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ERITREA: Education for Self-Reliance and More Part II

But it is not just mother tongue instruction that needs to be developed…Africa’s publishing capabilities also need to be enhanced so that Africans can publish their own books and benefit from all the opportunities that come from doing so. This is not something that is going to be done by donors; it will have to be done by Africans themselves. Foreign aid is not going to build Africa’s publishing industry. Building internal capacity is the key to economic and political independence.

Roy Pateman is one writer who visited Eritrea during the struggle and in his book, “Eritrea: Even the stones are burning” (1990), Pateman wrote about the EPLF’s efforts to educate the Eritrean populace:

“…The EPLF examined curricula used by the British and Ethiopian administrations and found them totally unsuitable. The distinguishing feature of the newly developed EPLF system is the integration of theory with practice. All students participated in productive work; they learn through doing and take part in the struggle for social and economic justice…In 1976, the EPLF opened a revolutionary school, named “Zero” in the north of Eritrea. This school was designed as a teaching laboratory and started with 90 children, mostly orphans, the children of fighters, refugees and nomads. By 1983, the school had over 3000 students and remarkable progress had been made, in spite of the shortage of all equipment, materials and even nutritious food. In 1986, the school had 3270 boarding students…In 1985, a new vocational school was opened at Wina with 100 students: it offers a two-year course in some seven skills including auto-mechanics, electrical engineering, metal work, carpentry and civil engineering…”

At independence, the Government of Eritrea inherited a seriously dilapidated education infrastructure, a result of neglect by successive Ethiopian regimes and the many years of war. It immediately set out to address the issues that plagued the system. Building schools throughout the country and simultaneously training to increase human capacity. The work continues until today.

Clive Harber in his 1997 book “Education, Democracy and Political Development in Africa”, wrote about the role of education in Eritrea :

“…it is certainly a case that education played a significant role in Eritrea’s struggle for independence and must play an equally important part in supporting the democratic structures that are now being discussed and created…Though resources for education, including trained personnel, are meager and insufficient and problems abound, it is to be hoped that the same sacrifice, perseverance and discipline that eventually won the war against a militarily much stronger enemy can be used to build a lasting education for democracy in Eritrea…”

Education was seen by EPLF leaders as integral to the national liberation struggle. An early EPLF slogan was “Illiteracy is our main enemy”. In addition to primary school education, the EPLF education included research, literature, theatre, music and fine arts and an adult literacy program.  At one point the literacy campaign had reached 56,000 adults, 60 percent of them being women.The 2002 International Reading Association Literacy Award, presented every year by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in celebration of International Literacy Day, was awarded to the Adult Education Division of the Eritrean Ministry of Education on 10 September 2002, in Paris. Eritrea was chosen for:

“…emphasizing systematic planning of adult literacy programs through training, orientation, and planning for coordinators and adult literacy personnel from various national partners and organizations, such as the national unions of Eritrean women, youth, and students; the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers; the National Defense Force; the Ministry of Education; and international agencies…The program provided adult literacy programs including vocational training and HIV/AIDS and life skills training…”

During the struggle for Eritrea’s independence, amidst the gunfire, in underground schools and shelters, in trenches etc. etc. the EPLF focused on educating the population and as Thomas Kenealy put it in one interview:

“…the whole of Eritrea goes to school….15 meters from the trenches, as in far villages, you can see classes in progress…the day seems consumed by education, In the big centers such as Jani regional school, the children might have desks. In desperate little towns flayed by war and famine-Endalal, Nacfa, Erota, Adashi, Hishkub-they sit on stones in brush shelters or mud brick bunkers. In the afternoons, the adults are taught…even the Ethiopian prisoners of war have to attend four classes a day, five days a week…”

The EPLF was described as having members who were of “above average education” as it was doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, engineers etc. etc. who joined the liberation movement on masse. Many left colleges and universities in the United States, England, Russia and Ethiopia to join the EPLF. Today, we hear a lot about the qualification of the teachers in Eritrea…mostly from the EQL and their handlers. There is no denying that there is a shortage of qualified and trained teachers in Eritrea to fully staff all the new schools being built to accommodate the increasing enrollments throughout the country. To help alleviate the immediate shortages, the Government of Eritrea has brought in teachers from India and elsewhere, as they increase internal capacity through education and training. .

There are some who appreciate the EPLF and now the Government of Eritrea’s outlook on education. Martha Wagar Wright in “MORE THAN JUST CHANTING: Multilingual literacies, ideology, and teaching methodologies in rural Eritrea” has a better understanding than most. In her article she writes:

“…A remarkable burgeoning of educational development has taken place since independence in 1991, reflecting I think a widespread adherence to national (EPLF) policy regarding the fundamental necessity of literacy for personal and national liberation and continued political autonomy, as well as for internal harmony through interethnic understanding and tolerance, and for provision for cultural and linguistic expression for all nine indigenous groups. The work of the fighter teachers during the struggle for liberation played no small part in impressing this philosophy upon the masses…”

The Government of Eritrea saw the urgent need to rebuild and re-open all of the damaged and closed schools and set out to rehabilitate and develop the sector in earnest. Despite these documented facts about the education in Eritrea, today, there are some misguided individuals who are attempting to paint a very ugly picture of education in Eritrea in order to advance their own illicit political agendas.

One such individual, Richard Reid, insists on distorting Eritrea’s image. As visiting history lecturer at the University of Asmara, who was there in 2000-2001, Reid has written a series of negative and condescending articles about Eritrea over the last 5 years. In his 2005 article, “Caught in the headlights of history: Eritrea, the EPLF and the post-war nation-state” , he writes disparagingly about Eritrea’s history and what he calls “the state-level determination to cling to the values and the aims of the liberation struggle”. Like the others who have written about the EPLF and Eritrea in the last 10 years, his sources, the basis for his analysis on the country its people and its government, remain anonymous. Reid writes about an obsession with Eritrea’s past, its history and what he calls ‘liberation legacies’.  Funny coming from a history professor…

Like his compatriots Christopher Clapham, Dan Connell, Martin Plaut and Patrick Gilkes, Reid wants to re-write Eritrean history and what he calls “EPLF’s narration” of Eritrea’s history. The struggle of the Eritrean people against Ethiopian colonialists and their handlers may have been “hidden from the world” and kept out of the western press, but the atrocities were not hidden from Eritreans who lived through it. The deaths of 65,000 of Eritrea’s best, bravest and brightest (BBB) is not simply an EPLF narration, it is a fact. The bombings and pulverization of villages across Eritrea and the terrorizing of the people is not a narration of the EPLF, it is a documented fact. The dismemberment of the limbs and suffering from burns sustained from cluster and napalm bombs is not the EPLF’s narration; it is the people’s narration and all based on facts.

The history of Eritrea and the role of the EPLF is unparalleled in the history of liberation movements and nothing these neocons say can change that. But Reid’s obsession with Eritrea does not end with Eritrea’s history. He is also hell bent on distorting the truth about Eritrea today. One of his favorite subjects is Sawa, the National Training Center.  In one of his articles he wrote this about Sawa:

…Sawa has achieved iconic status among the nation’s youth… it symbolizes the control exercised by the state over the lives of the young… Sawa is more important than that. It is the bastion of Nakfa principles, the military heart of the country, and the place where the baton of the struggle and defence of hard-won Eritrean sovereignty is militarily – though by no means politically – passed on to a new generation …if even a portion of the attention and investment given to Sawa had been awarded to the University of Asmara, the nation’s sole institution of higher education, for example, Eritrea would be a very different country today…”

Contrary to what Reid and his partners keep repeating ad nauseam, Eritrea is a very different country, and for the better, because of Sawa. Reid should know that education without values and principles is nothing. As an educator, he must know that in addition to basic skills, academics, technical, discipline, and citizenship, it is the values and principles instilled in the youth that will help them the most in their development.

It was the “Nakfa Principles” that enabled Eritreans to survive the onslaught from the Western media and NGO groups, from the mercenary regime in Ethiopia and all the “bogeymen” that he mentions in his piece. There is no way that Reid can ever begin to understand what the “Nakfa principles” entail as he is a descendant of an Empire built on the blood, sweat, pillage and plunder of others, and not on that of his own kinsmen. We can cut him some slack, for all his  academic credentials, he can’t possibly understand Eritrean values and principles such as Ni’h, habbo, tesewarinet, tewefainet, agelgulot and tsinat, as there are no English words that can adequately capture their true meaning and essence. For Eritrea to achieve the people’s aspirations and dreams, education has to include Eritrea’s time-tested values-the Nakfa Principles- as they help build character, integrity and dignity…nothing wrong with that!


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