As though Liberia’s education system has not had enough of an image problem, Education Minister George Werner’s silence and inaction on the plight of 25 Liberian scholarship students deserted in Cairo, Egypt may likely worsen the blot on his and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s legacy in education.
The President of the Liberian Student Union in Cairo, Egypt, Mr. Mohammed A. Kiawhen, has called on President Sirleaf to intervene so that he and his colleagues can be transferred to the various universities to pursue and complete their degree courses in Egypt and return to contribute to Liberia’s development.
The scholarships were awarded to the 25 qualified students in 2011 in a bilateral agreement between Liberia and Egypt which stipulates that the students would be admitted to pursue various disciplines in universities in Egypt, including the Al-Azhar University of Cairo to help Liberia’s capacity building needs.
Kiawhen and another student, Mustapha M. Kromah, are presently in Monrovia to plead with the Liberian government to end their worsening situation in Cairo over the past four years by sending a recommendation to the Egyptian authorities stating that they be allowed to pursue their studies at universities in that country.
The two students are also requesting MOE to restore their allowances that were discontinued in 2011, leaving them stranded with no means of support but to engage in menial work and any other means to survive.
Another serious problem for the students is their inability to renew their expired passports in Egypt, since they can only renew their passports in Monrovia. “We are making efforts to meet with Foreign Ministry officials to plead for assistance because we are unable to find money to return to Liberia to get it done,” Kiawhen said.
Quoting a seven page assessment report conducted in Cairo, Egypt by Ms. Robtel Neajai Pailey, then at the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs, Kiawhen said a written request from the Ministry of Education must be sent to Dr. Ahmed El-Salmawy, Undersecretary, Head of Central Administration for International Students Affairs (Wafedeen) Ministry of Higher Education, Cultural Affairs & Mission in Egypt, recommending that the 25 students be allowed to pursue their chosen courses, including Engineering, Medicine, Accounting, among others at various universities in that country.
Kiawhen said that formal request should have been forwarded in August 2011 from the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for consideration for the 2011-2012 academic year and it is still relevant today to ensure that they are properly transferred to other universities in Cairo. But that request according to Kiawhen was never forwarded to the Egyptian authorities.
The seven-page assessment, done in Egypt, copies of which are with the Daily Observer dealt extensively with the genesis of the scholarship program, initiated by the Inter Ministerial Scholarship Committee which was then chaired by Ms. Robtel Pailey. Current Education Minister Mr. George Werner later became Director General of the Civil Service Agency (CSA) and chaired the Inter-Ministerial Scholarship Committee.
Kiawhen said after a year of waiting for the formal request from Liberia, the students visited the Liberian Embassy near Cairo and appealed for its intervention.
“Our visit there was misconstrued as an attempt to cause harm to the embassy and we were subsequently arrested and detained by Egyptian police but released after five days when the allegation could not be substantiated,” Kiawhen said.
He explained that though the students have been able to attend the Al-Azhar University which has helped them in their study of Arabic, they are determined to pursue their academic studies in Egypt and therefore the Liberian government should restore their allowances, along with a formal communication to Dr. Ahmed El-Salmawy to open the way for them to transfer to universities in Cairo.
Minister Werner, contrary to recommendations contained in Ms. Robtel Pailey’s assessment report for the Ministry of Education to make a formal written request to the Egyptian authorities authorizing them to provide education for the students, in a reaction letter said the program was evaluated and decisions made in 2013 that the students must return home. “The Egyptian authorities were told to facilitate the process of their return home.” According to the student leader, no tickets were provided for them to return to Liberia and they have remained in Cairo with no consideration from the Liberian Government for the hardships that they are undergoing.