Ethiopian Annexation (1952-1962)
From the start of the federation, Emperor Haile Selassie took steps that appeared to undermine Eritrea’s autonomy. He decreed a preventive detention law that allowed Ethiopian forces to supress Eritrean political movements and arrest newspaper editors. He forced elected community leaders to resign. He replaced the Eritrean flag with that of Ethiopia and imposed the use of Amharic in public services and schools. He also seized Eritrea’s share of custom duties and moved most of Eritrean industries and businesses to Ethiopia.
Eritreans protested against Ethiopia’s attempts to jeopardise the Federation. In 1957, students mounted mass demonstrations, followed in 1958 by a four-day general strike organised by trade unions. Ethiopian troops fired on the protestors, killing and wounding many.
Convinced that peaceful protests were not effective anymore, in November 1958 Mr. Mohamed Said Nawd, Mr. Saleh Ahmed Eyay and other Eritreans exiled in Sudan founded the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM). Made up mainly of male and female students intellectuals, and urban wage laborers, the ELM engaged in clandestine political activities intended to pacifically resist Ethiopian rule. By 1962, however, the Movement was discovered and suppressed by Imperial authorities.
It also suffered from competition with the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), which had been created in July 1960 in Cairo by Mr. Idris Muhammad Adam and other Eritrean intellectuals and students inspired by the Algerians’ fight for independence. Most of ELF initial militants and leaders were Muslims who, seeing Eritrea as part of the Arab world, adhered to a Pan-Arabic ideology. ELM and ELF competed for supporters but none of them managed to recruit Hamid Idris Awate, a former soldier in the Italian colonial army who turned into a guerrilla and community leader. In August 1961, he was forced to find refuge on Mount Abal, between Agordat and Tessenei, to escape imminent arrest by Ethiopian police forces.
That is where, on 1 September 1961, he and his companions fired the first shots of what would become the 30-year armed struggle for independence. One year later, on 14 November 1962, Ethiopian troops forced the Eritrean Parliament to dissolve. On that day, Eritrea was officially annexed as Ethiopia’s fourteenth province.
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