The Town of Adwa in Tigrai State in northern Ethiopia
Based on artifacts and historical relics, the ancient town of Adwa can
be defined as the cradle of African civilization. Available
archaeological evidence clearly shows that the town of Adwa is one of
the principle homes of the legend of Queen Sheba, mother of King Menelik
I, the son of King Solomon (Abraham, 1996). The town of Adwa which is
surrounded by sharp and crusty mountains is better known for the great
Ethiopian tradition of heroism.
Designed according to the European colonial plan, based on the
“Scramble for Africa of 1884-85,” the Italians like the British, French,
German, and Portuguese, etc. were given an indication that in order to
fulfill their economic appetite and satisfy their political ambitions,
they ought to seek a colonial empire in the horn of Africa (see Kofi and
Desta, 2008). To pursue their economic ambitions, though the Italian
fighters were mechanically equipped and held a superior attitude, they
presumed that Ethiopia was a slumbering nation that would not become
involved in a well-organized resistance against the Italians.
Surprisingly, as the Italian fighters engaged in the battle, they found
that the bravery of the Ethiopian fighters was beyond their
expectations. Not only did the Italian fighters encounter Ethiopian
fighters led by highly disciplined nationalist fighters but they
realized that the town of Adwa was shielded by the crusty mountains.
Thus, in March 1896, history recorded the humiliation of the heavily
equipped Italian aggressors when they encountered their defeat at the
Battle of Adwa. Moreover, the Battle of Adwa signified a very
devastating psychological defeat for the European colonizers whose
superiority complex gave them the notion that they could traverse the
African continent without confronting major resistance.
In addition, the victory at Adwa was seen not only as a victory for Ethiopians
but also as a torch of pride and inspiration to millions of Africans
residing under the colonial yoke in Africa and the African Diaspora.
For example, the prominent black nationalist Marcus Garvey, originator
of, “Afro-Centric Black to Africa movement in 1914 in Jamaica and in
1917 in Harlem, New York, heavily banked on the Battle of Adwa and
energized his followers on Ethiopia’s victory over the Italian
colonizers and “…immortalized his tribute to Ethiopian heroism by
incorporating Ethiopia in his ‘African National Anthem’ which reads –
Ethiopia thou land of our fathers… “ (cited by Abraham, 1996). Also,
Wilson (2006) succinctly describes that for generations of Africans born
after 1896 on the African continent and throughout the Diaspora, the
battle of Adwa could be depicted as a spiritual victory for all black
Africans suffering under the yoke of enslavement and colonialism. In
fact, Wilson goes one step further and argues that the Ethiopian victory
against one of the European colonizers “… gave hope to the generation
of those fighting against colonialism and for freedom in Africa, in the
Caribbean, and the rest of the Third World. Adwa set the stage for the
New Negro, Negritude, Pan African, and Black Power movements. In many
respects, the spirit of Adwa contributed to the success of the American
Civil Rights Movement” (Wilson, 2006, 10).
In 1942, one year after the Italian Fascists lost the Second World
War and Ethiopia regained its independence, the Queen Sheba School was
established by a highly seasoned and well versed teacher, Haleka
Twelde-Medhin Gebru (Gorfu, 2007). Since the establishment of Queen
Sheba, the school has succeeded not only in fulfilling its educational
missions but also has helped in the upward mobility of its students.
Through parent meetings, summer sessions, and workshops the school has
provided a vital ground for socializing student movements and has become
valuable for encouraging student agitation against any oppressions
existing in the country. Prior to the early seventies the school
produced graduates who became well-known and influential politicians,
medical doctors, philosophers professors, lawyers , engineers, business
people, teachers, poets, authors, entertainers, etc. (See Desta, 2011)
In their empirical research of a firm, or in this case a school,
economists use the input-output (I-O) model to estimate what additional
spending will create in the local area as well
as the ripple effects such spending might have throughout the rest of
the economy (Nagowski . M. Feb. 22, 2006). Measuring the economic impact
of higher learning institutions is not simple because high schools,
particularly in developing countries, may produce some spillover effects
onto human capital, increasing workers’ productivity and income in the
region. In light of these challenges, economists have developed two
approaches for estimating the impact of educational institutions. These
are: 1) the economic base approach or direct effects; and 2) skills base
or indirect approach such as human capital (skills) and
technology-related productivity that could positively affect the
regional economy (Nagowski. M. Feb. 22, 2006).
