The lives and times of Asmara University (1958-2003) and other colleges according to Professor Sara Uqbai

The lives and times of Asmara University (1958-2003) and other colleges according to Professor Sara Uqbai By Fetsum Abraham In few of my past articles, I have discussed the Eritrean government’s policy of dictating through ignorance and

The lives and times of Asmara University (1958-2003) and other colleges according to Professor Sara Uqbai
By Fetsum Abraham
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, I disclosed 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.

Review overview
  • Awet June 24, 2013

    Well thought and written article. What a brutal dictator he is. Isias is such a failer he gets inferioriated by others who are much successful then him. He is purposely demolishing the future generation of Eritrea.

  • Facts-ain't-Pretenders! June 24, 2013

    Mr Fetsum,
    This is perhaps one piece that is on the mark that is telling those who listen that Eritrea will live to post PFDJ.

    What I disagree is the fact that you as an educated person is even trying to squarely put all the problems on just one man, the PFDJ boss. He creatively, dynamically built an evil system, however, he alone DIDN’t establish the evil system. Those so many faceless, nameless Eritreans blinded by thrist of power, money, ignorance, what not have given him a hand more than he could ever imagined, And the rest is history. So many dynamic helped him! so many dynamic Eritreans who way back disregarded justice & humanity so blinded by self importance, show of authority totally helped him more than he could ever asked for.

    We, the living-in-denials must accept truth. we cannot poke truth in the eyes and blame one man for our sickening soceital problem. Ask yourself – am I am a person principle who do not poke truth in the eyes, who do not point my fingers at others when the core problem is solidified in each Eritrean.

    If every Eritrean’s principle was Humanity, if every Eritrean’s conviction was againsSELECTIVE JUSTICE, then our people would not even have fallen to 1/16 of the tragedy that they are in. why? Because the problems of the heavy-handedness of PFDJ began from the onset! Yet, even the most educated, exposed ones flocked to Eritrea as early as 2000 to setup Inetrnet mediums. The problem is Eritrean psychic: If I am NOT touched, I care less if another human being’s rights is stepped on. That shows how we as a people are Oblivious, Ignorant, and Cruel!

    Because we are the ones that happily dug our own graves and now Ato Isaias and his countless Eritreans are burying us in it. Please STOP blaming one man – Yes, he is a hatcher but He never did it again and he is NOT doing it alone! You can do better than this! The blindeness & Ignorance of us must stop at our excuses. The buck stops there!

    You were at the DC demo & conference, riht!? so how come only about 2000 of us came out while Eritrea is in this mess? How come? You have got to admire peiople like Amanuel Iyassu who year after year travel from Europe while so many Educated Eritreans are sitting their ass off at the surrounding of Washington, DC . so if Amanuel is travelling this far, and others from Canada why is those others “ERITREANS” intellects, learned men & women being so cruel. Is that b/c they are so Imporatnt? And that is exactly how those who abetted Isaias felt once upon a time and even now. so Isaias has Never done it alone and nor will he ever !

    • Genet June 25, 2013


  • Facts-ain't-Pretenders! June 24, 2013

    I meant:
    He never did it ALONE and he is NOT doing it alone & he won’t do it Alone!

  • Kombishtato June 24, 2013

    Dr Issak Weldeab, the former CEO of Asmara University and his collaborators, should come up and speak.

    • TwoWayStreet June 24, 2013

      Dr. Weldeab Issak, President

  • Facts-ain't-Pretenders! June 24, 2013

    Isaias is ONLY the chicken with chicks. And you are the owner of these chicken and its chicks. If the chicken and chicks are infected with killer disease, what do you do?
    What isthe probability of your survival rate? will you

    a) eat them for being greedy of jsut wasting your so dear chickens?
    b) take chances and wait for time, fooling yourelf, that they miraculously will heal so you take them to Edaga and make profit and even they hatch more chick?

    well – you only fooling yourself as time will show you how you get beaten in the ass!

    That is Exactly what has happened to Eritrea. Isaias and his disciples, in retrospect of Gedli mode of operandi, replicated what they had already designed and put in place.

    Remember when the bold eritrean lady who challenged Isaias at the washington gathering of 1993? She was one of the very few who WARNED ERITREANS by her actions! Yet, as usual, Eritreans are DEAF & BLIND until it is TOO LATE! We are the dummiest of the Dummiest!

    we have learned men & women in Western Universities, at the UN, at where NOT, yet, we are the most cruel who LOVES to just TALK and Talk! I DARE to challenge any foul mouth as to why they DO NOT show their “ERITREANISM” in actions. why not?

