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
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.
‘Imagining Eritrea’: the creation of the nation