By Hailay Gebretinsae, PhD
Earlier Tigrai has been known as the Axumite Kingdom. The territorial size during the Axumite kingdom has been extremely wider than the current territory assumed by Tigrai. It is known that Tigrai possesses one of the known civilizations in the world. Tigrai has been using the Red Sea to integrate economically, socially, and politically with the rest of the world since time immemorial. Tigray is traced as a pioneer in facilitating trading transactions through the mediation of money in world history. Coins were used as a medium of exchange during the time of King Kaleb of Axum. The Axum stale and inscription on stones and rocks are tangible pieces of evidence of the magnificent civilization of Tigrai. Several studies and historical findings indicate that during the ancient times, Tigrai was interconnected with the world through trade routes that extend to Asia, including India and China, and to Europe, Israel, etc.
Tigrai has been connected with the world mainly through land and water transport. If we just trace the territorial integrity of Tigrai during the time of King Abraha, let alone be limited to the current territorial area, the effective administration and governance of Tigrai, has been much wider that extends beyond the eastern part of the Red Sea. The country currently called Yeman located on the right side of Saudi Arabia has been governed and administered by king Abraha who named its name Yeman as it was located on the right side of the eastern Red Sea. In Tigrigna Yeman means right side. Even now the name Yeman is a common name and word frequently used in Tigrai. This shows that Tigrai has been not only on the land west of the Red Sea, and the Red Sea, but also on the land east of the Red Sea. It can be implied that trading activities were connecting Tigrai with northern Africa, eastern Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. In this trading corridor, the role of Tigrai during the Axumite Kingdom was significant. Tigrai was one of the superpowers that had a strong army including the naval force as several historical pieces of evidence show and as can be implied from the fact that it was governing bigger territory in the west and eastern part of the Red Sea.
Economically, for countries to mobilize defense forces to a wider geographical area demands the availability of substantial economic capacity. Even if we look at the very recent (as compared to the time of the Axumite Kingdom) economic philosophies pursued by States during the 17th century, mercantilism was the dominant philosophy. The fundamental assumption of this philosophy is that a State becomes strong if the country is wealthier and richer as compared to other nations in the world. If a state is strong, it gains the capacity to influence other countries of the world. This wealth is achieved through the aggressive export of goods that allows the accumulation of precious metals like gold, silver, and others. When we assess the economic strength of Tigrai from this perspective, Tigrai had a strong economic base that enabled it to govern a wider geographical area and mobilize a strong military force on the Red Sea. Hence, from the economic strength perspective again Tigrai was one of the richest countries in the world. As has been described by renowned historians such as Manuel Paradis, and Manuel Almeda, a common rich person in around 1948 in Tigrai used to own 10,000cattles. An average farmer used to own 2000 cattle, Tigrai was a place very convenient to live in the world. Moreover, it was indicated that Tigrai has been importing silk clothes from India. The slave trade has been making its route through Tigrai as it is the owner of a very large coastal area on the Red Sea. This implies that Tigrai’s existence and sustenance are intermingled and bonded with the Red Sea. Tigrai is part and parcel of the majestic Red Sea created by nature. In fact, Tigrai cannot be thought of without the Red Sea, as the name the Red Sea itself is believed to be named by Tigrai. This view can be strengthened when we look at similarly-named places within Tigrai such as Mai Keyah (literally it means Red Water), Shum Bahra (Governor of Sea), Adi Keyih (Red Living Area) the one some kilometers away from Mekelle, and the one after Senaafe, Mai Liham (Red Liham), Mai Edaga (Water Market), Mai Kadra (Water Kadra), etc.
Tigrai has been exporting and importing goods through the main line of the Red Sea. Tigrai’s economic prosperity is enmeshed with the Red Sea. Socially, and politically, the Red Sea was the main route for social values, religious faiths, beliefs, and norms to be shared and spread through. The three main religious faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were introduced to Tigrai through the route of the Red Sea.
