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Several Thoughts About Teddy Afro and Education

Tewodros Kassahun aka Teddy Afro

Several Thoughts About Teddy Afro and Education
Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion
3 January 2017

1. On Teddy Afro

First, in order to avoid any potential misunderstandings and hard feelings, allow me to state that I have nothing but deep love and wholehearted respect for Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people. I genuinely wish for peace, cooperation, and development for and between our countries and peoples. However, some of Teddy Afro’s recent comments are shameful and tone deaf. They are highly insensitive, lack any semblance of perspective, and greatly minimize - if not outright deny - one of the most horrific periods in our history. His glorification of Haile Selassie, who remained in power until the 1970s, ignores the simple fact that Selassie was a despotic tyrant who ruled oppressively, enslaved innumerable peasants via a draconian feudal system, illegally annexed Eritrea, and caused the deaths of thousands. Additionally, the entertainer’s comments about his desire to “improve relations” and “leave things behind” reveal his failure to understand that true peace, healing, progress, and reconciliation come from an honest and often difficult confrontation with and acknowledgment of the past. Although Selassie may be seen as a glorious, shining figure of royalty to some, one should and cannot deny the fact that for millions of others he will always be a tyrant.

As well, it should be noted that sustainable peace must be based on mutual respect. However, Teddy Afro's comments regarding Eritrea and Ethiopia flippantly dismiss Eritrea's sovereignty, in the process gravely disrespecting tens of thousands of people who sacrificed their lives and limbs for freedom and independence. After the Second World War, the United Nations (UN) decided to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia despite Eritreans’ repeated calls for independence. Under the UN resolution, Eritrea was to have certain sovereign and democratic freedoms, including the right to its own flag and control over domestic affairs. However, under the reign of Selassie, these promises were soon broken. Eritreans quickly became marginalized citizens in their own country, ruled harshly within an oppressive Ethiopian occupation. Eritreans were banned from speaking their own languages and forced to learn Amharic, the dominant language of Ethiopia. Censorship became the standard, while Eritreans were forced to dissolve their political parties and trade unions. Unarmed peaceful protests and student uprisings were brutally suppressed. It was in this context of persecution, injustice, and attempted erasure of Eritrean tradition, culture, and identity that thousands of Eritreans would go on to wage a long, bitter – and largely lonely – struggle for freedom and self-determination. While peace is always an important and worthy pursuit, until Teddy Afro can come to terms with the above, he will be left sounding like a broken record.

2. The “Golden Boy”

According to UNESCO, education is a fundamental human right and is essential for the exercise of all other human rights. Education promotes individual freedom and empowerment, and it is a critical factor for economic growth and general development. Around the world, millions of children and adults remain deprived of education, many as a result of poverty. Eritrea, a young, low-income country located in the fractious Horn of Africa region, has prioritized education as a key pillar within its national policy and broader framework for development, socio-economic growth, and poverty alleviation.

There is little doubt that the country faces challenges in many areas, including education. At the same time, a lot of progress has been achieved in a short period, which should not be simply dismissed. Problematically, as with most coverage of Eritrea in general, mainstream analyses and discussions of education in the country (across all levels) are often cursory, lacking in context, or plagued with various shortcomings.

I have previously written on education in the country, with the aim of providing some clarity and hoping to broaden the discussion. One of the most overlooked aspects about education in the country is the fact that access to education has been greatly expanded across the entire population. For example, consider total enrolments, which were approximately 50,000 in 1961, 248,000 in 1991, and last year were about 750,000. Moreover, literacy rates for youth in Eritrea are amongst the highest in Africa, and they are considerably higher than those for adults, suggesting that efforts to strengthen the supply and quality of basic education programmes have been successful. In fact, according to UNESCO, Eritrea has had one of the largest increases in youth literacy anywhere in the world over the past 50 years.

Having spent the last several years working in Eritrea, I have witnessed first-hand education in the country. I have been highly privileged to work with countless young, sharp, creative minds. Amongst the many eye-opening experiences I have had, one of the most important has been seeing the country’s expansion of education to all sectors of the population. Education is free, helping to ensure opportunities for all and promote equality. Visit any school, educational institution, or even any single class, and you will find students representing any one of the country’s various ethno-linguistic groups or hailing from one of its geographic regions. You will also quickly see that gender parity is greatly improved, and will come across students from the country’s various religious faith backgrounds. Furthermore, students will also be from a range of socio-economic class backgrounds, with all different categories being represented.

Recently, during a lively discussion with several colleagues, I learned that one of them – who is now a university lecturer and from one of the country’s smallest ethno-linguistic groups – was the first person in his family to attend university or college. His achievement was proudly celebrated by his family, and it also served to inspire his young neighbours and relatives to continue their own education. In fact, his younger brother is set to graduate next year. As we discussed his accomplishments, my colleague went on to narrate the story of a newly enrolled student – again from one of Eritrea’s smallest ethno-linguistic groups – who has recently become the first person in his entire town to attend university. The town, in honour of his great accomplishment, rewarded the young man by coming together to gift him gold and camels. What is even more exciting is that other young people in the town and surrounding regions have been greatly inspired and are now looking forward to furthering their education.

Stories such as these are not unique in Eritrea. Not only do they help to vividly illustrate how educational access and opportunities have been dramatically improved in the country, they also inspire me to continue to dedicate myself to Eritrea and support its ambitious, motivated youth.

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