'Imagining Eritrea': the creation of the nation


This paper addresses the creation of the Eritrean nation by the post-liberation government between 1991 and 2001. Subsequent events and outcomes are not discussed here. Current anthropological debates and positions on nationalism, the creation of the nation and ethnicity are first discussed. The Eritrean government's appeals to nationalism and its fashioning of a national identity based on sometimes contentious or minority perceptions of ethnicity are examined. To provide historical context, a few of the ways in which identity has been formed and re-formed in the past century in what is now Eritrea are considered. The essentialising notions of the Eritrean government with regard to identity are contrasted with a number of relatively recent developments in anthropological theory, such as 'the open subject'. The influences of history and memory on national identity, especially as expressed through the metaphors of landscape – landscapes of loss and landscapes of renewal – are briefly addressed.

In sub-Saharan Africa forced migration is increasing year by year; repatriation invariably fails as a complete solution to displacement. Post-return negotiation of integration has been viewed in Eritrea as a contested process at local and national levels. Therefore, it is apposite that in this paper closer consideration is focused on whether and/or how refugees and returnees inform the debate on national identity and belonging.

Gender aspects of nationalism and ethnicity are also considered. Research indicates female and male notions of nation and nationality can be somewhat different, and differently expressed.


20 pp.

‘Imagining Eritrea’: the creation of the nation

Published 1 January 2001