  • TwoWayStreet June 24, 2013

    Thank you Professor and Fetsum for your insight, as a concerned Eritrean.
    I know Professor Sara Okbay as a student at the University of Asmara, even before she got her masters degree. She has served the University for a long time, making her one of the individuals who could give accurate testimony regarding Asmara University.
    I feel ashamed for my country, and most of all ashamed for those who follow on Issayas’ foot steps, defending his irrational measures, saying “We are him, he is us”.
    I guess Issayas is monopolizing Eritrean knowledge too, by not giving it to the future generation and by taking it back from the citizens (The YPFDJ cult – Part one and part two,

  • Genet June 24, 2013

    Fetsum, Thank you, Thank you.
    I think, we should keep this topic about our country’s education status, current at all time. It is too important to not to talk about it. My concern is not only that our young Eritreans are denied, the proper accredited university education, but they are being deceived to believe their degrees as valid papers. I am afraid, Our problem is not going to end once the dictator is gone. The young Eritrean, who are currently the victim of the dictator’s action, will be the worst problem as adults. The dictator knows what he is planting. He is planting a cancer seed in our society. Without accredited university, he is telling them that they have a degree in engineering, accountant, law, education, nursing, economic and God knows what he is doing with the medical education. Just imagine, how are we going to be productive in the post dictator Eritrea? I think, we need to come up with an action plan specifically to address the education problem. We like it or not, there will be a second round of conflicts, between Eritreans who thinks their education is valid without fact to support it and Eritreans who have a degree from accredited Universities. I see, a second rounds of conflicts. Because we remember what happened, when the former freedom fighters come home and took positions which they were not qualified for. Some body was supposed to say something about it. Now, we are finding ourselves in the same spot. Are we going to handle it the same way? or we are going to have an action plan.

    • TwoWayStreet June 24, 2013

      I hope the biggest problem Eritrea faces is the conflict that you mentioned, once the current Eritrean way of governance is changed.

  • MightyEmbasoyra June 24, 2013

    I am assuming Isayas is acting this way because he was kicked out of one. He probably thinks that if he couldn’t go thru college no one deserves it. That guy is jealous of anything good.
    Just saying.

  • Hailu June 25, 2013

    DR Isak Woldeab,

    i have worked with him and he is dictator like Isayas Afeworki, he messed up the university, during his leadership in the university, Woldeab Isaak was known to create divisions and terrorise the professionals. He was one of the main instruments of Isayas discourse the professors who were trying to serve their people. And as a result of his poor management all the professionals left the Uni.
    Dr Isaak was also in charge of the University students when they were subjected to abuse and torture by the regime during the 1997 and 2001.He may not avoid being questioned for the death of the two University students on 2001.
    If the metioned doctor is Dr Sara , who was in the soils department, she was also one of those who were advantaged from Dr Woldeab Isaak and she was main player in some instance.

    • Ghenet June 25, 2013

      get your facts right, not soil department!

    • fetsum abraham June 25, 2013

      The relationship between Dr. Sara and the President of AU is irrelevant in this discussion. What if she was favored by the president of the AU when at the end of the day she was as descriminated as all other Eritrean teachers had been? What was she supposed to do except conform to the rules of the AU? Does doing this mean being favored to you which it does not to me?
      Please get to the point and we are tired of character assassination to bend the truth. TNX

  • John June 25, 2013

    Gzate Isayas: Adonkirka Gzae???? EPLF used to call educated people” nues brjuwa”, “mhur tebelasi ” this was wicked tactic to isolate the intellectuals . The article raise important questions.
    I think this is a very serious problem . Many Eritrean youth inside eritrea are poorly educated. Those who left eritrea are wasting their time in refugee comes instead of going College . After years of being in waiting , they come to America. Since they are not skilled or educated they enagage in minimum wage jobs… And the cycle continues!

    What bother me the most is the attitude of Eritreans to education . In america, Many Eritreans love to argue about politics in coffee shops instead of going school .
    After Isayas is gone if we have is uneducated Eritreans, we will end up importing people to do skilled jobs and eventually eritrea will cease to exist as viable nation.

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