Education under persistent attack in Ethiopia

9 May

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

In a few scores of countries, violence in schools and universities in general – state violence in particular – has increasingly become cause for serious concern to teachers, students, researchers and professional assosiciations such as the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) and Scholars at Risk.

They see this as detrimental to the teaching and learning processes, the respect for fundamental human rights. This is seen as eventually undermining societal and human relations, the quality of education itself, thereby undermining the making of qualified manpower and the processes of nation building.

One such country of pressing and immediate concern for many around the world is Ethiopia. For instance, GCPEA is convinced official violence permeates the education environment in the country. It observes in that regard, “Arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment and torture of university students, particularly of Oromo ethnicity, were documented, as were surveillance and intimidation of teacher trade unionists.”

Dr. Semaghan Gashu Abebe is currently an O’Brien Fellow in residence at the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism. / Photo: Lysanne Laros

Dr. Semaghan Gashu Abebe is currently an O’Brien Fellow in residence at the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism. / Photo: Lysanne Laros

At the end of January 2014, under a title Providing a safe haven for scholars at risk, the McGill Reporter featured Dr. Semaghan Gashu Abebe, who had worked in Ethiopia as public prosecutor initially until he began to be disillusioned with his job because “the criminal justice system in Ethiopia was a disappointment. He worked as a lecturer at Addis Abeba University from 2003-2007.

While at the university, he got wind of his tribulations for being critical of the human rights situation and the lack of freedom in the country. Soon security people began to tail him all around. He was left with no choice but to immediately begin to look a way to safety – leaving the country.

Luckily, according to the McGill Reporter, a visiting professor from the University of Goettingen was impressed with Abebe’s teaching manuals on international trade law, and helped him get a scholarship for post-graduate studies in Germany. He succeeded in pursuing his education in Germany and since going back home was not an option, he contacted Scholars at Risk Network.

Abebe got placement in Ireland at the faculty of law at the national university, which several efforts later landed him at McGill University in Canada.

Think of how we lose our educated people, because of which-half baked political cadres are messing up the nation’s destiny.

The situation in our country is so bad and extremely dangerous that it should not come as surprise with voices clamouring from all corners of the world against the TPLF brutality that has been responsible for the sufferings of millions and losses of lives in all corners of the country.

After the many incidents against Oromos in different parts of the country, recall also that Scholars at Risk has been pleading with the TPLF authorities on behalf of lectures detained, without charge from Ethiopian univesities, especially Ambo and St. Mary Universities.

Specific cases of attacks on education

Graduate student Emnet Assefa (Courtesy of  FB picture)

Graduate student Emnet Assefa (Courtesy of FB picture)

In her mid-April 2014 article (More than what’s reported: violence in Ethiopian education), appearing on Pandeia – platform for students of journalism – graduate student Emnet Assefa observed, “Over the past few years, the country has increased investment in opening up new universities throughout the country in an effort to move up the ladder in access of education.”

However, she iterates that the tragedy is those who are part of the education process have been the very targets of military and physical attacks.

While that point is very well articulated in a report on Education Under Attack 2014, she likewise agrees that the attacks are carried out by “military groups and government security forces as well as others.”

Emnet underlines, as in the report, “Ethnic based differences, usage of schools and higher institutions for military and political purposes, extensive force used by government security forces on students”, as the main causes of and the attacks directed against education.

Going further, Emnet brings out the experiences of real people – lecturers. She quotes Endalkachew – a former lecturer – saying:

“Education is under attack when it is not getting the proper attention that it should get in aspects such as policies, economy and political decision.”

Amplifying that further, Endalkachew notes that in Ethiopia today “universities are expected to produce a quota of students annually which puts further pressure on universities, teachers and students. In order to achieve the target number of graduates, the quality of education is compromised. In the process, many students graduate without the necessary professional skills, knowledge and level of professionalism. According to him “they don’t come out as enough of professionals as they should have.”

In dealing with the ethnic dimension of the problem in education, Emnet shuttles between the education report and the experiences of two Ethiopian lecturers. Endalkachew, shares with her, “Ethnic issues are issues that you never discuss about in higher education institutions especially as a teacher”, this he says, to emphasize the point how sensitive the matter is. He gave it life by adding how a lecturer became a victim of abuse by students and finally lost his job.

Emnet picks this and thinks of its full implications in Ethiopia today and observes:

“The absence of a standard conflict resolution mechanism in solving ethnic based conflicts in higher education institutions is mostly presented as problem leading to the use of too much force by [the security forces against] students, teachers and other members of higher education communities.”

