The Afar Nation

Afar political map
Afar political map

The Afar are one of Africa’s long-established first nation inhabitants of the region called the Horn of Africa. The 3.5 million Afar 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”.

Politically, The Afar societies in the region have been organized into independent territories, each ruled by its own Sultanate, sheikdoms and Clan system. The Afar nations have been self-governing themselves autonomously and in accordance with their indigenous customary laws and legal systems (called Madaa) and without interference from the Ethiopian highlands. When conflict arose between Afar and neighbouring tribes and nations over territories and resources, Madaa was enacted to resolve conflicts and peace treaties signed.

In the 18th century, during the time of “Scramble for Africa”  part of Afar triangle were the subject of European colonization , as a result,  the territories and the Afar people have became separated geopolitically into three sovereignties of Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Similarly, the Afar region was exposed to internal aggression and occupations by successive Ethiopian Kings from the Highlands. In all of these historic events, the Afar nations have paid a huge sacrifice and fought decisive battles against the occupying forces and defended their people and lands. Though divided geographically, the Afar people remained connected through their unique culture and indigenous traditions that sustained them for thousands of generations.

Way of Life

As Indigenous Nation, the Afar heavily dependent and attached to their land and their environment. The Afar have been practicing their distinct culture and traditions and unique economic pursuits and sustenance based on their nomadic lifestyle, livestock raising and trade, farming, fishing, salt extraction in the coastal areas since the time immemorial.

Some Historian credit the introduction of Islam into the continent of Africa through Afar in place called “Mideri” near Dahlak Islands, when the companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBOH) fled Makkah, Saudi Arabia after persecution.

Today, the Afar practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam, in some areas of Afar hinterland mixing Islam with their indigenous traditions.

Afar in Eritrea (Dankalia)

Afar in EritreaThe Southeastern region of Afar triangle lies in what is now Eritrea. This is the traditional homeland of Eritrean Afar people (also known as Dankalia). Dankalia lies along the strategic and resource rich coastline of the red sea. The Eritrean Afar have successfully shielded themselves and protected their homeland from foreign colonization and internal occupations by controlling and governing Dankalia for centuries.

The Afar resistance to European colonialism 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. Anti colonialism resistance by the Afar against the Fascist Italians would go on for the next 30 years were thousands of Afar lost their lives and prevented Mussolini forces from penetrating the Afar hinterlands and territories into Ethiopia.

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

The defeat of Afar Sultan cleared the way for Italians to construct the main artery to link the highlands of Ethiopia to the sea outlet in Eritrea. Assab- Addis-Ababa- Desse—Asphalt road was built in 1935.

Prior to European colonization, the Afar lands were the subject of colonization by Ottoman Empire, Thousands of Afar died fighting the Ottoman Turks; Until today, There are Afar cemeteries in a place called Gedemta in Dankalia.

The Eritrean Afar Heroes like Ibrahim Shehem, Mohamed Omar Akito, Abdulkadir Kabir were the pioneers of Eritrea’s liberation struggle.

During the 60’s and 70’s the Eritrean Afar were the faces of Eritrean resistances to an occupation. Martyrs like Idris Gumhed, Yassin Abdalla, Musa Rashid Gaas, Ali Gafo, Mohamed Usman, Dinin Ismaqil ,Ahmed Ahaw, Ahmed Hilal, Ali Mohmaed Ibrahim, Ali Said Abdalla to mention few, were the leading military commanders not only in Dankalia but extending to Samhar. The Afar participation was the turning point for liberation struggle and gave the ELF much needed access to the sea and supply routes.

Afar under 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