The economic base (explicit or direct) approach includes an increase
or decrease in expenditures associated with the institution under
consideration. In other words, the intuition pays the costs of payroll,
the purchasing of supplies and services, and construction outlays, and
balances these expenditures with the income of out-of-region students
and visitors, as well as in-kind and monetary donations.
The skills base (indirect and induced effects) approach supplements
the direct approach by quantifying the impact the educational
institution’s output has in the long-run for a region’s economy. In
developing countries, high schools teaching skills create workers which
may directly increase wage rates in a region. As stated by Nagowski
(2006) higher wage rates can benefit a region’s economy through
increased tax revenue for the government, increased consumption, and
higher rates of saving and investment. Bluestone (1993) and Berger and
Black (1993) argue that graduates who remain to work in the region can
have positive economic effects because of the skills learned in school.
Other research looked beyond the immediate effect of education on wages
to consider less tangible results such as volunteer work in the
surrounding communities (Institute for Higher educational Policy, 2005).
Until Adwa was designated a sub-district after 1992, the Queen Sheba
School played a very important role in the development of the Adwa
community. More specifically, since the early part of the1970s, the
Queen Sheba School has been operating a well-known high school in terms
of the number of students who have passed the Eight Grade General
Examination and the Twelfth Grade School Leaving Certificate
Examination. To work in various schools a number of highly qualified
teachers and staff member were assigned by the Ministry of Education.
Queen Sheba School attracted a significant amount of human capital.
Given that inflation in the country was very low, the income that the
school employee spent on consumption and local taxes was an important
economic driver for the Adwa community.
Because of the quality of teaching and learning at the Queen Sheba
School, the school became a magnet, attracting students from Eritrea and
other immediate areas which contributed to a short term gain in the
capital of the Adwa community. The students were renting rooms, buying
stationary, and spending on food, clothing, and other personal services
and entertainment. But, since these students were transient and didn’t
stay in the Adwa community after graduation, their contribution should
be viewed as having short term effects. On the other hand, the
operations expenses spent on the maintenance of the facility produced
beneficial economic effects on the town. The newly built facilities,
such as classrooms, offices, and labs played a very important role in
stimulating the local economy. With the passage of time however, it is
now distressing to see that those classrooms and other school facilities
are in a state of disrepair thereby making their long term economic
To summarize, from 1942 until the middle of the 1980s, the Queen
Sheba School was a pillar of the education industry, offering tangible
and intangible benefits as an economic driver of the Adwa community.
The School had direct effects from the costs it incurred on the new
buildings, capital improvements, spending on the salary of teachers,
staff members and other expenditures for the enrolled students. Then,
until the middle of the 1980s, the students coming to Adwa from the
other neighborhoods and other administrative regions were spending on
housing, food, supplies, entertainment, and other items and services
contributing directly to the Adwa town economy. This resulted in a
multiplied economic impact because of the Queen Sheba School’s presence
and its spending patterns. Some of the indirect effects of the school
would be the paper and other school supplies bought by the school and
the students from the local stores. In turn, the stationary store
purchased its supplies from other related industries. The business
volume generated by the Queen Sheba School generated jobs in a broad
range of sectors.
Though very difficult to estimate, it is possible to assume that the
paper, stationary, and ink firms, etc., also paid salaries to their
employees. These companies and their employees probably paid taxes to
the government. These kinds of economic impact on the Adwa community are
known as induced effects. In aggregate terms, induced effects have
induced changes in households and government spending.
Finally, the sum of direct economic impact (i.e., institutional
spending, employee spending, student spending, etc.), indirect economic
impact (the re-spending of birr) within the Adwa town, and the induced
effects economic impact (tax revenues paid to the government by other
establishments related to the Queen Sheba School), positively affect the
school community. The effects are generally used to calculate the
multipliers. The multiplier effect is the additional economic impact
(stimulate) as a result of the Queen Sheba Schools direct economic
impact. The multiplier captures economic impacts from direct, industry
to industry transactions, household spending, and government spending.
