Eritrea: Freedom of Expression and Ethnic Discrimination in the Educational System

Past and Future

During the period of Ethiopian rule in Eritrea (1962-91), a systematic policy of denying educational freedoms to Eritreans was followed. This ranged beyond stifling freedom of thought to a sustained attempt to dismantle the educational system and block the emergence of a university serving Eritreans. These policies were part of the wider political aim of the governments of the Emperor Haile Selassie and Colonel (later President) Mengistu Haile Mariam to suppress any manifestation of Eritrean dissent or nationalism. The abuses against educational freedom during the last years of Mengistu's rule may appear relatively mild. There were comparatively few detentions of academics and teachers, and no executions solely for the exercise of academic or educational freedom. Asmara University, although transferred to the interior part of Ethiopia when the fighting around the city intensified, remained functional-albeit in a limited way-until only three months before the final demise of the Mengistu government in May 1991. However, during the previous three decades, successive Ethiopian governments had so systematically suppressed educational freedom in Eritrea that all signs of independent thought or action had been totally eliminated. Resting upon this destructive achievement, little additional pressure was needed to ensure that the educational system remained in quiescent conformity with the government's aims.

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