Every nation is represented by, among other national symbols, a flag. That is why flags are designed to be equally acceptable to all citizens and groups in the country. It has been said that ‘A country starts out from a name and a flag, and it then becomes them, just as a man fulfills his destiny.’ As a national symbol, a flag plays a crucial role in nation-building. It is an instrument of learning through which citizens attach themselves to the past and future of their country. National identity is not something that one simply acquires naturally. It is acquired through learning. The pledge of allegiance to the flag that is done every morning during the hoisting of the national flag at schools in Eritrea is one way of learning about national identity.
The national flag has incredible power to unite people behind a set of ideals and beliefs. It is a symbolic representation of national consciousness that represents the nation’s core values and shared beliefs and enhances the collective memory of the country. Through time, people develop a natural tendency to rally around their flag, which is designed in a way that reflects the history and future aspirations of their nation. The national flag and national anthem are symbols of a nation’s sovereignty and dignity and expressions of its patriotic spirit.
On May 24, 1993, Eritrea’s new flag was hoisted at Independence Day celebration in Asmara attended by various heads of state and international dignitaries. Thirty-two years after the beginning of its armed struggle for independence, Eritrea emerged as a sovereign and independent state to join the community of nations.
The Eritrean national flag represents the history and aspirations of the people of Eritrea, and it is the highest symbol of national pride. Thousands have heroically laid down their lives to keep the Eritrean flag flying in glory. Deeply revered by all Eritreans living inside and outside the country, it is the strongest example of how a symbol can define and unite a country.
Eritrea’s national flag has four colors: red, blue, green and yellow. The red represents the blood shed in the struggle for independence. The blue represents the Red Sea and its marine resources. The Green stands for agricultural exuberance of Eritrea. The yellow represents the mineral resources of Eritrea. The olive branches on the flag have thirty leaves to represent the years of armed struggle for independence.
When Eritrea was forcefully federated with Ethiopia, the two most hotly debated issues were the flag and the official languages of Eritrea. The replacement of the Eritrean flag and its official languages by the Ethiopian flag and language were the last stroke that forced Eritreans to seek independence through an armed struggle.
Eritreans revere and respect their flag in a way few other people do. During the hoisting and lowering of the flag people show their respect and loyalty to the flag by standing still, facing the flag, and removing anything covering their head. Those present in uniform render the appropriate salute. The national flag of Eritrea flies over government buildings, schools and other major institutions. Every morning it is hoisted in thousands of flagpoles as the national anthem is recited by thousands of students in the nine languages of Eritrea. During national celebrations the flag flies in every street. The national flag of Eritrea has also an important place in social and cultural events like marriage and funeral services.
The national flag of Eritrea is simple and distinct. Its well contrasted colors make it distinguishable at a distance. It displays a secular view and is free from ethnic and religious symbols. According to the Pew Research Center, a third of the 193 member states of the United Nations have national flags which include religious symbols. The Eritrean national flag incorporates the history, belief, aspirations and yearning of all Eritrean people.
National Flags are revered in Eritrea and disrespecting them can have consequences. According to Article 123 of the new Penal Code of Eritrea (2015), a person who intentionally insults the national flag of Eritrea or any other country is guilty of insults to the flag, which is punishable with imprisonment or a fine.
The national flag is not a decorative cloth and should be handled with care. It stands for our history and our future. It is a symbol of nationalism, resistance and unity.