Even the conflict that occurred in Tigrai with foreign forces was headed to Tigrai through the main route of the Red Sea. So many battles have been done in Tigrai with foreign forces such as Italy, Egypt, and Turkey. It can be understood that Tigrai’s past history, current situation, and forthcoming future cannot be thought of in alienation from the Red Sea. Tigrai’s past, current, and future situations and scenarios are intertwined with the Red Sea.
Therefore, the blessings and misery, the good and bad phenomena that occurred in Tigrai throughout its history are directly or indirectly linked to the Red Sea and beyond. By the virtue of ownership of very long coastal areas on the Red Sea, Tigrai has been a superpower in the history of the world as can be evidenced by its colorful history of the Axumite kingdom. Given these backdrops, Tigrai to significantly integrate into the world, its former territories should be reinstated and returned to their original territorial integrity status.
Tigrai’s vision of sustenance cannot be thought of as excluding the Red Sea. The Red Sea should be the focal and central point for all strategic plans, and directions of all kinds (territorial, political, economic, social, defense, education, health, environment, etc). For instance, while considering strategic economic growth and development plans of Tigrai, it has to incorporate the Red Sea issue such as ports, shipping lines such as the water transport, marine products, fishing, mining, etc. Similarly, the educational programs should include the issue of the Red Sea, like Universities should open colleges and departments related to marine, fishing, waters, etc. The defense force should be organized and structured in a way naval force becomes one of the core defense wings. The health and environmental issues as well should give due attention to the Red Sea issue and get incorporated.
How the Red Sea can be Secured for Tigrai?
As has been stated above, Tigrai cannot be separated from its ever possession of the Red Sea. This fact of the association of Tigrai with the Red Sea is a pillar that cannot be compromised. Given this crystal clear vision, various ways can be used to reinstate the current shrunk Tigrai (territorially) to its former original historical territorial integrity. Had it been a kind of effort to bring or annex something that Tigrai did not have in its history, it would have been difficult to claim places and territories. However, in the case of the Red Sea and Tigrai, they are the two faces of the same coin. One cannot attempt to separate the inseparable. As a matter of fact, there has been an attempt to separate the inseparable for a few years and has reached a status pretending as if they are separated and a quest of how to re-instate it. The misery Tigrai has been facing after the Axumite Kingdom is more likely to be attributed to its times of separation from the Red Sea. The time Tigrai is separated from its naturally given coastal territory, Tigrai’s suffering and hardship rise.
It has been asserted that Tigrai is not claiming somebody’s property; rather it is re-instating its territorial integrity which has been under its effective administration and control for a long time immemorial. Therefore, the reinstatement issue cannot and should not be misinterpreted as claiming something that is alien. Rather, one of the very important contributing factors to the crisis in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa is attributed to the shrinkage of Tigrai to the extent of the current territorial status and situation of being locked and distancing Tigrai by itself from becoming an active player and actor on the Red Sea. It is time to break the silence Tigrai has been showing and endlessly hibernating in the Red Sea region and wake up to play its pivotal role in assuring and maintaining peace and stability in the horn of Africa as well as in the Red Sea. The history of Tigrai gives ample proof that Tigrai is known for keeping justice and has never claimed unjustified territories. It is time to wake up and give an end to stop the shrinking trend exhibited after the Axumite kingdom. Enough is enough. It is the time to make the current situation a turning point and reverse the shrinking trajectory toward re-instating the influential territorial integrity it had during and before the Axumite kingdom. Tigrai should open its blunders and establish Neo-Tigrai starting the journey right now using the current chronic challenges as opportunities. The idea of reinstatement of realizing the previous shining history of Tigrai with the Red Sea as a backbone is a great vision that should be strived for by each Tigrean to have sustainable, prosperous, highly honored, and respected Tigrai in Eastern Africa, Northern Africa, and the Middle East regions.