Modern Education Development, Challenges and Current State in Eritrea (1839 to 2016)


Pt 4a. Background information : The decline of Eritrean educators in late 1950s and early 1960s

Compiled and researched by Resoum Kidane

Although education was in its infant stage in the early 1940s, to some extent it contributed to laying a foundation for a culture of tolerance and democracy in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The education system that began to be developed in the 1940s helped to create an environment conducive to the emergence of 8 political parties, 6 newspapers, a national labour confederation  and,  lastly, the formation of a democratic government, in 1952.

Kibreab (2008: page 104) states that in the 1940s the emergence of newspapers made possible by the unprecedented degree of liberation brought about by the BMA (British Military Administration) The BMA’s Semunawit Gazietta (weekly newspaper) and the Independence  Bloc’s, Dehai Eritrea (Voice of Eritrea),  were widely circulated among the literate population. Berhane(2016) also states that Semunawit Gazietta (weekly newspaper) had a circulation of 5000 copies, Hanti Ertra and Wihidet Eritrea which was the Arabic version of Hanti Ertra were alao prominent newspapers in 1950s.

The recognition of Arabic as an official language on equal footing with Tigrinya also contributed to a flourishing press. The BMA’s Arabic weekly was the al-Jarda al-usbuiyya al arabiyya (Arabic Wekely) and the Muslim League’s newspaper-was Sawi-al rabita al Islamiyya al-Eritrea.  There were two other newspapers in Italian: Quottidiano Eritrea (daily newspaper) and Il Mattino (Weekly )

Regarding the formation of trade unions, Kibreab adds that in early 1951 there were ten labor unions in Asmara representing workers in different industries, including the SAVA glass factory, the railroad workers, Melotti Brewery and smaller organisations of hotel and restaurant workers, printers, mechanics, shoemakers, ceramicists, and others. In September 1951, representatives of the trade unions met with Ato Woldeab Woldemariam to discuss the question of the formation of a national labor confederation, and a follow-up meeting took place on November 28, 1951, at the private residence of Sheikh Abdella Gonafir to form an Eritrean Workers’ Association.

The workers mandated Ato Woldeab to draft the statues of the confederation, and Ato Wolde Ab  advised them to change the name of the organization to “Syndicate of Free Eritrean Workers”(SFEW)  which the British Administration recognized in January 1952. In November 1952 the Syndicate of Free Eritrean Workers(SFEW) held its first Congress attended by 300 representatives from all over Eritrea. The Congress madated Ato Wolde-Ab to draft constitutation which was ratified in a second meeting held in December 1952. (Kibreab 2008 page 109,)

Ato Woldeab-Ab who was the founder of the SFEW also told Killon, in 1983, that he had two goals in helping to establish the Syndicate of Free Eritrean Workers: protection of workers’ rights and protection of Eritrea’s autonomous and democratic instauration created by the United Nations and guaranteed by the Eritrean constitution. (Kibreab, 2007, page 109)

One of the contributory factors for the above development could be that the British Administration  promoted the formation of political parties, trade unions. freedom of the press, etc.

On July 10, 1952, the Eritrean Constitution was approved by the Assembly and Emperor Haile Selessaie ratified the Federal Act (the central core of UN resolution 390 V) which establishing the federation on September 11, 1952.   Ghirmay Cazanchis’ states that Eritreawas the first African nation that had a democratically elected and functional parliament in the 1950s. At the time the rest of Africa was either colonized or under a medieval feudal rule.  (Commentary which posted on facebook, 3 June 2016)

Names of those elected in the 1st Eritrean Parliamentary Election 1952

The opening of the Eritrean Parliament 1952 courtesy of Jelal Yassin

However these developments were gradually disrupted by the Ethiopian government’s violations of the Eritrea Constitution in the late 1950s.  Education was also affected. Here is some brief background information on the formation and abolishment of the Federation to help make the younger generation aware of the root causes of the educational system’s deterioration under the Ethiopian occupation from 1962 to 1991.

The formation and abolishment of Federation (1952 - 1962)

Initially after long debate on the future of Eritrea in the UN General Assembly, on 2 December 1950 the UN determined that "Eritrea should constitute an autonomous unit federated with Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown”.  On 10th of July, the Eritrean Assembly approved the  draft of  the Eritrean Constitution  which was presented by the UN Commissioner on 5th of May. Finally Emperor Haile Selessaie ratified the Federal Act (the central core of UN resolution 390 V) which established the federation on September 11, 1952.

