University of Asmera - Demise by Design!
04 Aug, 2006

Paulos M. Natnael

The University of Asmera (a.k.a Asmera University) has been the only school of higher education in the country. Began almost fifty years ago as an Italian school run by the Catholic church, it became a full university in the early seventies. Still in those days many high school graduates looked forward to go to Haile Sellassie I University in Addis Ababa to attend college. Asmara university nevertheless has trained thousands of successful scientists, accountants, and engineers. The success of the university becomes clear when you see all these alumni working all over the world in academia, government, industry and businesses. Many of these alumni have earned masters degree or PhD in chemistry, biology, and physics, mathematics, accounting, etc. This brain-drain is not unique to Eritrea; in fact, a few years back African immigrants from the continent were cited in a study as the most highly educated immigrants in the United Stated.

After the independence of Eritrea, however, the regime began systematically dismantling this only university of higher education in the country. Granted, there were some issues that needed to be addressed by, say, the board of education or the ministry of education; whether they were issues of qualification was the debate at the time, not the act itself. However, the regime felt, as usual, it knows best and interfered in the university's affairs. That intervention can be looked at now as the beginning of the end of the university. Back then it seemed that the government was addressing issues that were important. The regime, and in particular the head of state, it is becoming clearer now, was generally threatened by the educated people the university had produced and was producing.

When the formation of the Sawa military training center was announced in 1994, many of us cheered and supported it wholeheartedly. We thought the country needed all the help that it could get from it's youth. We also thought that this would be a temporary assignment of service to the country for two or three years, not more than four years. But, Sawa was, to the regime and its mastermind, another design to sideline the education, the energy and creativity, not to speak the inquiring mind, of the youth. It makes perfect sense now that the head of state, as the mastermind of Sawa as well as the systematic destruction of the university, thought about it hard and decided that in order to stay in power as long as possible, he had to control the youth at all costs. Because, as the product of the Ethiopian education system himself, he knew what the youth was capable of doing if left free to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Demise by Design!

Now, it is been three years since the university last accepted freshmen. Its president, Dr. Woldeab Yisaq, has returned to Eritrea after a hiatus of a couple of years in the United States. The college of "May Nefhi" and similar other new institutions have practically replaced the university. In May Nefhi, students are organized in army units as if they are in the Sawa Military Center. This makes it easier for the government to send the unit anywhere it wants in time of emergency or when the regime feels like it. The Sawa Military Center already has the only 12th grade class in the whole country. Every student, after passing the eleventh grade must head to Sawa if they wish to continue their education. In fact, they have no other choice but to report to Sawa. This systematic control of the youth continues of course in the military where hundreds of thousands are still living in trenches and army bases in the guise of "threat of war" with the Ethiopian regime (Weyane). The latter has indeed made it extremely hard for the Eritrean people to challenge the regime; on the other hand, the Weyane have made it easier for the PFDJ to whip out the ready-made excuse of "Weyane threat" and the border standoff to keep the youth in the trenches for eight, ten, eleven or twelve years, without any prospect of leaving the army whatsoever.

Therefore, the design has become clearer now. The destruction of an excellent educational system that produced thousands of well-trained and well-prepared citizens was masterminded by the head of state a long time ago, because the regime and the man at the helm are paranoid to the core, bent as they are on doing anything, including destroying the only school of higher education in the country, in order to stay in power. The only outrage is the lack of outrage by those the university has produced at the expense of and on the backs of the Eritrean people. Not even a whimper from our Ph.Ds, our educated elite, products of the only higher education in Eritrea -- the University of Asmara -- which is about to close!