“We have to use our time and resources properly and be visionary, goal oriented and politically conscious.” Interview with Aron Habtezion.
“We have to use our time and resources properly and be visionary, goal oriented and politically conscious.” Interview with Aron Habtezion.
Serawr, 19 May, 2018
Serawr Information and Research Centre conducted an interview with Aron Habtezion on the occasion of the 27th anniversary of Eritrean Independence. This introductory interview covers topics including current global and regional developments in the international relations, higher education in Eritrea, and Eritrea’s national struggle in the context of the enormous sacrifices that Eritrean successive generations have had to make.
Aron is now on a study visit for a doctoral degree in Europe. Aron was born in a village in 1979, where he grew up and studied his elementary schooling. After completing his high school in Asmara, he joined the National Service in the 9th round and then the University of Asmara in 1999. He undertook his part on the frontline in the defending the country during the third Weyane’s invasion.
After completing his degree in History, he served at the PFDJ, Research and Documentation Centre for two years. He was then reassigned as Graduate Assistant in the department of History, College of Social Sciences, in Eritrea Institute of Technology, Mai Nefhi in 2005. He moved to the new Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Sciences in 2010. Aron travelled to China for his postgraduate in 2011, where he graduated with a Masters in International Relations and returned to Eritrea in 2014 and served as a Head of Department for the International Relation at Adi Keih College.
Serawr – Can you briefly tell us in simple terms what International Relations is?
Aron – International Relations can be described as a science that study about the nature of relations between different political actors including states, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and other non-state actors in the wider international politics.
Serawe – The world is going through rapid changes in the international relations with global power countries such as Russia and China, and other regional powers such as Saudi and others, playing a greater role in the international affairs, how do you see these changes in general and specifically with Eritrea’s context?
Aron – It is not easy to give opinion in this issue as it needs prudence and experience in the international politics. As for me it seems that after the end of the cold war, the US emerged as the only super power and declared the new world order, but today the world is changing. The US status is facing challenges from China, Russia and other powers. China being the hub of global cash is easily expanding its presence and influence throughout the world and building its military muscle at home. The NATO expansion and the cyber politics infuriate Russia and engaged in a kind of arms race as urgency.
Circumstances have created an opportunity for the regional powers to show their prowess in their respective zones. Saudi Arabia and other oil rich Arab countries are actively playing their role in the crisis ridden Middle East and the Red Sea region. Owing to our closeness to the region, it is likely to be influenced by the developments.
As we all know for centuries and especially since the end of the Second World War, our geostrategic location has made us victim of global powers’ realpolitik games. Therefore, we are witnessing that the international political system is under configuration. In the coming decade we may see the changing dynamism of power distribution and we need vigilance and act in a way that keeping our national interest, free and independent political line intact.
Serawr – You have studied in China, how long did you stay there? China has become economic power house in the last few decades, what impressions did you get when you were there? What impressed you most about the country?
Aron – I was in China for three years, I travelled to many historic and economic centers and observe that they have many impressing qualities. The image I had when I was in Eritrea is totally changed. They built infrastructures that accommodate their massive population, the various investments they attracted have created immense jobs, they built universities and vocational schools that train and supply the labor force to their industries.
The country has very vast territory and is resourceful and the people are creative, hard-working and well-organized. China is one of the oldest civilizations and still preserves prodigious archaeological and historical relics.
Serawr – What do you think of China’s education system particularly the higher education? What can Eritrea learn from China in producing highly skilled and competitive workforce? At a personal level, are there things that you have learned there that you were able to introduce in the Adi Keih College?
Aron – I think China is well aware of the importance of education and research and is spending a lion’s share of its resources in higher education. I observe the Chinese thanks to their resources built diversified and specialized universities and research centers. The hard sciences are well equipped with practical workshops and laboratories.
Therefore, as development of human resources through education is the only remedy for development, what we can learn from China’s educational system is just to put more emphasis on training that increase the student’s creativity accompanied by practical training and research.
Serawr – How is the higher education in Eritrea progressing in general and more specifically about Adi Keih, College of Arts and Social Science? Can you tell us what and what are the challenges that need to be overcome to make Eritrea’s higher education institutions competitive internationally?
Aron – Higher education in Eritrea, although is in its primordial stage, and mainly working on the first degree level (some programs already open masters level), it is responding the demand of graduates nationwide. Concerning college of Arts and Social Sciences, Adi Keih, its infrastructure is relatively modern but yet more remain to be done.
I observe Eritrea’s higher education institutions are experiencing common challenges, including shortage of teaching staffs especially nationals, research culture, equipment of laboratory and practical workshops etc. However as the solution for these limitations are associated with national economy, I hope they will be solved slowly but surely and then after it will not be mission impossible to be competitive internationally.
Serawr – From national perspective, given its importance in nation building, education is one of the areas that takes the largest budget and resources of the country. However, human resource plays a critical role in delivering the service, do you think easing financial pressures particularly provision of accommodation, can help the professionals in delivering a better service?
Aron – Incontestably yes. Provision of accommodation with fair price was the tradition in the higher education of Eritrea; however with the increase of the number of colleges, staffs and other reasons, the issue of accommodation is the top issues among the educators in the higher education. Even some times it is provided as a excuse for some postgraduate students studying abroad not to return back home and it has been a real problem for the returnees including myself.
Serawr – The new Ethiopian prime minister is calling for negotiated settlement in the dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, is this the same old game, what can be done to resolve the problem?
