On 24th May Eritrea celebrates its birthday, a date that binds Eritreans together with a shared national pride. Independence Day is the most venerated national holiday Eritreans, inside and outside of the country, celebrate in unison.
Eritrea’s political and military campaign for independence was one of Africa’s longest struggles for independence and one of the world’s most protracted campaigns for self-determination since the founding of the United Nations. Eritreans made great sacrifices to determine the future of their country as free people. The long war of liberation has given the country self-confidence and firmness to face the daunting challenges that came with independence.
Eritreans use the Independence Day celebration as an occasion to pay tribute to the brave heroes and heroines of Eritrea. The celebration of Independence Day is also an occasion to rededicate ourselves and renew our commitment to work for the national interest of Eritrea.
Eritreans had conducted an exceptionally long and complex struggle for independence and self-determination that has shaped the national pride, national psyche, and destiny of the country. National pride and independence served as a source of motivation and determination throughout the half-century of political and armed struggle.
The theme of the 31st Independence Day, “Independent choice — Backbone of our pride,” is very telling about the Eritrean experience. ‘Independent choice’ is visible in many aspects of Eritrean life. At individual and collective levels, Eritreans are guided by the principles of self-reliance – in its broadest sense to preclude a situation of perennial and debilitating dependency. They are known for their preference to chart their own paths. Before and after independence,
Eritrea has made historically significant decisions that show its determination to follow an independent political line. Following Eritrea’s liberation in 1991, the government vowed to build a country based on its principle of self-reliance. The government reaffirmed its commitment to pursue an independent political line while critically examining the experiences of other countries and relating them with the realities and experiences of the Eritrean society. The judicious policy of the government to undertake an independent choice makes Eritrea stand as a confident and independent sovereign member of the international community.
Eritrea’s history, to a great extent, affects the pervasive feeling of national pride among its citizens. The nation’s successes, such as winning the armed struggle for independence (1961-1991), successful resistance against the Western-backed TPLF aggression aimed at undoing the hard-won independence, and the achievements in various fields, including education, health, sports, and arts are just a few examples. The national pride of Eritreans has resulted from the multiple social and historical processes of past and current national achievements.
Independent choice, among many other factors, has contributed to the shaping of the national pride of Eritrea. National pride can generally be defined as a sense of esteem that a person has for one’s nation and the pride or self-esteem that a person derives from one’s national identity. The celebration of Independence Day is an expression of the strong feeling of patriotism and nationalism of Eritreans.
Eritreans have never accepted any form of colonization, which Sheik Ibrahim Sultan made known to the international community in 1950 at the United Nations. Sheikh Ibrahim said: “If a wrong decision is taken forcing us to struggle to safeguard our identity and obtain our independence, then the members of this Committee will shoulder the responsibility for the hostilities that arise in East Africa.”
Great powers have inflicted untold suffering and pain on the people of Eritrea. The oppression of the Eritrean people by Western and Eastern-backed Ethiopian expansionist regimes remains fresh in the memory of the people. But Eritreans are proud of the fact that these outrages triggered resistance that later brought about independence. In the same vein, they are also proud of the achievement of the Peoples’ Front and its capacity to safeguard the national interest of the country, and its effective leadership in promoting the policy of “Unity in Diversity.”
Thanks to Eritrea’s leadership that Eritrea is a united country that has used its diversity as its strength. Eritrea is a country in which the nine ethnic groups, center and periphery, men and women are equally touched by progress and development. Although problems associated with development exist in various forms, the country has managed to lay the foundation for its citizens to live a life of dignity, self-respect, and hope, where every citizen feels proud to say – I am Eritrean.
The vision of Eritrea is one of the gifts of the thirty-year struggle for independence. The generation that brought about independence has stated its vision in the National Charter of Eritrea: “We must pass on to our children a country that is free from war and conflict, a country of which they can be proud, a country in which independence, peace, and prosperity prevail.”
Over the past 31 years, Eritrea has demonstrated its commitment to translating the vision into reality by making independent choices. An independent choice fosters Eritrea’s ability to be self-reliant and do what is necessary to create fulfilling lives. Any attempt to force Eritrea to submit by military and other means is only wishful thinking. Great powers that remain guilty of denying Eritreans the right to self-determination must leave Eritrea alone to chart its own path and walk freely. Long live Eritrea’s Independence achieved through Great Struggle and Sacrifice!