However, the federation established between Eritrea and Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown was a controversial decision giving federal government to a country that was to be ruled by an autocracy such as Ethiopia.  At the time Eritrea had been more democratic than Ethiopia.  The first Eritrean Parliamentary elections were held on 25 and 26 March 1952 whereas in Ethiopia the first parliamentary election was held in 1957.

Election(1952): Eritreans Queuing for Electing Candidates courtesy of Jelal Yassin

Gottesman (1998, p.age 47) states that  the contradictions of federation were  immediately apparent.  Ethiopia’s feudal economy and imperial political system clashed with the capitalist development over which the Eritrean Assembly presided in 1952. Regarding this Gaim(2008: 128) adds yhat Ethiopia did not have a real consitituation until 1955 and refore no insitutional protection of fundamental rights and freedom until then. Emperor Haile Selassie promulgated the 1955 consitituation to bring his country more in line with Eritrea, which had a modern and democratic dispensation guaranteeing full civil rights, making the idea of federation more plausible and acceptable.Because Eritrea had a modern and democratic constituation that guaranteed full civil rights, including freddom of accociation, he thought that his project of absorbing Eritrea into Ethiopia would sound more acceptable to the Eritrean people and more plausible to the international community if Ethiopia were brought into the 20 century.

There fore, in November 1955, Emperor Haile Selassie proclaimed a revised constitution of the Empire of Ethiopia. Such statement of intent was particularly important at a time when some neighboring African states were rapidly advancing under European colonial tutelage towards independence and yet Ethiopia was pressing its claims internationally for the incorporation of Eritrea despite the fact that an elected parliament and a more modern administration had existed there since 1952.[1][https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1955_Constitution_of_Ethiopia]

In the light of the above, the Federal Constitutional Law which had been ratified on July, 10  1952, did not last long.  The Ethiopian government  started to breach iton September 30, 1952 when  Proclamation Number 130  was issued  by Emperor Haile Selassie.  This declared  the federal Ethiopian court  to be the territory's final court of appeal, in violation of Articles 85 and 90 of the Eritrean Constitution

By March 1953 that is, less than six months after the implementation of the UN resolution-even the loudest supporters of the federal project had started questioning its workeability. This is clear from the conversation between the president of the Eritrean Assembly, Sheike Ali Musa Radai, and the British Consul-General in Eritrea at the residence of the former on April 1953 for discussion..Sheike Ali Musa Radai said

The Ethiopians never answered letters, never gave answers to spesific queries; and in fact ignored the Eritrean government. This particularly applied to the offices of the Emperor's representative through which they intended to have access to the Ethiopian government. The Eritrean government had done their best, he said, to cooperate and try and make the Federation succeed but it was quite impossible to do so when no voice whatsover was taken of them.(Kibreab, 2008 page 124)

By May 1953, the political situation in Eritrea had deteriorated so much that the British consul general wrote to the British ambassador in Addis Ababa :

The actions of the Ethiopians over the past two or thress months have become increasigngly suspect to anyone such as myself living in the midst of the adminstrative chaos in this territory. The great difficulty is to access to what extent the present situation is due either to dileberate Ethiopan machinations or Ethiopian ignorance and inefficiency. Undoubtedly the situtation has deteriorated very rapidly over the past eights or ten weeks.

Sheikh Radai told the consul-general" The Eritreans now realized that the Federation arrangement had been a bad one from their point of view p54

In 1953-1954 the Imperial government of Ethiopia took other measures to bring under state control large scale  economic establishments such as transport, communication and many others that employed high number of workers. This measure to bring workers under the government’s control was the first move designed to curtail the Eritrean labour movement and undermine workers’ rights.

The Empire also tightened its control by passing a law that required all males in urban areas to carry an identity card at all times.  In January 1954 the Eritrean dock workers in Massawa and Assab staged strikes opposing this move. [ http://www.shabait.com/about-eritrea/history-a-culture/9365-historical-perspective].

Additionally,  on May 22, 1954 a resolution condemning the Ethiopian interference in Eritrean affairs was adopted by the Eritrean Parliament, with numerous Unionist deputies voting in favour of the resolution... (Bimbi, 1982:179). Despite this resolution the Ethiopian government did not refrain from suppressing the political and civil rights of the Eritrean people. On July 28, 1954, six members of the Voice of Eritrea were charged by the Federal Court for "subversive political activity endangering the integrity of the Federation and promoting its disintegration”. They were accused of working for the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia.  