Aron – The new PM has made a call for negotiation and promised his people for peace with Eritrea, however his approach seems not different from his predecessors and will not be easy to force or convince the interest groups in his party, who have not the will to end the status quo. As a matter of fact neither of the contestants has made any compromise in their initial stands on the issue, but as the Ethiopian PMs in their attempt of winning the hearts and minds of the international community and to trick the ingenuous they act as a peace-loving leaders and made recurring rhetoric.
For me the solution is according to the ruling of the Algiers accord that is the withdrawal of the occupying forces of Ethiopia from various Eritrean sovereign territories and then discussion on normalization of relations can take place. For more than 16 years Ethiopian leaders used this style as a means of showing off themselves as having the readiness for peace. Ahmed’s promise is no different, as it is beyond his capability.
Serawr – In the past two decades Eritrea has faced enormous challenges including military invasions, sanctions, political and economic pressures that have affected the whole society greatly; within context of global, regional and our national standing, can we say that we have overcome much of the challenges?
Aron – I would say history is repeating itself. The time we won our independence was critical for at least one reason; it was a time when the Cold War was ended and the US emerged as a unipolar hegemonic power and declared New World Order, where alternative and independent political line or ideology was not entertained. Liberal democracy was to be the sole global political economy, and advocates acknowledged the end of history.
Thus, obliterating any inconsistent alternative line by any means possible was inevitable and our situation is the reality. The challenge on Eritrea is colossal and it costs dire price, with multiple and long-lasting consequences but not without lesson and at the moment the state of affairs looks to tilt towards its end thanks to the steadfastness of the people.
Serawr – The older generation have given almost all their life time to the national cause, your generation have equally done the same, what keeps those of you who have remained in this path regardless of the difficulties and the great sacrifices going?
Aron – For the last five decades our national cause has consumed almost three generations, especially the first two generations totally devoted their lives and opportunities during the liberation struggle and safe guarding of national sovereignty. Eritrea, owing to its war legacy and post independence difficulties is one of the developing nations, hence it is still demanding further sacrifice, and with the length of time it is natural for some of the cohorts to test their resilience and tolerance while other fit to endure. I feel what keeps those who tolerate and continue the path despite the difficulties is that; first it is a question of existence; second it is part of the inherited chain of values and cultures of no-give-up. I present this credit mainly to those who are in the frontlines relentlessly and selflessly defending the nation.
Serawr – Did you become aware of the national struggle at a young age and what were the factors that made you aware or influenced you including things or events you saw at young age and if any of your family members took part in the struggle?
Aron – As any of the children of my village in the late 1980s, I remember the Ethiopian soldiers very well and was mature enough to identify them as strangers with unfamiliar language and unwelcome by our people. The atmosphere was full of songs of hope and praise the liberation fighters and undermining the Tor serawit. I knew the ruins where we used to play hide-and-seek were demolished by bombardments of Ethiopian forces.
It was a time when almost on daily basis teenagers from the villages abandoning their study and join the struggle. I remember the village Damba Seharti was the main route for the recruits to join the struggle and until some months after independence I regard Sahel was via Damba in the south direction.ü It was the time hearing gunshot and explosion of landmines that victimize people and animals was common. Listening to demtsi Hafash and revolutionary songs in group was the common phenomenon.
During holidays young men and women singing and dancing with revolutionary songs with deep emotion yearning and belongingness. The wailing of mothers when they hear the deafening scream of fighter jets rounding in the sky to land after their bombardments, then the prayer was “eee.… ab Eche emni yigbero…..”. That time was not hidden from me and my peers as the common talk point was the fighters will win and our sons and daughters will come victorious. Because all the chat of the day was that “fighters are destroying the Ethiopian soldiers”, I thought fighters were immortal like angels so I was certain to see my uncles and extended family members after liberation, but was not realized and learned that fighters were mortal. Hence, as the Seharti was a district where the EPLF was active and the presence of big number of Ethiopian soldiers, the environment was enough to increase one’s consciousness.
Serawr – You are doing your doctorial degree and you have a role in the college, how are you going to manage these tasks?
Aron – Currently I am working on my third degree, and this is as part of the government’s program of developing the national human resources especially in the colleges. I believe my academic advancement is a plus point for me and the college. For long time our college was experiencing a shortage of man power especially nationals, therefore I will be part of the solution and during summer vacation I will travel to Eritrea for research and visiting family and will do my level best to support the students. I consider this as a contribution to help our young brothers and sisters in their endeavor to achieve their dream through education.
Serawr – What are the driving values that help you achieve your goals and can you state the factors that helped you to be the person that you are including family, society, the national struggle and any personal role models?
Aron – I believe I am on my way to achieve my goal but if my current status is to be considered as an achievement, my regard goes to my parents who furnished my demands so as to be active in my study with no much load on house and farming, as it was mainly done by my older brother. For the last eight years I have been leading a family and becoming father of four, hence during all years of my overseas study and travels to Adi Keih for teaching, my wife shouldered the responsibility of our children. Therefore, I devote the bulk of my success to my wife Feven. Like any ordinary Eritrean student, I am the beneficiary and product of the schooling provided by the government, and my regard is at its high. Therefore, my appreciation and gratitude goes to family members, college lecturers and professors, friends and the society as a whole.
Serawr – Finally if you have any message for the public and the youth in particular?
Aron- Currently we are in a situation that demanded us the commitment of our labor, time and opportunities, but despite the difference in scale, it is an ordinary experience in many societies, therefore I would urge my people to be strong and confident. My message to the youths at home and abroad is that we have to use our time and resources properly and be visionary, goal oriented and politically conscious. Those of studying, we should spend our time in accumulating competitive knowledge, and for those at work, I recommend to optimize our career and be good in saving and investment.