Asebe Regassa

Indigenous Studies - master Tromsø

Asebe Regassa

Indigenous Studies - master Tromsø

When Asebe completed his Master in Indigenous Studies at UiT, his goal was to establish a sister-programme to the study programme in Ethiopia. Today, Dilla University has an Institute of Indigenous Studies.

As a child, Asebe Regassa had to walk six hours one way to get to school. Now he’s doing research on conflicts between the traditional lifestyles of indigenous peoples and the majority society in his home country Ethiopia.


The Master in Indigenous Studies at UiT is very good, and I realized early that it is an education that we need in my home country. Ethiopia consists of many different ethnic groups, and building an understanding that the challenges around us are not different from what exists many other places in the world, helps us work to find solutions for local challenges based on what works other places, Regassa says.

6 hours one way

Asebe’s history is the history about a boy from a big family of siblings, growing up in a village without roads and no school, but he was early taken notice of due to his bright mind. Among the siblings, he was the first to be chosen for education. Since it took 6 hours to walk to school, he had to move to a boarding school. Here as well they discovered his abilities, and he was given the opportunity to take secondary education. Finally, he was chosen to a national program for university education at Dilla University, a three hour’s drive from home.

- I have been very lucky, the 37 year old says, who today has a PhD from Germany and have been a postdoctoral fellow in Switzerland.

Asebe the diplomat

When growing up, Regassa heard stories of how his father and others in the village had their land confiscated by the authorities and were forced to work for others. In his application for admission to the Master in Indigenous Studies (MIS) at UiT, the young Ethiopian wrote that he was highly motivated for the studies, and that he had a dream to graduate from the programme and subsequently build a similar programme at home – in order to share his knowledge with young people in Ethiopia.

- During his studies, Asebe turned out to be a true diplomat and teamplayer who contributed a lot into the group of students of his cohort, socially and academically, Hildegunn Bruland, Head of administration at the Centre for Sami Studies, explains. Regassa himself speaks warmly both of the programme and the study environment. He has kept in touch with UiT since he left Tromsø in 2007. This spring he was invited back to establish a stronger collaboration between the master’s studies at Dilla and Tromsø, funded through the scholarship scheme Erasmus Global Mobility.

- Our goal is to formalize a durable both-way collaboration, to exchange students and teachers for mutual strengthening of our programmes. So far, students from Dilla have been on exchange to Tromsø, and in May two teachers from Tromsø will visit Dilla.

Local = global

The fact that Regassa is invited to speak at universities throughout Europe and USA is not his main concern. He’d rather talk about the importance of Indigenous Studies.

- When seeing how the world has developed, there is hardly anything that is a local problem anymore. Regarding the climate, the differences between rural Ethiopia and the Arctic are huge, yet the challenges are not that different. Global changes affect local societies, and conflicts between the traditional lifestyles of indigenous peoples and the majority society are often overlapping. Thus it is vital that we learn from each other, Regassa thinks.

The majority of those working at the Institute of Indigenous Studies at Dilla University have taken their education at international universities in Europe, and the institute’s goal is to become the best academic institution and best within research in East-Africa by 2023.

- We’ll produce knowledge that creates a difference for the people, and this is best done by building on the experiences of others and collaboration with institutions like UiT, says Regassa. The institute currently has 11 employees and 36 students.

Translation from Norwegian to English by Centre for Sami Studies. The original article written by Stig Brøndbo has been published in Norwegian here.

Last changed: 26.11.2019 12.55