Ethiopia’s war in Tigray has kept more than a million students out of schools, universities and made hundreds of Indian professors jobless.
The actual number of Indian academics presently working in Ethiopia is unclear, however, the developing war in Ethiopia has resulted in damage to schools and educational institutions, with the country’s education ministry stating that 1.42 million students have been unable to attend classes in the Tigray area.
The war broke out last November and turbulent uncertainties made universities and colleges in Tigray shut down, forcing Indians in the region to return home.
History of Indian Educators in Ethiopia
Indian educators have historically played an important role in Ethiopia where the first batch of Indian teachers went to Ethiopia from Kerala in the 1950s. The first wave of recruitment of Indian teachers was handed over to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which had great connections with the Indian Orthodox churches, predominantly in Kerala, said Nair. As news spread of job opportunities in Ethiopia, teachers across India began responding to recruitment advertisements for employment in primary schools, directly conducted under the supervision of the Ethiopian Embassy in New Delhi.
The Ethiopian Government took to recruiting Indians because educators from the West demanded high salaries that Ethiopia could not afford, compelling Haile Selassie to turn to India. As a legacy of British colonialism, English was the medium of instruction in several public and private schools in India, particularly in urban centres. Hence, in India, Ethiopia found teachers who would be able to impart education in English across age groups at lower salaries than their western counterparts.
Indians were posted not just in the capital Addis Ababa, but they were also recruited for teaching positions in schools in smaller towns and remote villages, a trend that lasted for more than five decades.
Indian educators were held in high regard in the country. Excellent work conditions, the climate, and the honour given especially to Indian teachers are some reasons why Indians like to work there and one academics told The Indian Express. “They make us feel like we are a part of their community and that is why we like it there. We get so much affection there. That is lacking in India. This is why we are even able to stay in the country.”
However, the suspension of classes and the escalating conflict in Ethiopia compelled many Indian educators, most of whom teach in colleges and universities, to return to India. While exact figures were not immediately available, Mishra estimates that some 2,000 Indians presently work as professors in the country, of which approximately 120 work across Tigray’s four major universities.
Ethiopian government figures had estimated that some 2,000 Indian nationals were teaching in institutions across the country, the largest group of foreign academics by country. “So if we got USD 2,500 as salary, that entire amount would be handed to us. Converted to Indian rupees, it was a lot of money,” said Mishra to the Indian Express. The domestic developments in Ethiopia have driven up everyday costs, leaving Indian educators little money to send back home. “What is left in our hands is sometimes less than the salary some teachers make in India.”
What Led to the War in Tigray
The Tigray War is an ongoing civil war that began on 3 November 2020 in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia where the local Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) are fighting the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), the Ethiopian Federal Police, regional police, and gendarmerie forces of the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions with the involvement of the Eritrean Defence Forces. This war is not a conflict over who gets to rule Tigray, a tiny region whose population accounts for a mere 6 percent of Ethiopia’s more than 110 million people. It is a batter over who gets to dominate the commanding heights of the country’s economy, a prize that Tigray’s regional leaders once held and are determined to recapture at any cost.
Due to the onset of the war, a horrific humanitarian crisis has developed.
Mass extrajudicial killings of civilians took place during November and December 2020 in and around Adigrat, Hagere Selam, in the Hitsats refugee camp, and in Humera, Mai Kadra Debre Abbay, and Axum.
At least 10,000 people have killed since December 2020, and war rape became a “daily” occurrence, with girls as young as 8, and women as old as 72, raped, often in front of their families.
Tigray’s War Against Ethiopia Isn’t About Autonomy. It’s About Economic Power.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is fighting the country’s revanchist old regime, which is intent on recapturing the economic and political influence it once held.
This war is ultimately a battle for control of Ethiopia’s economy, its natural resources, and the billions of dollars the country receives annually from international donors and lenders. Access to those riches is a function of who heads the federal government—which the Tigray forces, TPLF controlled for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in April 2018, following widespread protests against the TPLF-led government.