State violence in Ethiopian universities and schools

Amongst victims of TPLF's massacre of Ambo University students

Amongst victims of TPLF’s massacre of Ambo University students

The violence against education in Ethiopia context for GCPEA is the following. In its words, it writes:

    Since the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnic-based parties, came to power in 1991, students – particularly Oromo students who are actual or perceived supporters of the insurgent Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) or of registered Oromo political parties – have frequently been the targets of excessive use of force by state security, as well as arbitrary arrests and mistreatment in detention.706

    Since disputed elections in 2005, the government has increasingly curtailed all forms of freedom of expression, association and assembly, and arrested members of the opposition.707

    In 2008, the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association was replaced by a pro-government union following the killing of its deputy secretary-general, the imprisonment of other officials, and the detention and torture of activists.708
    Net primary school enrolment was estimated at 78 per cent, while gross secondary enrolment was 36 per cent and gross tertiary enrolment was 8 per cent (2011). Approximately 39 per cent of adults were literate (2007).709


    One primary school was reportedly attacked in Badme in June 2012 by the Eritrean army – seemingly in response to Ethiopian military attacks in Eritrea.710

    Attacks on school students, teachers and other education personnel

    In February 2009, police shot and killed one student, wounded another in the chest and arrested two more during protests at Gedo Secondary School in West Shoa zone, Oromia.711

    Teacher trade unionists were subjected to surveillance and harassment by government security agents as part of an attempt to discourage them from trying to register an independent National Teachers’ Association (NTA). Previously, the government had seized the assets of the former Ethiopian Teachers’ Association and given the name to a government-appointed entity. As of the end of 2012, NTA members had not received notification of any decision by the Charities and Societies Agency on whether they would be permitted to register the NTA.712

    There were reports of teachers who were fired, arrested or otherwise harassed by security officials because they refused to become EPRDF members, were outspoken about political activities, or refused to monitor the activities of their students for security officials.713

    In 2011, during the implementation of the Gambella Region’s ‘villagization’ programme, students were forced to go to neighbouring villages and build tukuls (huts) for the new villagers. Students who refused were not permitted to sit their year-end examinations. Teachers who refused to organize students for this activity were suspended or arrested.714


    During the Ethiopian military’s response to an attack by unknown gunmen on a commercial farm in the Gambella region in April 2012, soldiers used a school in Chobo-Mender as a prison.715


    The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, in its April 2009 Universal Periodic Review submission on Ethiopia, alleged that more than 80 Oromo students from Bahir Dar University were arrested and others were beaten in March 2009 during peaceful protests.716 The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA)717 reported that a law student at Addis Ababa University, who had been active in the Union of Oromo Students, was arrested without a court warrant in front of the main campus by security agents in July 2009.718 Amnesty International reported arrests of students accused of supporting the OLF at the universities of Jimma, Haromaya and Nekemte in April 2011.719 Human Rights Watch documented arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment of a number of Oromo students at Addis Ababa’s Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector, a detention centre also known as Maekelawi, between 2011 and 2013.720
    Throughout Ethiopia, students were detained by security officials for organizing student associations, being politically outspoken or organizing cultural movements. The monitoring of students was one of the key methods through which rural Ethiopians, particularly Oromos, were targeted because of involvement in lawful political movements. There were anecdotal reports of Oromo students being released from detention and not being allowed to complete their schooling.721

    In January 2010, Oromia police shot two unarmed students, one fatally, during a disturbance at Ardayta College; one policeman was found guilty of murder and imprisoned.722

    In June 2012, according to the HRLHA, security forces stormed dormitories and arrested engineering students at Haromaya University in Oromia to break up a demonstration; they were held outside without food for two days.723


    Arrests of university students continued in 2013, with at least three incidents reported.724 Security agents reportedly arrested and detained some 100 Addis Ababa University students, a majority of whom were Oromo, after a violent clash erupted between two groups of students on the Arat Kilo University Campus (College of Natural Science) on 2 January.725 It was reported that a number of these students were injured and several had to be hospitalized.726

    The clash was said to have been triggered when Tigrean students put up posters with insulting messages about Oromo students.727 Police reportedly surrounded the campus and detained at least 100 more students of Arba Minch University in May who were said to have been responsible for organizing a protest over education-related grievances.728 One Addis Ababa University student was also arrested on campus in March after expressing concern via Facebook about alleged corruption among Arba Minch University officials and city administrators; he was subsequently charged with criminal defamation.729

The numbers at the end of some sentences are endnote references, which could be accessed from the link here.

