I can no longer find the series of comments from Merhawie that relate to Eritrea, but maybe some one else can.  They deserve a response.  Merhawie took proper exception to my casual statement on the origin of the name ‘Eritrea’, and then wrote about Eritrea’s distant past.  I respond to that here, and hope to learn one of these days how to reconstruct a series of comments so that they can be followed in sequence.

Thanks to you, Merhawie for your comments. First, an acknowledgement of careless wording in my earlier comment: ‘Eritrea’ was, as you say, not a name invented by Italy. It was a name rescued from oblivion by Italy and used for a completely new purpose: as a name for its new colony. Until then, ‘Eritrea’ was barely remembered as the name of a body of water.

On your main point – does Eritrea have a distant past as a separate political entity – it’s time for Eritreans to put aside the fantasy that it does. Eritrea began life as an Italian colony, so named by Italy in 1890. Despite some Eritrean fears, this short past does not affect its legitimacy.  Inventing an ancient Eritrea adds nothing and is not worth the effort.

Most of the territory that is Eritrea today was part of the Empire of Aksum (I accept your Aksum/Axum convention), the internationally recognized power in first millennium, well known during the first millennium in the Mediterranean world and the Persian Gulf. ‘Eritrea’ at that time was what we call the Red Sea today, not a city, region, country or empire. Today’s Eritrean highlands and eastern lowlands were part of Aksum, though some parts of today’s Eritrea, such as the western lowlands, were probably not ruled by Aksum. On this we are on the same page.

Eritrea’s legitimacy has adequate roots in modern history. Italy appropriated land that had been part of the ancient Empire of Aksum, and some land that had not. The Abyssinian/Ethiopian Empire, the successor to Aksum, controlled more of future Eritrea when it was strong, and less when it was weak.  During the Fascist era, it controlled none of it, of course.

Broadly speaking, this parallels what colonial Europe did throughout Africa. They grabbed what they could and then lost it after World War II. The collapse of the colonial system led to the gradual emergence of dozens of legitimate African nations. Eritrea is one of them.

The process that created these nations in Africa was not simple, clean or fair (‘history’ is never ‘fair’). It took Europe many hundreds of years to form nations.  Germany, Italy and Belgium didn’t emerge until the 19th century. The process is unfinished even today in both Europe and Africa.  The USSR broke up less than 20 years ago, leaving unstable pieces where fighting still flares.  The two Somaliland colonies became independent in Somalia in 1960 but the former British colony, Somaliland, has been seeking independent recognition since 1991. And then there is the 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The surface issue was the border, which implies separate states whose precise limits need to be defined. Deeper issues and tensions also exist between the two, but Eritrea’s legitimacy is universally accepted.

The world recognizes Eritrea not because it believes there was an ancient Eritrea but because it emerged from the same recent post-colonial process that saw the birth of almost all of today’s sovereign African nations. Ethiopia, Liberia and South Africa are among the few conspicuous exceptions to this process, each with its own unique history.

Eritreans should relax. Their nation is a fact. Eritrea will be judged by how well it looks after the interests of the Eritrean people, not by its legitimacy.