Eritrean Afar People

The Afar Nation

Afar political map
Afar political map

The Afar People are one of Africa’s long-established and culturally homogenous indigenous people who have lived in the Afar Triangle, at the convergence of what are now Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea since time immemorial. The Afar Triangle is also the treasure trove of early fossil remains, including “Lucy, Australopithecus Afarensis” dating back to 3.2 million-years-old—one of humankind’s earliest ancestors. Many Paleontologists refer to afar homeland as the “cradle of humanity”.

Most of the 3.5 million Afar continue their traditional way of life as indigenous pastoralist people engaged in animal husbandry, fishing, trade and traditional salt extraction. The northern region of the Afar’s traditional homeland is known as Dankalia which lies along the strategic and resource rich coastal area in what is now known as Eritrea. The people in Dankalia region are known as Eritrean Afar. The indigenous Afar are heavily attached to their land and their environment. The Afar have a distinct culture and their unique economic pursuits and livelihood are dependent on their traditional territories and resources.

The Afar Nation are followers of the Islamic faith. Some historian credit the introduction of Islam into continental Africa through the Afar region in Dankalia in a place called “Mideri” and near Dahlak Islands. When the companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBOH) fled from Makkah, Saudi Arabia, after persecution, they have arrived in coastal areas of Afar territories where Islam was mixed with their indigenous traditions.

Afar Sultanates of (AWSA, RAHAYTA, BIRU, TADJOURA and GOBAD) governed Afar land territory throughout these regions prior to current colonial borders and independent states. The Afar region have been organized and self-governed autonomously into independent Afar territories, each ruled by its own Sultanate, Sheikdoms and legal customary law known as “Madqa”. When conflict arose between Afar and neighbouring nations and nationalities over territories and resources, Madaa was enacted to resolve conflicts and peace treaties were signed according to Afar traditional law (Madqa).

During the European colonialism “Age of Discovery” at the beginning of the 15th century and later during the time of “the Scramble for Africa”, the Afar regions have seen numerous foreign occupations and colonial rules such as the Ottoman Empire and fascist Italian invasion at the end of 1800 century. Similarly, the Afar Nation fought off numerous internal regional aggression and attempts of violent territorial takeovers by feudalist Abyssinian kings.

In Dankalia, The Afar resistance to Italian occupation was led by Sultan of Girrifo (Bidu), Sultan Haysma Ahaw and his sons Sultan Mohamed Haysama and continued to the days of Sultan Yassin Haysama. Afar Anti colonialism sentiment and resistance struggle by the Afar people against the Fascist Italians would go on for the next 30 years were thousands of indigenous Afar lost their lives and prevented Mussolini forces from penetrating the Afar hinterlands and territories into modern day Ethiopia.

After fierce battles against Mussolini forces, the young Sultan Yassin Haysma, at the age of 39 was captured and killed in a village of Bidu, Dankalia in 1931.

The defeat of Sultan Haysma cleared the way for Italy to take control and begin to construct the main artery asphalt road to link the highlands of Ethiopia to the sea outlet in Eritrea. Assab to Addis- Ababa – Desse, road was built in 1935. In the early 1950’s- 60’s, the Eritrean Afar Heroes like Mohamed Omar Akitto, Abdulkadir Kabir were the pioneers of Eritrea’s liberation struggle.

On May 20, 1995, following in the footsteps of his previous Afar resistance fighters, Martyr Ahmed Humad Igahle, from a small village of Abbe in central Dankalia, has led a new rebellion against current Eritrean regime. He took up arms struggle to fight for Afar self-determination with an aim of establishing the right for Afar self-determination and rights to self-rule in Eritrea.

 Afar Homeland of Dankalia

Geostrategic, Economic, and Geopolitical Importance of Dankalia

Dankalia is on the most sought after and prime real estate in Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. Dankalia is strategically situated on international shipping routes between the strategic passages at the heart of the red sea near Bab-el-Mandeb in close proximity to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Dankalia presents key geo-strategic asset for Afar and Eritrea to link the continent of Africa to Middle-East and Europe for global trade and investment opportunities, scientific research and intercontinental partnerships for economic development.

The Afar homeland (Dankalia) is over 40,000 Square Kilometers in size, stretching from the northern tip of Bori Peninsula near Massawa to southern town of Rahyta. The coastal regions of Dankalia stretch up 1000 KM and contain historic villages, ports and islands. Dahlak Island, for example, contains over 300 islands which have served as the traditional fishing economic base for generations.

The land, the coastlines, the seaways and the vast deserts of Dankalia holds the majority of Eritrea’s of economic future with untapped natural resources, various minerals, precious metals, potash, natural gas and a huge potential for tourism.

Assab port in Dankalia is an international capacity port that has a unique capability to link international shipping line and cargo that would link Europe and the Middle East and it can potentially become the next free zone port on the coast of the red sea. Moreover, the growing demand by neighbouring Ethiopia with over 100 million populations with no access to seaport makes Assab port even more attractive for interregional trade and economic growth.

Geopolitically, Dankalia is seen by international actors as a crucial region for international security and a key area of interest for a global fight against religious fundamentalism affecting regional peace and the development in the Horn of Africa.

Afar under Current Eritrean Rule

Following the independence of Eritrea in May of 1991, the indigenous population of 600,000- 800,000 Afar faced and continue to face unprecedented persecution and prolonged tyranny of the Eritrean regime. Led by President Isaias Afwerki’s ruling junta known as the People’s Front for Justice and democracy (PFDJ), the regime is systemically removing the historic presence of the Afar from their ancestral homeland, robbing them of their indigenous identity, denying them the rights to own and live off their traditional land and territories, destroying the basis of the Afar economies such as fishing and animal husbandry, and confiscating Afar businesses. Exploitation of Dankalia’s people and resources is sustaining Afwerki and his Generals’ grip on power in the region. Eritrean regime has since divided Afar homeland (Dankalia) and renamed the territory.

The current Eritrean regime is displacing Afar from their homeland in Dankalia, which they have inhabited for more than 2,000 years, and re-colonizing it with others. Eritrea is achieving this using mass murder, terror, intimidation, rape, persecution and other forms of violence. Tens of thousands of Afar families have fled their homeland into nearby Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti. Those who weren’t captured or shot by Eritrean security (who have orders to shoot Afar on sight) wind up in UN refugee camps, which are bursting at the seams with men, women, children and elders. Many others who aren’t able to flee are subjected to daily humiliations, misery and sufferings.

Current Eritrean government’s policies and actions towards the Afar people are a threat to regional peace and stability. The Eritrean regime’s policies are threatening long-established Afar identity. The regime has subjected the Afar beyond human rights violations in the country. It has pushed the Afar to the brink of extinction from Dankalia. It is doing so to inherit the wealth and strategic significance of Afar Land.

Notable Afar