Saturday, September 24, 2016

Eritrea 2016: Sketches of a Trip. Part IIB. A Conversation with Attorney Senai Woldeab about ICES.

Part 2

Issayas: The Conference had contracted many local businesses such as Eagle Travel Agency, the buses, the hotels, and etc. What was the evaluation of the participants and the committee about the services of the aforementioned?

Senai: Since I was in charge of communication with the presenters and some of the service providers we involved (such as Eagle Travel Agency), I was able to personally witness how the participants felt about the services of such businesses. Eagle Travel, which was our designated travel agent for the conference, for instance, offered to transport presenters who stayed at hotels which do not have shuttle services, free of charge. They received the presenters with flowers and small Asmara postcards. We had three brand new buses to transport the presenters to and from their hotels. Most of the presenters stayed at Asmara Palace; others went to Crystal Hotel, Embasoira Hotel, Sunshine Hotel and Albergo Italia. We have not received any complaints from our guests and from the hotels.


                                                               lunch buffet line at the Asmara Palace Hotel

                                                                    Traditional dinner being served at the
                                                                    Hidmona Restaurant, Expo Grounds.



Issayas: The Conference had organized a train tour and Asmara city tour. What comments did you receive from people who went on the tours?

Senai: A number of the presenters and participants already know Asmara, but have not had guided tour of the city. Asmara Heritage Project – which has been working hard to inscribe Asmara in the World Heritage List – provided us with two of its employees as our guides during the Asmara tour. More people joined us for the memorable Asmara-Nefasit tour onboard the 1920’s steam locomotive. Everybody enjoyed the tour.

Asmara historical sight seeing tour

                                                                                 a train ride to Nefasit

Issayas: There were many young people involved behind the scene at the Conference. The ushers /usherettes, the technical personnel, the note takers, the website, the logo, the video crew (every   lecture was videotaped, and so forth). Would you tell us about them? Are they students,..?

Senai: Right from the start of the idea of organizing the conference, we had determined to involve
the youth at all levels from ushering to presenting papers, from serving as reporters to being involved
in organizing the conference. The youth had a visible presence at all levels during the conference.

We invited thirty students from the eight colleges to attend the conference and get the inspiration they need. We also had conference staff (ushers and usherettes) most of whom just completed their high school classes or are in early years of their college studies. A team of five from the organizing committee took them through a selection process and we had equal number of females and males helping us as our conference staff.

They were given enough training a few days before the start of the conference. Every session had to be videotaped. We hired Audio Visual Institute of Eritrea (AVIE) to record (video and still camera) all sessions. We will also have a documentary video highlighting the conference. On top of that each presentation and the discussions on it were recorded by a team of three rapporteurs. They have now submitted their reports to us.

We will use the reports not only for documentation purposes but for communication to each presenter and interested policy makers.I cannot also forget to mention the admirable contribution of Sennay Kiflu – who just completed his law classes – designed the conference logo, the banners, the book of abstracts and the conference program.. Every piece of the products was essentially his idea. He is very imaginative.

                                                         Some of the behind- the- scene members

                                                                Members of the Organizing Committee of ICES

                                                     Senai Woldeab, Sennay Kiflu and Dr. Yonas

                                                  logo of the conference designed by Sennay Kiflu

Issayas: At ICES's website there is a section on Eritrea Research Fund. Not too many people are aware of ERF. Would you tell us about it and its relationship with ICES?

Senai: The ERF was established in 2013 to provide support research on issues related to Eritrea. The purpose is to encourage people stationed in and outside of Eritrea to conduct high-quality research related to any field of study on Eritrea. It also supports the two local academic journals, the Journal of Eritrean Studies and the Eritrean Journal of Science and Engineering.

An ad hoc committee at the National Commission for Higher Education has been managing the fund. A rigorous review process approves the research and financial proposals. Researchers must submit publishable research output also approved by reviewers of the final product. We have so far had three calls for submission of proposals and we received 126 proposals. Of these we supported 46 research projects. 21 have been complete to date. ERF is related to ICES in the sense that they are aimed at encouraging research on Eritrea. we also wanted the ICES opportunity to identify papers with potential for ERF-funding. We already have our eyes on some of the papers presented at the ICES.

Issayas: Senai, thank you for you time and the elaboration.

Senai: Thank you.

In the near future, I will provide a pictorial tour of the conference.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Eritrea 2016: Sketches of a Trip. Part IIA. A Conversation with Attorney Senai Woldeab about ICES.

Senai Woldeab is an attorney, assistant professor of law at the School of Law, College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), Eritrea, and a legal advisor to Minister of Justice, Fozia Hashim.

Part 1

Issayas: What is the genesis of this conference?

Senai : An idea for holding a conference like the ICES was around for quite some time. The main thrust for organizing the conference was the recurrent conviction that it would make more sense if Eritrea-related/centered academic conferences are held in Eritrea. 

Issayas: There was one in 2001. Is this one any different than the previous one?

Senai: Yes there was a similar conference in 2001. I did not participate there, but hearing from people who organized and/or participated in the conference, I came to know that the two events are similar to each other. They invited academic discussions on various Eritrea-related matters.

Issayas: Would you give us some statistics?  How many people participated? How many presented? What topics were covered and etc?

