By Fisseha Gidey
Adigrat University, once a symbol of knowledge, innovation, and hope for the people of Tigray, bore witness to unprecedented devastation during the war against Tigray by the federal government and its allies: the Eritrean government, the Amhara regional forces, and international collaborators. As the conflict escalated, the institution became a target, suffering irreparable damage and facing challenges that have impacted the academic community and the region’s overall development.
Adigrat University is one of Ethiopia’s publicly funded National Universities, located in the historic city of Adigrat in the Eastern Zone of Tigray Regional State. It stands 900 KM from the capital, Addis Ababa, and 120 KM from the regional capital, Mekelle. It was officially established on May 26, 2011, and opened its doors, admitting 960 students across 13 departments within four colleges two months later.
In the year 2020, approximately 20,000 students were enrolled in 35 departments across six colleges through regular, summer, and extension programs.
Before the devastating war, many students from neighbouring countries such as Eritrea, South Sudan, and Somalia had benefited from the scholarship opportunities offered by Adigrat University.
In November 2020, a war was declared on Tigray by allied forces, including the Ethiopian Defense Forces, Amhara Regional forces and militia, invading Eritrean troops, and shockingly, Somali soldiers who were training in Eritrea, and with drone support from international collaborators of Abiy Ahmed’s regime.
This resulted in the massive destruction of the University’s infrastructure. The allied forces left the University in ruins, with shelling, broken doors and windows, looted belongings, and its use as a military base.
The destruction was immense, with buildings reduced to rubble, ICT infrastructures, including cloud computing centres, severely damaged, and essential utilities such as electricity and water supply disrupted.
The conflict also forced students and faculty members to flee the area, disrupting academic programs, research initiatives, and community services. Tragically, nine University staff members lost their lives, while seven kidnapped staff members remain unknown. What’s even more distressing is that a total of 3,066 staff members and their families suffered from starvation due to a prolonged 17-month period without receiving any salary.
The ensuing war unleashed widespread violence, displacement, rape, and gross human rights violations. Adigrat University, as one of the prominent institutions in the region, became a target, marking a devastating turn in the crisis. As the war raged on, the University found itself more at the centre of the conflict due to its proximity to Eritrea, facing destruction on multiple fronts, as presented below.
The once-vibrant university campus became a battleground and a military base, destroying and severely damaging buildings, classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and research facilities.
Disruption of Academic Activities
The violence and insecurity forced the university to suspend academic activities indefinitely. Both students and faculty members were compelled to flee for their safety, leaving behind a void in knowledge and intellectual growth.
Loss of Intellectual Capital
Adigrat University boasted a pool of talented and dedicated professors and researchers who made significant contributions to the region’s development. However, 16 staff members either died or went missing, while many were forced to leave the area, resulting in a substantial loss of intellectual capital in Tigray.
Cultural Heritage at Risk
The city of Adigrat, with its rich cultural history, also suffered during the conflict. As an integral part of the city, the university played a crucial role in preserving and promoting local cultural heritage. The destruction of the university symbolized an attack on the region’s identity, history, and potential contributions to socio-economic development.
The destruction of Adigrat University has far-reaching implications that extend beyond the academic sphere, as indicated below.
Disrupted Educational Pathways
The closure of the university disrupted the academic journeys of thousands of students. Many students were left uncertain about their futures, unable to continue their education and pursue their dreams.
Adigrat University played a pivotal role in driving economic growth and innovation in the region. The destruction of its infrastructure and academic activities led to a setback in the region’s economic progress.
The university once represented hope and progress for the people of Tigray and Ethiopia at large. Its destruction shattered the dreams of countless individuals who aspired to improve their community.
Challenges for Rebuilding
The process of rebuilding the university and the region at large is a monumental task that requires substantial resources, time, and concerted efforts from various stakeholders.
In conclusion, the destruction of Adigrat University amid the war on Tigray is a tragic and heart-wrenching event that has left an indelible mark on the region’s history. The loss of this esteemed institution not only hampers academic progress but also robs the people of Tigray of their aspirations and potential for a better future.
Rebuilding the university will be a challenging endeavour, but restoring hope, knowledge, and prosperity to the people of Tigray is essential. Education lovers must unite to support the University and the region in overcoming this devastation, as education is an indispensable tool for healing wounds, fostering peace, and empowering societies to thrive again.
Fisseha Gidey, a senior lecturer of mathematics at Adigrat University, is currently collaborating with Queens University on a research project funded by SSHRC titled ‘Black Youth Experiences in Tigray’s Conflict’.