Addis Ababa University Under Attack Again
(A report from inside Addis Ababa University, 3.1.2003)
Ever since its 20-days-long meeting with Prime minister Meles Zenawi last
August, the Addis Ababa University community has been in a state of limbo
regarding its future. The consensus decisions read out at the end of each of
the three one-week-long sessions did not put people's minds at rest because
they were too general, ambiguous and open to contradictory interpretations.
This was made evident by a series of events that followed upon the
commencement of the academic year.
The first bone of contention was a draft "Plan of Action" sent out by the
University Administration for discussion by the academic staff. A handful of
staff members who were in league with the Prime minister and the Minister
for Capacity Building, Teferra Waluwa, in condemning the University for
being undemocratic, ethnically and religiously unbalanced, and on the whole
a failure, were up in arms in their respective departments and colleges.
They said the University ought to enter the serious business of
self-evaluation ('gimgema': which is a cultural revolution style
criticism-and-self-criticism exercise originally developed by the EPRDF
during its armed struggle, but later replicated by the bureaucracy), before
thinking about any future action plan.
On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the academic staff, who also
attended the same 20-day-long meeting in August, do not remember any
agreement regarding 'gimgema', and they were led to believe that the
Government was seriously pursuing a development agenda that was anchored on
a strategy of capacity building through the expanded provision of education
and training at all levels, and that AAU was being asked by the Government
to respond to the national call through a five-fold increase of its
postgraduate enrolment. In fact, members of the AAU community were na´ve
enough to believe that henceforth the Government would be unstinting, among
other things, in its recognition of the University's autonomy which would
soon to be crowned by the granting of its new Charter.
At a meeting of the Higher Education Council held at Wondo-Guenet, at which
the government run higher educational institutions and the Ministry of
Education were represented, all higher educational institutions were
instructed to conduct face-to-face 'gimgema' between students and
instructors, and among instructors themselves. Whereas all other colleges
and universities accepted the directive, the leadership of AAU requested to
conduct the 'gimgema' in a manner that pays heed to the special conditions
of AAU which differs from the others in that it has large and heterogeneous
student as well as staff populations.
Acting on the assumption that its plea would find friendly ears, the AAU
Authorities called a meeting of all academic staff of the University at
which they attempted to present their case and to get the academic community
to decide on the modalities of an evaluation exercise befitting it. The
eventful meeting that was called on Hidar 15/16, was a total turmoil.
Endrias Eshete, Samuel Assefa, Gemetchu Megerssa, and Makonnen Dissassa were
quick in mounting a barrage of attacks from the floor against the University
Leadership that was presiding at the meeting, but was unable to control it
as it was obviously taken by surprise. The four members of staff were so
unrelenting in their attack that the general public was thoroughly confused
about the issue at hand. Members of the group were one after the other
accusing the administrators of AAU of taking matters into their own hands by
opposing a decision that was supported by other higher educational
institutions, in spite of the repeated explanation offered by the AAU
leadership to the effect that what they had done was to rightfully bring the
issue to those to whom it concerned, i.e. the University community.
On the second day, the AAU leadership which was anxious not to appear
unwilling to entertain criticism of its own performance, allowed everyone to
air their views on whatever they felt was necessary. Hence, the above
mentioned "group of four" in particular had the occasion to dominate the
meeting and stress two points: (a) that the AAU leadership had deviated from
the "spirit" of the August meeting in trying to avoid the face-to-face
'gimgema', and (b) that the University must be overhauled in such a way as
to achieve ethnic and religious "diversity". While the "group of four" was
not forthcoming in explaining what this "diversity" meant, one staff member
half-heartedly tried to illustrate the project by citing the workings of the
UN Security Council as an example, with the suggestion by some staff members
that certain heavyweight ethnic groups would be granted veto rights while
others could make do with simple votes!