In short the multiplier is equal to total effects/direct effect (See for
example, Schultz, T. (1962).
Currently, about 40 percent of Adwa town’s residents are elementary
and secondary school students. In spite of the educational quality,
starting 1992, a number of schools have been built in the country.
However, as succinctly described by Gorfu (2007), in Adwa, the students
who have the luxury of attending classrooms are only the upper grades
while first and second grade students actually take their classes in the
open air and sit on little rocks and stones.
As a result of the overflow of students, and the limited budget allotted
to the schools within the Adwa community, students are basically housed
in completely rundown and deteriorating classrooms. In addition, since
the Ministry of Education has used the “school shift system” as a
rationale to accommodate the students, the students attend only about
three hours of instruction per day. The rest of the day, they are seen
lining up in banks to see if their relatives residing abroad have sent
them money. Others are found roaming around the city, with some
indulging in various types of socially undesirable activities.
Except for the students attending the Teacher Training Institute,
most of the students found in Adwa schools are from the town of Adwa
proper. Given that the student population is about 40 percent of the
town’s residents, by design or default, Adwa now is a “school town.” As
a “school town,” Adwa‘s social and economic life depends on the
educational activities surrounding the town. Since there are few other
employers, the school systems are the major employers in the town. The
few businesses that do exist in the town cater their services to the
schools. In short, the economy of the town is considered thoroughly
intertwined with the schools’ activities.
As it stands now, the Queen Sheba Schools have very few qualified
teachers. Books are in disrepair. Few students pass the 12th grade exam.
Those students from the vocational school acquire productive jobs, not
in Adwa but elsewhere. Given this sorry state, the “school town” of Adwa
is hardly gaining economic effects from its schools. Even the rental
income and other student expenditures which the Adwa community used to
receive from the out-of-town students in the 1980s are unavailable now
because a number of high schools have been built in their home
As with all the transformations that have occurred in Adwa, and
because Adwa is a “school town,” the education system needs to be
redefined in order to revitalize the economic backbone of the Adwa
community. Documenting local economic impacts (direct and indirect) and
available skills would have illustrated to the Adwa community the
economic benefits which would have come the Queen Sheba campuses. Given
the empirical limitations of this study, it is adequate to say at this
juncture that if the town of Adwa is expected to benefit from the school
systems that are mushrooming all over the area, policy makers need to
recognize that the high school students, in addition to their studies,
need to be assigned to involvement in community activities. Actually,
involving the students in an environmental type of experiential learning
could be used as one of the basic requirements for graduation from
elementary and secondary schools. In addition to skills development,
internship, job placement, job creation, and support of entrepreneurship
should be required for those graduating from vocational programs (See
Therefore, to accommodate the structural changes that are being
manifested in the town of Adwa, among other things, the school
curriculum needs to be redesigned to address these basic structural
changes. Existing teachers need to be retrained and up-dated with
current educational philosophies and instruction methods. Giving
trainees the opportunity to hone their craft by serving in an
apprenticeship program will energize them and thus their graduates to go
on to become business entrepreneurs securing long term jobs in the now
dead-end town of Adwa (See Desta, 2010). To reiterate, given Adwa’s
heroic history of creativity and determination, the school systems in
Adwa need to be restructured and the curriculum redesigned to make Adwa,
once again, a vanguard of tourism and perhaps to be at the forefront
new ideas like a greener frontier.
Abraham, K. ( January –March 1996). A Monument to
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Bluestone, B. (January 1993). UMASS Boston: An Economic Impact Analysis.
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environmentally Sensitive Training and Internship Programs: A
Desta, A. ( may 11, 2011). “Always Burn Bright: My Memories about the
Queen Sheba School Years.”
Gorfu. I. (2007). The Ancient Town of Adwa. Part I to V.
Kofi. T and Desta, A. (2008). The Saga of African Underdevelopment .
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higher education institutions in New England.” Federal Reserve Bank of
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Milkias and Getachew Metafaria, New York: Algora Publishing, 2005).