The Tigrinya and Arabic editors, Elias Teclu and Mohamed Saleh Mahmud, appealed to the President of the Eritrean Assembly for the seizure of the case by the Eritrean High Court. They urged their protection should be guaranteed by the Constitution of Eritrea and demanded to be tried at the Eritrean government's court of justice. They called the President of the Assembly to defend the principle of Eritrea's internal autonomy.

The Voice of Eritrea Tigrinya and Arabic editors,  Elias Teclu and Mohamed Saleh Mahmud were sentenced to five and ten years prison terms respectively and the Voice of Eritrea newspaper was closed down, for publishing articles criticizing the violation of democratic rights and infringement of Eritrean autonomy.  The press freedom which British  Eritrea had enjoyed came to an end.

In 1955 a new constitution was proclaimed in Ethiopia, and one year later the  Emperor extended to Eritrea the application of the principal clauses notably,  the imposition of Amharic as the official language and the Ethiopianization of the Court system (Bimbi, 1982:179).

Yohannes (1993:4) adds that Ethiopia committed one of its gravest errors, in 1956, when it attacked the cultural institutions of Eritrea by abolishing Tigrinya and Arabic languages guaranteed by the federal act.  The Ethiopia government not only substituted them with Amharic, the Emperor's language in administration and in schools, but also had school textbooks burned. All the school textbooks and other documents which had been written in Tigrigna were burnt [11] by the Ethiopian government.  Yohannes Zeggai documented it as follows.

A greater part of the books, together with other documents, were burned in 1963 in the industrial oven of the Matches Factory in Asmara. The same took place at the Ceramic Factory in Asmara. Private collections were also gathered and destroyed in similar fashion.”(Negash, 2010, page 10).

In November 1958 there was a two-week general strike of workers, students, and self-employed which paralyzed Eritrea. This strike was called by the underground Eritrean Labor Union Federation to protest the violations and coercion taking place in all major Eritrean cities but it was suppressed by force, causing the death of 88 demonstrators.  450 were wounded and thousands were jailed.  Killion added that the general strike was supported by workers and by the Young Federalists, the Muslim Youth League  and the Asmara high school students led by Tuku'e Yehedego. (Killion, 1997: 40)  It was crushed by the army with unprecedented brutality and the trade union was banned . Reid (2011, page 156) adds that workers' protest culminated in the general strike of 1958 which was violently crushed by the Ethiopia security force, and although the strike was ostensibly concerned with workers' rights, in reality it represented the crystallization of political protest against the undermining of Eritrean autonomy and civil rights more broadly.

However following the general strike on May 13, a repressive Labour Code was passed and the Confederation was outlawed.  From then on the Ethiopian government began to suppress basic political rights and civil liberties.  This reached its peak after 1958.   In March and April 1958, eighteen prominent citizens including Omar Kadi (note) were arrested for sending  a telegram to the UN Secretary-General protesting against Ethiopian violations of UN Resolution 390A(V).  In response to the coercion by the Ethiopian government and the four days general strike, which greatly contributed to raising political awareness,  Eritrean nationalism emerged in 1958.

The Emperor proclaiming Order No. 27, terminating Eritrea’s federal status led to widespread discontent amongst the Eritrean people and as a consequence of protesting against annexation and illegal occupation of Eritrea, student and educators became the main target of the Ethiopian security force as detailed below.

Many Eritreans, including former Eritrean Unionist member, Ato Hargot and his allies were shocked to discover that the Ethiopian government did not believe in the federation.  For the Ethiopians, the federation was nothing more than a necessary steppingstone to the complete absorption of Eritrea into Ethiopia as the Emperor had made clear ten years earlier. (Kebreab, 2008 page 123)

Furthermore according Kebreab(2007, page 126) the Emperor's represenatative in the opnening ceremony of the Eritrean Assembly also stated: there are people who think that Eritrea is still outside Ethiopia... the meaning of the term "Federation" which I am going to expound to you here is the meaning which you ought yto known and accept: Since September 11, 1952, Eritra had reunited with its mother country...there are no separate names for Ethiopia and Eritrea, but a part of Ethiopia is called Eritrea. To refer to Ethiopia and Eritrea as separate isountry...there are no separate names for Ethiopia and Eritrea, but a part of Ethiopia is called Eritrea. To refer to Ethiopia and Eritrea as separate is erroneous and should be eradicated from anyone's mind " Andergachew Massai"(Kibreab, 2008 page 126)


[Back to the Table of contents]-------- [NEXT PAGE]


                      ehrea.org © 2004-2017. Contact: rkidane@talk21.com