The lives and times of Asmara University (1958-2003) and other colleges according to Professor Sara Uqbai
In few of my past articles, I have discussed the Eritrean government’s policy of dictating through ignorance and particularly the tragedy behind the closure of the only accredited university in the country (Asmara University) in favor of other fake, unqualified and unaccredited colleges by the universal standard of higher education. In this article, I will try to discuss important points as to how the government rendered our society to remain the only one without a university in the world based on Dr. Sara Uqbai’s testimony, an intellect who served Asmara University and other so called colleges for over 25 years in different levels of the profession including Professorship. Here are some of the points discussed there about our situation in general and the lives and times of Asmara University from the first hand experience of the veteran professor.
I want to brief the relevant educational reality in our continent and elsewhere first. All dictators dictate but at least educate their people and empower them economically except the Eritrean dictator. In my article “Vision-less dictatorship is more of the Eritrean dilemma than the dictatorship itself:Afwerki damages the Eritrean society at the MIND level of the offense” posted at Assenna, Idisclosed the fact that
“Libya’s population includes 1.7 million students, over 270,000 of who study at the tertiary level. Education in Libya is free for all citizens, and compulsory up until secondary level. The literacy rate is the highest in North Africa; over 82% of the population can read and write.” The State paid scholarship expenses for its scholar citizens abroad. There were at least 10 accredited Universities in Libya for a population size of 6,423,000, in 2011.
“Cuba Education: Higher education in Cuba means the University education. Besides universities there are other institutes for higher education in Cuba such as higher polytechnic institutes, higher pedagogical institutes, and higher educational centers and so on. In Cuba the higher education is taken care of by the Ministry of Higher Education. There are almost 47 universities in the country of Cuba. Education is a very important issue in Cuba and the infrastructure is also very strong.”
Uganda under Idi Amin had Macrere University as intact as it had been (one of the best in Africa) and Ugandans enjoy today about 16 accredited Universities under Mussovini.
Iraq under Sadam Hussein: “The education system in Iraq was well resourced, globally connected, secular and open to women. University education was free and literacy levels rose from 52 percent in 1977 to 80 percent in 1987 [under his leadership]”. There were 54 Universities in Iraq in the era of Sadam Husein for 33 Million [citizens].”
Sudan: Bashir never stood in the way and in fact helped the Sudanese a lot in this regard. Sudan as a whole survives owning 27 active universities as of today, most of them erected by the current Sudanese regime.
Zimbabwe under Mugabe: 13 Million people enjoy 16 universities in today’s Zimbabwe.
Ethiopia under Mengistu: The country educated its people more than in any former other administrations through his infamous NATIONAL LITERACY CAMPAIGN. Mengistu was not anti education and the inherited academic institutions survived well in the country under his rule. He even left Asmara University intact with all his contradictions with our national cause.
Ethiopia under Meles: The 85 Million Ethiopians today enjoy close to 160 Universities and colleges in just as much time in power as our dictator’s, irrespective of their academic quality. The Tigreans alone have three universities, one technical institute, one medical college and about two teacher training colleges.
Somalia has about four Universities and Djibouti has one for less than a million people.
The lives and times of Asmara University (AU)
AU was born in 1958 and survived through the following years of colonialism until liberation and further under this government until 2003. Things were going well there especially around 2002-2003 (in business, economics and social science departments) when many developmental researches were conducted getting ready to be implemented. Unfortunately the government decided to dismantle it and scatter its departments around under different names. It was a terrible mistake to kill the name AU itself because it was an accredited university considered as one of the oldest and best in East Africa for many years. Dismantling everything and scattering it around could have been acceptable pushing it to the limit, had the so built colleges to replace it were accredited but this was not the case here, in fact the opposite was correct.
According to Dr, Sara, the university was literally dead in 20003 and the colleges that replaced it were too ridiculously inferior and incompatible with international colleges for the World Bank to accredit them as legitimate higher education institutions. Libraries, books, material resources like computers and copiers, service in general and most importantly qualified professors dictate the issue of accreditation which the so called Eritrean colleges terribly flank to qualify.
In TESHAMO forum, participants asked many questions and Dr. Sara replied: here are the few of them:
In regards to the fact that Eritrea has meticulously discouraged Eritrean professionals to educate the people and that it has been replacing anything Eritrean with Asian (Indians, Pakistans and Philippines’):
Question: How competent are the foreign teachers in the so called Eritrean colleges?
