We say “yetemare sew,” to describe a knowledgeable person, or rather a person with a good education. And by education, I mean academic education. “Yetemare sew” in Ethiopia is a much respected and honored person. His words are respected and his actions are venerated. And being in his company is something to look forward to. People flatter themselves for being a friend, a close family member, and even a close acquaintance of a person described as “yetemare sew.”
Academic education is something that is well promoted in the Ethiopian society. When a young person aspires to become someone in a career that does not require an advanced academic qualification, the one way that our families advise us, or even warn us, is by saying “arfeh temar or you better focus on your education and nothing else”! So, not being educated is not an option in order to amount to something.
I am not saying that a person should not have an advanced education, but I often feel an advanced education is given the importance it does not always deserve. I started doubting whether the advancement in academic education is really the key to address the multitudes of problems we face as a nation.
The percentage of people with a first degree and above is still very limited in this country, so I am not saying that we are over educated in this country. What I am trying to say is that I find it strange that even people who are well educated are unable to make the difference that is expected from an educated person. I find it strange that, in spite of their high levels of education; those people we call as “yetemare” are unable to think beyond their personal needs, and even at the expense of the lives of other people.
I find it strange that the questions being brought up in the media, the things for which thousands of people are dying for and lives destroyed over, are not really the questions of the lay people but really of those who consider themselves well educated and knowledgeable.
It makes you wonder that, in spite of the number of agricultural scientists holding a PhD in this country, millions fall victim to famine the moment the rains dry out. You might say that is because there is a limited enabling environment that provides opportunities for the educated to contribute. But I say, with conviction, an educated person with a real and strong will to affect change will be able to bring that change regardless of the extent the environment is considered disabling.
For me, an academic education is not the answer to all. I often believe that people with a good character, that is positive and a humble mind, that is ready to learn from others and work as a team, that is disgusted by success that comes at the expenses or loss of others, and that puts the betterment of others, is the key to advancement. The way I see it, soft skills such as good governance and management have become more difficult to implement than hard sciences.
I personally believe that only those with a good character and an academic advancement deserve respect. Our children need to be built on both foundations, if we would like them to bring the change we want to see in this country and the world.