Senai: We have just finished preparing the report of the conference which we will make available to everybody online. The report will give a clear picture on the number of people who participated and presented papers. A total of 119 papers and six plenary lectures were presented in the three days of the conference. The papers were presented in seven parallel session rooms at the Hotel Asmara Palace. We clustered the papers by proximity of the issues they discussed. With an average of three papers presented in each session, there were forty topics covered. Topics as varied as archeology, philology, linguistics, education, foreign policy, copyright, archiving, gender, Eritrean Diaspora, literature, FGM, architecture, sustainable development, crime prevalence, cultural, heritage, Horn of Africa and Red Sea issues, migration, colonial matters, food security etc. were covered.

Your readers can download the conference program at for more details.

We had applications for attendance beyond the venue’s capacity. So we gave late applicants one-day passes to attend the event. By our estimation more than 450 people attended the conference without counting high-level government officials and members of the diplomatic and international organizations corps. 

Issayas: Was the Conference entirely self-financed?

Senai: The Government of Eritrea and the UNDP co-financed the conference.

Issayas: What is the plan for the future?

Senai: Our immediate plan is to prepare a conference proceeding. More than half of the presenters have already sent their papers for that purpose. Future plans include holding area-specific mini -conferences which will merge into the next ICES which may be held in two-three years’ time. If these events go sustainable, an Eritrean studies institute can be established.

Issayas: What were some of the comments from participants and presenters about the quality of the presentations?

Senai: Our general impression so far is that the participants appreciated the quality of the papers and the nature of the discussions on the presentations. We prepared and distributed evaluation forms during the conference. 133 persons (presenters and participants) submitted their evaluation and a significant majority of them appreciated the organization of the conference and the opportunity created by the event for debates and networking.

Issayas: There were many presentations by young scholars (Eritrean and non-Eritreans), what are the assessments of these presentations by the organizers?

Senai: That was a very encouraging part of the conference, especially seeing young Eritreans (including two papers presented by students who had just completed their classes, graduate assistants and very recent graduates) presenting their papers. Arguably the most attended session (excluding the six plenary presentations) which overflew with participants – I had to just stand on the crowded corridor to hear the presenters speak– was a regional security and political culture session where three young Eritreans Isaias Teklia (from the School of Law), Ghebretnsae Damr (from the Research and Documentation Center/RDC) and Amanuel Zekarias (from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) delivered interesting papers on  Scholarly Echoes of Ethiopia’s Claim of Sovereign Right of Access to the Sea, Social Capital and its Manifestation in a Political Culture: the Case of Eritrea and Regional Security: Mapping Eritrea’s National Security Approach in the Horn of Africa, respectively.We, the organizers, agreed with the evaluations which noted the encouraging participation of young presenters from Eritrea and from abroad.

                         Isaias Teklia(closest),  S.V.Narayanan (moderator) Ghebretnsae Damr &Amanuel Zekarias.
                  Above pictures: Regional Security, political culture  panel in Akurdat Room, Asmara Palace Hotel.

Issayas: With 50% entries from presenters, there are about 1,500 pages of article collected. Give and take with another 1,500 pages from the remaining entries, what is the plan for these entries?

Senai: Our plan is to issue the proceedings in two or three volumes.

Issayas: Were/are there recommendations with the respective articles?  If there are and are accepted, how would these recommendations make it to policies?

Senai: We had invited government institutions and other national/international organizations to attend the conference so they can reflect on papers relevant to their respective activities. This was done in the hope that said entities could further discuss on the issues raised by papers of concern and see how the recommendations of the papers can be incorporated in policies.
                                                H.E. Yemane Gebremeskel, Minister of Information,
                                                           opening the Conference on behalf of H.E. Minister 
                                                           Osman Saleh, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Eritrea 2016: Sketches of a Trip. Part I

After a six-week stay, I returned from Eritrea two weeks ago. The primary purpose of my trip was to: present two papers (see below) and chair one panel discussion (entitled Digital Documentation and e-Resources) at the International Conference on Eritrean Studies (ICES) which was held in Asmara, Eritrea from July 20-22, 2016. According to the organizers, thirty five different subjects were covered and there were four hundred and fifty attendees and participants.

Sadly, Dr. Samuel Mahaffy, a great friend of Eritrea, died two weeks before the Conference had convened. I had the honor of reading the paper that he had written for the plenary session entitled "Speaking of Eritrea: A Meta-Analysis of the Discourse Structure of Competing Narratives.


In the upcoming posts, I'll summarize the main arguments of my papers, interview people who had participated in the Conference, report on the various parts of my trip and so forth, but for this post,
I'll introduce you to my papers' titles and abstracts (If you're interested in having the abstracts of all the presenters at the Conference, you can download the entire file from ICES's website):

"Got Eritrea? Smart Power, the Eritrean Diaspora and Lessons from the Asia Pacific Countries"

Eritrea needs smart power in order to strengthen its hard and soft power, respectively. The Eritrean Diaspora has a major role to play in this effort. The expertise, the education, the technical know-how, the talent and etc. are in abundance. This paper argues that if Eritrea's smart power (a combination of
hard and soft power) has to have a profound impact on Eritrea and the world, the aforementioned scattered abundance along with the local production of knowledge need to be systematically
harnessed, channeled, organized and be financially supported by the government. The paper also explores that Eritrea could learn lessons from the smart power of the Asia Pacific Countries.


"The Role of Archives in Eritrea's National Development Project"

Most of Eritrea's development projects such as roads, dams, schools and etc. are visible, quantifiable and measurable. Could the archives (public and private) which are the center of Eritrea's collective
memory and the primary source of information, contribute to Eritrea's National Development Project and be visible, quantifiable and measurable, too? This paper examines the function, organization
and role that the archives must and should play in Eritrea's National Development Project.

Link for ICES's official website, programs and the abstracts: