Review: “Third World Colonialism and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor Compared” – Awet Tewelde Weldemichael

Professor Awet Tewelde Weldemichael’s “Third World Colonialism and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor Compared” offers an excellent and unique analysis of Third World ‘secondary colonialism’ — when former colonial territories, namely Ethiopia and Indonesia, become themselves the colonizers, in this case of Eritrea and East Timor, respectively.

Weldemichael’s primary object of investigation is how the liberation movements in Eritrea and East Timor adapted their struggle to the conditions of ‘secondary colonialism’. In Eritrea, the liberation movement started as a Maoist insurgency of a “band of about thirty men” which “carried only nine long rifles and a pistol, as well as several traditional weapons such as swords and daggers.” Due to Eritrea’s demographic and geographic conditions, such as a relatively large and open territory and international borders with the Red Sea and Sudan, the EPLF transformed into a heavily-armed and mechanized conventional military, with a force close to 100,000 battle-hardened fighters, able to defeat and capture the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. In East Timor, the liberation movement started off as a conventional military, but with its mountainous and heavily forested terrain, and completely surrounded by an Indonesian air, naval, and land blockade, FRETILIN was virtually eliminated by the Indonesian military. Unable to defeat Indonesia in conventional battles like the EPLF, FRETILIN transformed into an amorphous and decentralized guerrilla movement, with hit-and-run tactics combined with international diplomacy designed to make Indonesia’s occupation too costly, politically and economically, to continue.

The different strategies of liberation of the liberation movements reflect each state’s current political system. “In the Eritrean case,” the Weldemichael writes, due to the need for a highly centralized and disciplined liberation movement, “a lot can get done, but the system is, as it has always been, prone to abuse. The Timorese system,” due to the need for an inclusive and decentralized liberation strategy, “is less prone to be abused by the powerful, but little, if anything, gets done.”

Weldemichael’s book should be considered a classic and invaluable contribution to anti-colonial studies.

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