Eritrea and Rwanda are both considerably small in size comparatively to other African nations and while both had emotionally scaring instability throughout the late 20th century fueled by colonialism, Rwanda has had considerably more recent success than its counter part due in part to its political independence created and sustained through out the pre-colonial and colonial period.
Eritrea and Rwanda pre-colonial situations not only varied geographically but politically as well due to its location within Africa. Eritrea, made up of rough and rigid mountains, fostered basic nomadic and agricultural tribes. These pre-colonial locals faced the same geographically horrid conditions as the British and Italian soldiers did centuries later, as Wrong describes in “I Didn’t do it for You”. The environment to create and expand a cohesive Eritrea homeland was not available. The lack of nationality and cohesiveness would lead the country to it’s eventual annexation to Ethiopia and the bloody conflicts that would follow.
Rwanda on the other hand definitely had the better end of the stick geographically as the pre-colonial kingdom lay on fertile and resource-abundant soil among its famous hills. The better off country, also known as the land of a thousand hills, developed a very complex hierarchical system, later known as the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s. Pre-colonially, Rwanda’s intricate pre-colonial political system also carried diplomatic traits Smith described in his writings “Peace and Palaver: International Relations in Pre-Colonial West Africa”. But Rwanda’s hierarchical system would eventually set the country up for a devastating genocide between the stratified classes . Overall, while small countries, Eritrea and Rwanda’s pre-colonial geography and politics significantly differed as Rwanda held a much more politically sound structure to its control of the kingdom due to its isolated yet resource abundant lands.
Due to the pre-colonial legacy of each country, the colonial times proved to be worse for the disorganized, politically weak state of Eritrea than it did for the structured kingdom of Rwanda. The approach that the Italians made to colonizing though, played a large role in the impact the European oppression had on the Eritreans. Italy chose a very direct way to rule and tried to create a state to house its Italian population. The Germans and eventually the Belgium’s took a very indirect approach to maintaining Rwanda’s kingdom. Since Rwanda already had the system of government set up, the Belgium’s emphasized the stratified classes to extract more resources but overall had very little direct impact with the country. Both colonial rulers stirred bitterness within the local populations of Eritrea and Rwanda. The Belgium’s, due to the pre-colonial structure of the Rwandan kingdom, just choose to do it more indirectly than the Italians in Eritrea.
The colonial legacy, not to be confused with time period, shares many more similarities between Rwanda and Eritrea. While the overall rule of colonialism affected Eritrea much more harshly than Rwanda, the legacy and ripples that the colonialist left led each country to eventual conflict. Both countries continued their struggle for stability and peace during the 1990′s in thanks to the devastating waves their colonial occupiers created and left behind. In 1994, Rwanda was faced with a countrywide civil war that led to one of the worst genocides in history. In 1993, Eritrea had been in a continuous battle for independence from their Ethiopian suppressors who had taken over after the colonialists left. Each country’s European oppressors left the countries locals with a bitter taste and fired the eventual conflicts that would shake the nation forever.
- Appiah, A., & Gates, H. L. (2010). Encyclopedia of africa. New York: Oxford University Press Oxford ; New York.
- Wrong, Michela. I Didn’t Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.
- Smith, Robert. “Peace and Palaver: International Relations in Pre-colonial West Africa.” The Journal of African History 14.04 (1973)