In the course of the afternoon session, on Monday, the "group of four"
continued to capitalize on the gains they had made in subverting the agenda
of the meeting. However, the patience of the overwhelming majority could not
hold out any longer. Three speakers, coming one after another, frontally
attacked both the agenda and the mannerisms of the "group of four", and this
led to a turn around in the sentiment of the gathering. Finally, it was
decided to vote and choose between three alternative routes: namely, 1) that
the AAU community should accept the 'gimgema' as envisaged by the MoE, 2)
that it should decide on its own kind of 'gimgema' that befits the community
at large, or 3) that each faculty (college) should opt for the kind of
evaluation as it sees fit. The result of the vote was only 2 in favor of the
MoE project, as opposed to 52 in favor of alternative 2, and 91 in favor of
alternative 3, and 10 abstentions. In other words, the AAU community
rejected the MoE project by a large margin of 143 against 2.
Following the meeting, faculties were instructed to come up with their
respective proposals for evaluation, which they did in less than a week's
time after the meeting. These proposals did not go against the evaluation of
instructors by their students, but attempted to make the exercise more
feasible and responsible.
In the days that followed, the university community was optimistic that it
had sent a forceful message that would lead to positive outcomes. Alas,
instead, at a meeting of the Higher Education Council, the AAU President,
Professor Eshetu Wencheko, was criticized for straying out of the officially
charted course and for making AAU an exception. He pleaded for an
understanding of the peculiar characteristics of the University (size,
heterogeneity, history, etc.) that called for different approaches. Finally,
when he found it impossible to convince the meeting and the authorities (the
Minister of Capacity Building and Minister of Education, in particular), he
chose to submit his resignation. He was accompanied in his decision by the
two Vice-Presidents, who also declared their resignation.
The Government quickly accepted these resignations, and at a meeting at
which he presided, Teferra Waluwa announced that the Government would soon
appoint a new administration that shared its vision for AAU and was capable
of moving the University forward at what it considered to be the right pace.
Members of the academic community who came to this well-attended meeting
were unanimous in their expression of their admiration of the resigning
officials because of their opposition to the flagrant interference of the
Government in internal matters of the University at a time when it preached
the virtues of democracy, academic freedom, and the devolution of power, and
immediately after it had assured that it would soon grant the long overdue
new charter to the University. The atmosphere at the meeting was so charged
that even the "group of four", who normally do not miss an opportunity to
raise their voices at gatherings that are presided by government leaders,
left the hall without uttering a word. As for the overwhelming majority of
the academic staff, they could not help wondering if they hadn't seen the
last of AAU as they knew it.
In the week that followed, the Government appointed Andreas Eshete as
President of AAU. This man had formerly been appointed Professor of Law (!)
in opposition to the decision of the Law School, by virtue of his ties with
the ruling party and on its direct orders. This was a clear and
unprecedented contravention of the Consolidated Legislation and the
well-established convention of the University that made the recruitment of
academic staff a prerogative of departments or schools.
After about a fortnight of indecision, Andreas Eshete finally announced the
appointment of Gemetchu Megerssa to the post of AVP and Mr. Mohammad Habib
to that of VP for Business and Development. Whereas the first individual
requires no introduction, the latter is unknown and an outsider of the AAU
community from the Government's Civil Service College.
Now (the first week of the year 2003), many students and staff of AAU fear
that, as they try to show their faithfulness to the government by pushing
through the 'gimgema', the new leadership will use the "diversity" and
"ethnic balance" agendas as a means of weeding out "unwanted" members of
certain ethnic groups, even if they are among the most qualified to teach,
carry out research and write. Moreover, they will set students against each
other along ethnic and religious lines to create rifts and clashes between
students and staff. (Andreas Eshete in his firsts TV interview on Meet-ETV
of 2 January 2002 was forthcoming in his admission that student-instructor
conflict was necessary!).
Because of the unjust impositions outlined above we now call upon all
friends inside and outside of Ethiopia to raise your voices in support of
the basic academic and democratic rights of Addis Ababa University.