Liberation Fronts And The Culture Of Anti Intellectuals    
By Alem G. - Nov 01, 2005   

I am deeply distressed, by the recent statement attributed to the president, concerning the state of higher education and the educated class of the country. In isolation, it may be passed, as a misquotation or a temporary lapse in judgment. But the facts on the ground seem to collaborate to that state of mind, as witnessed, by the ongoing massive tinkering with the educational system, in an effort to mimic the old meda days. Case in point is, the endless attack on the professionals, the phasing out of the only university in the country and the creation of a new national secondary school in Sawa.

This is a wake up call for all educators and concerned Eritreans.

Reform, yes. But no, to a premeditated tampering to conjure a certain biased outcome. Yes, to education and yes to real life experience

We know, Education divorced from reality does not mean a lot. The Tigrigna proverb of "kab muhroo aamuro" says it all. I guess, that was what the president was alluding to when he said "Ab hzbawi gnbar, nai Hade meraH mesrE nai mHdera bqAt le?li naiti MBA zellewo mhur ye bahalai iyu", [the administrative skills of any of our platoon commanders outclass those of an MBA holder.]

While nobody is denying the accumulated experiences of the last thirty years and its significance in building a new nation, I believe, the future of a prosperous and democratic Eritrea demands, not only the proud experience of our past, but the hope and can-do attitude of our young and analytical and strategic thinking of our professionals.


This is not meant to explore, analyze, or explore the educational system in any depth. The idea is, to take a snap shot of the history of the educational system and hopefully use it as a spring board for further discussion.

When it comes to education, Eritreans are second to none in their love and dedication. The Tigrigna saying of "zeytemahre neyedHin, zeytewoQre neyeTHin" says it all. needless to say, any departure from this time honored and declaring war on education in general and the educated group is a self defeating proposition.

Nobody is advocating for a wholesale importation of some alien educational system. That defeats the whole purpose of education. Education is not limited to issuing diplomas and degrees alone. Education is also, a vehicle to pass our culture and values to the next generation. It is also a means, by which, we educate our people of their rights and obligation as a members of the society.


Religious education, be that of Christian or Islamic persuasion had always existed in Eritrea. Although most often limited to the propagation and spreading of religious values, the Churches and mosques had always played a big role, in reduction of illiteracy and the preparation of future leaders of the country. All the leaders that Eritrea had, until the recent past, were the products of this educational system.

The credit for establishing the first modern educational system goes to the Italians. But it was a dismal failure by all standards. The Italians may have built roads, railways and other infrastructures, but when it comes to education, they failed with flying colors. Fourth grade was the highest an Eritrean could aspire. As colonialists, compared to the French and British, the Italians deserve a big F, when it comes to educating the "locals".

The next comers were the British, albeit, for a short period and with a limited mandate. The British, unlike the Italians, have a favorable view of educating the "locals". Even though, their policy was not translated into action, one have to give them a passing grade, based on the experiences of other African countries. When it comes to Eritrea, one can only surmise, what the prospect of education would have been, if the British had stayed a little longer and with an extensive mandate.

During the Federation era, Education was not a top priority, as the country was going through a nation defining political crises. It was a time of upheaval, political intricacies and foreign interventions, not of educational policies.

The educational system, as well as, our experimentation with democracy, took a nose dive, when the federal status was abrogated by the emperor. Eritrea and Eritreans were forced to downgrade their expectation to the realities in Ethiopia. The whole educational system was forced to confirm, to the existent system in Ethiopia. It is worth remembering, in those years, the Ethiopian educational system was on its infancy, with one or two secondary schools in Addis and another in Harer.

As a result of this forced federation, between two unequals, Eritrea lost its Constitution, its educational system and its economic prowess.

This was an era of double jeopardy, as far as, the youth and the educational system was concerned. It was an era in which the expectation of the young, to excel in education was limited, by a very discouraging education system and an ongoing full fledged war.

The odds where stack against the youth of that era. Some cut short their studies and went to join the fronts, while others struggled, against all odds, to beat an educational system that was pent on limiting their participation, in the only university in the country. Passing the Amharic language was a thinly disguised trick geared to words that end.


This article is not meant to minimize the progress that was achieved under trying and difficult times. Let me extend, my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation, to the many selfless daughters and sons of the country, who worked tirelessly, to synchronize the struggle for independence, with that of our struggle for a better education system.

This was the era, in which, all resources of the nation, both human and material, were fully dedicated to the liberation of the country and people. It was an era when the youth put all their hopes and dreams on hold, for a better tomorrow, not for themselves, but for their brothers and sisters. As such, with a single purpose of mind and a slogan of "Eritrea or death", its youth headed to wards the meda, putting their life and education on hold.

In those years, Education was geared, to wards eliminating illiteracy, raising the political awareness of the people and sometimes providing limited elementary and middle school education.

Those were the hey days of Marxism and the perpetual damnation of the intelligentsia, as petty bourgeois or tebeleTSti. It was a time, when to be educated meant to live under perpetual suspicion. "muhur tebaTSi" was the condemnation repeatedly heard.

This wholesale demoralization of the intelligentsia was exacerbated by another unwarranted self promotion of the "Chegour danga". The ordinary tegadelti were encouraged not only to attack and defame the educated group, they were also emboldened to confront them, intellectually using their newly found Marxist slogans.

To this day, that culture is alive and well and some may say, it has become the culture of main stream Eritrea.

In my rather, unscientific and highly biased observation, I have come to the conclusion that, this culture of anti intellectuals was prevalent in both the liberation fronts and had left a devastating legacy, in the ex tegadelti.

Try discussing politics or economics:

Ex EPLF tegadelti, would pretend not to be impressed with your credentials, while always watching and letting you do the speaking. It is that "sQ meriTSna" or that all knowing, curt dismissal that says volumes in terms of "we been there, we have seen it all and who are you to lecture us, on politics, economics..."

with Ex ELF tegadelti, it is a straight and give and take, unreservedly. You could have a doctorate in economics or political science, to them, it does not mean anything. They are ready to confront and throw their two piece and this, with the zealotry of someone, who had been baptized with fire. When cornered, they always default to that time tested escape route, "Qedem ab meda kelona" argument.


We need a fresh start. Our gedli era experiences had served the purpose and it is time to give it a decent burial. We need an educational system that is geared to take the nation, into the 21st century and beyond. We should not be afraid to experiment with new ideas and concepts. The days of "village mentality" are over. Yesterdays experiences have served the nation well, but it is not a solution for an Eritrea that has to compete increasingly ,in an overcrowded market.

Above all, it is time to appreciate the hard work and success of our educated brothers and sisters. It is time to stop the wholesale condemnation of those who applied and excelled in their education. A Ph.D should not be a badge of shame. We have to give our educated brothers and sisters, the respect they deserve for their hard work.

Remember ...geliena bkalashin, geliena bbrE'

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