Answer: The foreigner teachers in Eritrea come to teach without passing the required standard tests given by the World Bank for international teachers anywhere in the world. There is no standard that measures their capacity like in other countries such as Libya. The few capable teachers there use Eritrea as a transit to schools in other countries. Dr. Sara considers some foreign teachers in Eritrea as low level professionals that do not meet universal standard qualifications to teach in higher academic institutions.
Q: where do the material donations for schools and the money from international donors for this purpose go?
A: The government received anything that came to the university from abroad and did whatever it wanted with it without explanation. AU was not independent at all and had no capacity to directly manage academic/material transactions with other institutions and organizations without the consent of the regime. No one knows this issue very well since the government served as the middleman between resources related to the then AU and the university management of the time.
Q: How is the academic condition of the substitute colleges?
A: Dr. Sara had a hard time calling them colleges. The infrastructures are inconvenient and the Mai Nefhi Institute of Technology did not even have a proper door that closes without the support of a rock let alone the others. Teachers had to move back and forth to/from their homes in other towns and there were no school materials (copiers, papers, computers, books, etc) available for the students to properly learn something.
Q: How was the quality of education in the new colleges?
The Doctor testified that the quality had greatly deteriorated out of rationality. Teachers at the end were teaching grade 7-8 level English materials to the so called college students under the SAWA concept.
Students work together in the exams and usually fail but the security pressurizes the teachers to give them passing grades on the excuse “ENTAI DEA KINGEBROM”.
In the progression she states that 20000-27000 take the college entrance exam yearly and about 300 qualify for college at 1.2-1.5 GPA requirement because the students are not educated enough to score higher GPAs. To my understanding, those who fail the exam go to different labor force oriented plantations in the country within the concept of SAWA. Those who succeed then attend school in very difficult academic environments as the following:
Students wake up early in the morning for boot camp (running, exercising, etc) and come to classes after quick breakfast without having the chance to go to their dormitories to wash. No one can learn anything in this condition and of course that is the plan. Everyone is under surveillance from the government. The classrooms were made of glasses and it was normal for the security people to watch and intimidate students and teachers from outside. At times, the security personnel enter classrooms without permission and sit with the students to listen to what may be going on. They also had full authority to punish and abuse students at will. There were no rest rooms for the academic community and they had to use the atmosphere for that.
According to the Doctor, the traumatized students have no books to work on after classes and the state strictly controls their lives and movements. Classes are tense and students and teachers are under constant intimidation. No closets for teachers and any curriculum (accredited) but irregular and anarchic changes. There are no academic equipments machines available for students and the blackboard is the main means of communication (no papers). They tranquilize the inquisitive young minds instead of cultivating them to produce, they make them “zombies or individuals with criminal mind”, said the Doctor in one of her expressions. She also predicted a terrible collective consequence to our societies in the future as a result of the “Kids without childhood experience” in labor camp.
The professor sadly said that the kids have no clue as to what is going on and some of them could not even write properly let alone understanding education: they don’t even know their GPAs: Even that is monopolized by the government away from them. They hang on confused with no role models and no future to focus on except those who escape out of the country. In an environment that completely lacks student evaluation procedures she expressed how difficult it was for teachers as to where to start working with the kids was concerned.
She also said that no private colleges were allowed in Eritrea for better education and the kids are condemned to literally nothing but the fake colleges of the state.
Apparently, all dictators needed to dominate power in order to effectuate their visions. Although they had different agendas to implement, none of them destroyed any academic institution/s in their countries like Afwerki who destroyed the only accredited University in our country (Asmara University employed about “160 Doctors” by the time he closed it for no reason other than hurting the society). The University even survived the Hailesselassie and the Mengistu regimes before Afwerki killed it. In so doing, Afwerki stands alone as the only anti-education dictator the planet ever produced and mistreated the Eritreans worse than the Ethiopian colonizers in this regard. He did his incalculable damage to the Eritrean society in terms of ignorance like no one ever did to them, except the Italian colonizers. The result is an uneducated generation that would cost our society for generations to come.
This asserts the fact the best weapon of Afwerki’s dictatorship has been IGNORANCE (DINKURINA), which is a unique version of dictatorship in the world.
We are in a very serious problem that threatens our existence as a nation. We cannot compete with our neighbors mentally according to Afwerki’s social formula and the damage is showing its symptoms already. As the Professor said,
The escapees are not educated and confident enough to resist their oppressor because of the damage inflicted upon by the regime.
No dictator ever tried to rule society through the power of ignorance the way Afwerki did. This is the Eritrean reality that people must face and resolve immediately without buts and ifs. The academic call of our nation is very urgent and it needs immediate attention of every Eritrean before it gets too late at a point in the nap.
The follow up article will be on Apartheid in Eritrean schools and specifically in the so called colleges.