Officials tell lies & minister of education says admires actions of security forces

Minister Shiferaw Shigute (Credit: ENA)

Minister Shiferaw Shigute (Credit: ENA)

TPLF’s potted plants such as the former Addis Abeba mayor Kuma Demeksa and former general and now Speaker Aba Dula Gemeda, etc., appeared on television screens both to blame the students, not for the disturbances, but ‘for allowing themselves to be influenced by Ethiopia’s enemies.

They were all given a central point to emphasize.

Only one of them went out of script on the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) news, which admired the actions of Agazi security forces for their criminal murders they carried out at Ambo University. Finding it difficult to believe he could say that, I had read it three times, until six o’clock on May 6.

What caught my attention was the original words “የጸጥታ ኃይሎች ስላምን ለማስፈን ያደረጉትን ጥረት አድንቀዋል።” Literally, the minister appreciated the action taken by the security forces to ensure peace – the murders. I showed a friend of mine on my phone that cruel language we were both angered.

In the evening I called him to tell him that the regime had ordered changed of the text and now it reads: “የአካባቢውና የዩኒቨርሲቲዎቹ ማኅበረሰብ ከጸጥታ አካል ጎን በመሆን ሰላምን ለማስፈን ያደረጉት ጥረት እንደሚደነቅ ገልጸው፣ኅብረተሰቡ ሰላምን ለማስፈን ጥረቱን አጠናክሮ እንዲቀጥል ጠይቀዋል።”

Shiferaw Shigute emphasized, as did all of them, “አቶ ሽፈራው በዚሁ ወቅት ሁከቱ በተማሪዎች ኃይል የተከሰተ ሳይሆን በተማሪዎች ስም ሌላ ተልዕኮ ያነገቡ ፀረ – ልማት ኃይሎች የፈጠሩት መሆኑን ገልጸዋል። Literally claiming that the students were agitated by anti-development forces. He also discussed arson and the destruction caused to properties.

Is there any credibility in whatever Minister Shiferaw says, even worse than the other potted plants?

This is not even something that should be raised here in regard to this person. For that matter, the whole TPLF administration has no credibility. When it comes to Shiferaw Shigute it is a different story. It is in his records, memories of Ethiopians, since we have seen the paper he signed, authorizing in 2012 the expulsion of Amharas from the Southern regions, when he was president in SNNPR.

How could a government allow the deportation of citizens in their own country. It has come as a nightmare for hundreds and thousands, with reality imitating fiction from the Gulag Archipelago?

The TPLF regime’s response to the massacre of Ethiopian university students and targeting the Oromos is no different from what the National Socialist Party did in response to the arson to the Reichstag fire in Berlin of February 27, 1933, which investigation established was started by Marinus van der Lubbe, a young unemployed bricklayer.

Since the major political enemies the Nazies have were the communists, they blamed the fire on communists accusing them of attempt to overthrow the German government.

Another evidence how the mind of TPLF cadres work is an article appearing on today’s Aiga Forum, which accuses Egyptian security forces supporting Oromo protests in Cairo, about which there is a three paragraph story on AhramOnline.

There were three protests rallies in support of Oromo students in Washington D.C., London, Oslo, Seattle, etc. Why did they not accuse the US or UK governments of supporting the Oromo struggle for equality, freedom and democracy within the Ethiopian state?

Incidentally, as far as Aiga Forum is concerned, they want to give the impression that the issues boiling in Ethiopia today are not that of the TPLF people – rather of the Oromos or Ogadenies, Amharas, Muslim issues, etc. Therefore, all articles now appear in Oromo names as authors such as Ibsa Nemera, Tolosa Urgessa, etc. There is also Nunu Ahmed for Afar issues, at times dabbling with Moslem issues.

We rarely see Tigrean names. Is this sign that they have realized they lack credibility? Or do they think that Ethiopians would believe what they write because they use Oromo or Muslim names?

Frankly speaking, in my adult life, I have never seen a regime so discredited and bullheaded deliberately gambling to get out its trouble, while tightening the noose against its neck!

Ethiopians have been angered by every subterfuge that have been use so far to divide and attack them. Can’t the TPLF see that Ethiopians have now begun circling the wagon!

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