph, Paths Toward the Nation: Islam, Community, and Early Nationalist Mobilization in Eritrea, 1941–1961 (Athens OH: Ohio University Press, 2014).
Weldemichael, Awet, “The Eritrean Long March: The Strategic Withdrawal of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), 1978–79,” Journal of Military History 73–4 (2009), 12311271.
Woldeselassie, Mellese, Deportation of Eritreans from Ethiopia, a Lesson to the World: An Eye Witness Account of the Ethiopian Style Ethnic Cleansing (Asmara: [publisher unknown], 2000).
Zaccaria, Massimo, “Italian Approaches to Economic Resources in the Red Sea Region,” Eritrean Studies Review 51 (2007), 113155.
Zaccaria, Massimo, Anch’io per la tua Bandiera: Il V Battaglione Ascari in Missione sul Fronte Libico (1912) (Ravenna: Giorgio Pozzi Editore, 2013).

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Writing Eritrea: History and Representation in a Bad Neighborhood

  • Richard Reid


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.