Narratives of nationalism in Eritrea: research and revisionism

Dedicated to the memory of Alex Naty (1957–2003)



Abstract. Eritrean politics is increasingly captured in competing narratives of nationalism. ‘Official’ narratives emphasize Eritrea's purported stability, orderliness, and uniqueness. This discourse defends and supports the current government's policies. In contrast, recent research challenges those policies, and contributes to a nationalist counter-narrative. This article seeks to investigate the discursive power of conventional narratives and the implications of new research for accounts of state and nation-building in Eritrea. The Eritrean case – one of the newest states in the world – intersects with and informs a number of broader debates on nationalism and nation-building: the impact of globalization, secessionism, and war as well as the relationship between ethnicity and nationalism. The penetration of state and nation-building projects into every sector of Eritrean life means that all social research is deeply politicised. Journalists and researchers have long been key players in the contested process of conceptualising Eritrean nation-hood, and this continues in the post-liberation period. Research thus both buttresses and challenges official discourses, even where it is not explicitly framed in terms of nationalism.