The historical educational imbalance in Eritrea
There are factors that cause easily identifiable divisions in Eritrea. These include the presence of nine languages, two major religions and two distinct geographical zones. These factors, however, become essential elements of division in the hands of manipulative elite. Otherwise, it was not religious faith but the struggle for political power – the source of material benefits, the preservation of group identity and dignity – that has caused disunity. We have seen that the Eritrean Muslims constituted the majority in the ranks of the independentists in the 1940s and in the liberation struggle until 1975. They acted in the way they did mainly because they perceived that their interests in the long-run would not be satisfied in a political relationship with Ethiopia. On the other hand, the Eritrean Christians in general hoped that unity with the Ethiopian state, dominated by their co-religionists, would bring them “dignity, freedom equality and new opportunities”.
It was the question of access to the ‘new opportunities’ that widened the gap of division between the two Eritrean communities.
Take the access to state power in Ethiopia. Out of 138 highest state posts between 1941 to 1966, 85 went to Shoan Amharas, 19 to Eritreans and 7 Tigriyans.* Eritrea was the second most favoured region (my own comment is that Eritreans came first if you take it proportional to population size), but the breakdown of the 19 posts made a difference locally; 16 were Christians and only 3 Muslims. Among them Saleh Hinit, the first Muslim in Ethiopian history to become cabinet minister in 1966.
Education, which was usually the path to high state posts and material benefits, was less accessible to the Eritrean Muslims than their Christian compatriots. In 1966, 50 % of the children over the age of ten in Asmara were literate; 28% of the children of the 7 – 12 age-group also went to school in Eritrea as a whole. But the share of the lowland peripheries in educational opportunities was very low. Similarly, the enrolment in Ethiopian higher institutions of learning showed a very high percentage of Eritreans. In average, there were 830 Eritrean students in the Haile Sellasie I University at any given year during 1963 – 1968, making 16.6% of the total university student population. But out of those Eritreans, much less than 2 % came from the non-Tigrinya speakers of the Eritrean lowlands.
Source: Eritrea: Root causes of War and Refugees by Wolde-Yesus Ammar, 1992, pp.86 -88
· Christopher Clapham, Haile Sellasie’Government, 1969. P.81 quoted in
And here is the educational imbalance during PFDJ:
Out of 512 elementary schools in 1996, 354 (about 70 %) taught in Tigrinya, 96 in Arabic, 25 in Tigrait, 13 in Kunama and 14 in Saho in a population where Tigrinya speakers are estimated to account for about 50 % of the population. The same pattern prevails in the distribution of teachers in the lowland provinces of Barca, Denkalia, Semher, Senhit taken all together formed simply a mere 15 %. One wonders how much of this has influenced the social engineering of the society through the years
Source of the Statistics: Fouad Mekkis article, “Nationalism, State Formation and the Public Sphere in Eritrea 1991 – 1996 p. 483 quoting an article by Jenny Street and a Report of the Ministry of Education