In mid-1991, the lengthy divergence among Eritrea and Ethiopia came to a close. The military of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) entered and liberated the capital of Asmara, dealing absolute blow to the biggest standing army in Africa. On 27 May 1991, the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE) was formed and announced its intention to hold a referendum on Eritrean independence within two years. The next day, Ethiopian movements liberated Addis Ababa and unseated the ruthless regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. The simultaneous victories of the Eritrean and Ethiopian people’s allowed for the diplomatic resolution of the Eritrean problem after three decades of war and subjugation.
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) convened a conference in Addis Ababa attended by 28 other Ethiopian parties and organizations. The participants voted to endorse Ethiopia’s National Charter which, among other provisions, accepted the right of the Eritrean people to self-determination. They outlined the support of the new Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) for the internationally-supervised referendum decided upon by the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE).
On 7 April 1993, the PGE issued Proclamation on the Eritrean Referendum. The decree provided for an internationally-observed, free and fair referendum. It allowed “the people of Eritrea to freely and democratically decide whether or not they wished to become independent and thus conclusively determine Eritrea’s status in the international community. ” The question on the ballot would be “Do you want Eritrea to be an independent and sovereign country?” with the choices being “yes” or “no.” The Referendum Proclamation specified that every Eritrean had the right to freely express his/her views on the issue. Eritreans and Eritrean associations in Eritrea opposing Eritrean independence were guaranteed the opportunity to express their views through meetings or the media.
Registration was based on the provisions of the Eritrean Nationality Proclamation. Eritrean nationality was granted on the basis of several distinct qualifications. Any person born to a father or mother of Eritrean origin, in Eritrea or abroad, was entitled to citizenship. Special provisions were made for the many Eritreans of the Diaspora who, due to conditions of war in the country, possessed foreign nationalities. Provisions were also made for nationality by naturalization before and after 1952 (the onset of the federation period) and for nationality on the basis of adoption or marriage. The progressive nationality proclamation sought to provide eligibility in the broadest possible manner.
The organization of the referendum process represented an enormous task. This was undertaken by an independent Referendum Commission. After the identification of Eritrean citizens eligible to participate in the referendum process, the Referendum Commission began registering voters. The registration process involved extensive work not only in the urban and rural areas of Eritrea, but also in all countries where Eritreans reside abroad. The Referendum Commission appointed special representatives to act on its behalf abroad.
The final week of April 1993 marked the end of an era for the Eritrean people and with it the dawn of a new age. For close to fifty years, they had struggled tirelessly to achieve the fundamental right to determine their own destiny. Having won the right to define their status and chart their future, they voted with a single voice for independence in a referendum held from 23 -25 April 1993. The people of Eritrea have forever altered the course of Eritrean history and launched a new phase in the struggle for democracy, equality and freedom.
On 27 April 1993, the independent Eritrean Referendum Commission, the United Nations Observer Mission for the Eritrean Referendum (UNOVER), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement, the National Citizens Monitoring Group and a host of individual observers issued their preliminary results following the three day vote on Eritrea’s future. These organizations fielded over 500 independent observers. They were unanimous in their conclusion that the referendum had been free and fair.
The head of the UNOVER mission, Mr. Samir Sanbar, announced UNOVER’s findings on 27 April. In his world he said, “On the basis of the evaluation performed by UNOVER, I have the honour, in my capacity as Special Representative of the Secretary- General, to certify that on the whole, the referendum process in Eritrea can be considered to have been free and fair at every stage, and that it has been conducted to my satisfaction.” In the words of the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE) Secretary General, Issaias Afwerki, the referendum was “a delightful and sacrosanct historical conclusion to the choice of the Eritrean people. And although it has been decided that formal independence will be declared on 24 May 1993, Eritrea is a sovereign country as of today.” (27 April 1993) Independent Eritrea was immediately recognized by several countries.
May 4, 1993, is the date of the official independence proclamation of Eritrea. Then, the national aspirations of the Eritrean people, demonstrated by their long struggle, commitment and sacrifice, finally became a reality. May 24 stands as the most significant of days in Eritrean history. It is also the date of the end of the war and the liberation of Eritrea. For generations to come, May 24 will mark a turning point in the lives of Eritrea’s people. On this day, they won the ultimate reward for their struggle and sacrifice for freedom. This is the procedure and manner of referendum the indigenous people of Biafra are pursuing. IPOB is saying and advocating that everybody will be allowed to air his/her opinion through a democratic process in the most credible and fair procedure. Having remained resolute in the face of brutalization, killings, forceful disappearance and unwanton arrest and detention of Biafrans since the Biafra genocide ended in 1967.
The quest for Biafrans sovereignty is almost at the final stage, following many successful rallies, peaceful protests and civil disobedience and most decisively the undaunted resolve of the indigenous people of Biafra to boycott 2019 Nigeria elections which will send a strong signal to the relevant international organisations that Biafrans are not ready to remain in the contraption called Nigeria. Biafrans should remain resilient and focused, the case of Eritrea and Ethiopia shows that Biafra will surely emerge as an independent entity in the comity of nations. IPOB is the right track to Biafra referendum. Let us buckle up our belt and know that the journey of freedom is not cheap.