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.

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