Radio Erena: 19 August 2020
Mr. Yemane G. Meskel, the Eritrean Minister of Information and the official spokesperson of the Eritrean government on Twitter had boastfully twitted that: “1073 students-463 of them female-have graduated in the technical fields including electronics, computer, maintenance, auto mechanic, hydraulics, etc. He also pointed out that the program was a “two-year post-secondary program that encompassed theoretical and practical courses.”
Suffering from acute program anemia, the Eritrean television spent a whole afternoon rebroadcasting the graduation ceremony. In the backwater, Eritrea, the graduation of one thousand students is a major state event. Watching the graduation ceremony, many people have noticed that the President, the Ministers, and the high-ranking military officers were distanced from the graduates and were all wearing their masks, whereas all the graduates were not wearing their masks amid rampant international concerns of Covid-19 second wave.
Posting three different pictures from the ceremony, professor Awet T. Weldemichael twitted alarmingly: “Eritrean president holds a graduation parade amidst raging Covid-19 pandemic. His entourage physically distances and wears masks. But not the graduating trainees (many of them under-age children) and their families. A picture worth 1000 words. Three pictures demand imminent change.”
It is apparent that not only the social distancing and respecting the health instructions need change; but also the overturned picture of the country needs an immediate change.
Serious questions should be posed with regard to the graduates entering their professional life in a country where the only employer is the government along with the striking absence of the private sector and private investments.
Right after independence, the private sector has been deliberately sidelined in favor of the government-owned Red Sea Corporation (RSC) and its affiliates which monopolize trade, construction, and services sectors. Investment, on the other hand, massively depends on extractive policies depleting the natural and mineral resources of the country.
With the sharp and threatening shortage of teachers, the only avenue available for the graduates is teaching. In 2017, the Ministry of Education was forced to close more than 25 schools in some border towns in Gash-Barka and the Southern regions. The schools situated near the Sudanese and Ethiopian borders were closed because of mass student migration, which continues unabated despite the border closure between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In response, UNCHR reopened its refugee registration centers in the neighboring Tigray after months of closure due to Covid-19 and other technical matters.
Quoting confident sources in Eritrea, Radio Erena confirmed that all the graduates seen in the recent ceremony will be appointed as teachers in Gash-Barka, the Southern, and Anseba regions. The aim is to replace the teachers who deserted after the schools’ closure in the border areas.
The overconfident graduation ceremony casts doubt and deep concern on the educational policies in the country. The poor graduates will receive certificates that are not recognized by UNESCO and have no international recognition. In addition, the Eritrean government does not allow students to pursue their higher education abroad. Students, in limited patches and in total disregard for certificate recognition procedures are sent to China, UAE, and India but they will be forced to return to Eritrea as their certificates will not be handed to them in these countries. The Eritrean embassies in these countries collect the certificates of the graduates and instantaneously send them to Eritrea; no graduate is allowed to receive his or her certificate abroad. This malicious procedure is designed to curb the flight of cultural exchange students as hundreds of students did not return from South Africa to Eritrea in the past decade.
Forced labor, movement restrictions, lack of external academic recognition, and bleak future await the new graduates and will combinedly drive them into the belly of the vicious circle.
This writing is not intended to spoil the good moments of the graduates after two years of hard work; it is a rather reasonable interrogation of the educational policies of a country under an intolerable dictatorship.
By Fathi Osman