Ambassador Reuben Brigety is the Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, and former U.S. Ambassador to the African Union. He is a board member of Ethiopia Education Initiatives.
When Rebecca asked me to join the Board of the Haile-Manas Academy (HMA), I immediately said, “yes!” That was not only because I believed in her vision of creating a world-class secondary educational experience nor because I knew that she could pull it off. It was because I knew that Ethiopia needed it.
This ancient nation, now the second-largest country in Africa, is at a critical moment in its history. Having emerged from the ruinous rule of a brutal communist regime barely more than a quarter-century ago, it now has the second-fastest growing economy in the world. Its continued economic growth and political development depend on its ability to educate its young people. Without a work force with the skills to participate in the modern global economy, Ethiopia will not be able to attract sufficient foreign investment to generate the jobs that its youth demand. Without a young citizenry that can look beyond its narrow tribal identities and (re)-embrace the vision of a unified Ethiopia, the country risks descending into ethnic violence. Without a cadre of future leaders who can build coalitions to solve problems, the country will not be able to chart its own destiny.
Every trip I make to Ethiopia only confirms my initial belief in HMA. In December, it was a great honor to be present for the ground breaking in Debre Birhan, to plant a tree on the site, and to imagine that in just a year structures will be standing and students will be running in this place, all dedicated to Ethiopia’s future. It was also a great honor to meet in Jubilee Palace with the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, the only female head of state in Africa. She was excited to hear about HMA and was very supportive of it.
Schools, of course, are more than buildings and even more than students. The best schools have a spirit that comprises both their mission and their values. Ato Tesfaye Kifle, the Deputy Head of School of HMA, is the embodiment of that spirit. As we sat over lunch in Addis Ababa this week, we had a chance to chat at length about the promise and prospects of HMA in helping to transform education in Ethiopia and to build the next generation of Ethiopian leaders. In this man of wisdom, competence, integrity and commitment, HMA is profoundly lucky to find a leader to help bring this vision to fruition.
One of the things that Ato Tesfaye and I discussed was how for many years the education system in Ethiopia was focused on access but not on quality. Interestingly, this was the same theme that was echoed to me by Ethiopia’s Minister for Science and Higher Education, H.E. Dr. Hirut Woldemariam, when she visited me in Washington just before my trip to Addis. She was accompanied by Ethiopia’s Ambassador to the United States H.E. Fitsum Arega. As such, HMA can be part of Ethiopia’s solution to its most important long-term challenge and opportunity – providing quality education to its young people.
It is always a joy to return to Ethiopia, as I know I will make many more trips in the future. Each time, I look forward to seeing the progress that HMA is making. And I look forward to bringing you with me on this journey.