Fight the power

    Article metrics

    Independence of academic institutions is crucial if nations are to rebuild.

    It is said that truth is the first casualty of war. But after wars have ended and nations are rebuilding, truth is a potent foe, too.

    A free press and a strong academic establishment pose great threats to a despotic regime, and are often the first to feel pressure. In a News Feature on page 24, we document such tensions in Eritrea, where there are efforts to remove foreign influences from the nation’s medical schools and to break up its academic institutions. Eritreans who have fled or been exiled lament the sorry state of these institutions, and fear that by severing ties to US universities, the government has squandered chances of extraordinary gains in public health. (Representatives of the Eritrean government did not respond to several requests for comments on these and other allegations.)

    Many who helped to lead Eritrea to its independence in 1991 and establish the current regime were academics, students and physicians — the very type of people (and, in some cases, the actual people) that the country’s leaders are now marginalizing. This irony should not be a surprise, given that thriving academic institutions in new regimes can serve as hotbeds of dissidence, unrest and further revolution.

    For a country such as Eritrea to reach a stable equilibrium, this destructive cycle must be broken. And this is perhaps the best lesson that Eritrea can give to nations that must build new governments. It is expected that academics will be involved in the overthrow of unjust regimes, and that they will subsequently be called on to support burgeoning governments. But these people must strive to remain independent from the start. The desire to trust and indulge former comrades may be strong, yet academics must reject all interference and resist any attempt by government to grab control of institutions.

    To stand up to power in this way is difficult, but there is much at stake. Independent institutions will produce and support well-informed, independent citizens, who remain the most effective defence against corruption and the abuse of power.

    Related links

    Related links

    Related links in Nature Research

    The Arab Spring offers hope but no quick fix 2011-Aug-31

    Security focus hinders progress in Arab world 2011-Feb-10

    Ethiopia launches first science academy 2010-Apr-09

    Free at last 2007-Aug-01

    Related external links

    Rights and permissions

    Reprints and Permissions

    About this article

    Cite this article

    Fight the power. Nature 491, 8 (2012) doi:10.1038/491008a

    Download citation

    Comments

    By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.