The Sorry State of Our University and Society

The Sorry State of Our University and Society

By: Gebrehiwot Hagos



Dear Ben; I read your comment about the Addis Ababa University. Thank you for your timely, matured and responsible commentary.

I would like to add my voice to this extremely disturbing revelation. Some time ago I participated in a conference where the main theme was ‘Brain Drain'. Ethiopia has become the leading country in Africa in the ‘field' of Brain Drain. Lack of academic freedom, political repression and government interventions were cited as some of the main reasons the educated elite is forced to migrate to other countries. It was suggested that remedies be found for this disturbing problem, that the government be advised to start the process of reversing, or at least stopping the massive haemorrhaging of the educated mass. A government official who was present at the conference vowed that his government will do everything in his power to follow up on the issue.

But that is not to be.

I do not think that the academic world would, in the main, resist the idea of students evaluating their professors. This is an almost universal practice through which most of the current Addis Ababa University professors passed through when they were students in the West. The government wants us to believe that the issue is evaluation. However, we have since come to learn that the main cause of the recent resignations and indirect firings is the lack of academic freedom and unwarranted government intervention in the country's highest institution.

This government has consistently demonstrated its determination to bring havoc and division whenever and wherever Ethiopians show a tendency to take a united action. Those that have submitted resignation request were not necessarily anti-government elements. In fact sources mention that some of them were staunch supporters of the EPRDF regime. Some of them were elevated to their current position when tens of university professors were expelled from the University by the leader of the party several years ago. Now, these professors have decided to be governed by their good conscience, and the heavy hands of the Party have caught up with them.

Will this government back down and allow the University to function independently? Its track records speak otherwise. With its usual arrogance, it will nullify all arguments by concerned individuals and continue to destroy the institution.

·         Many professors will find a better alternative in the private universities and colleges.

 

·         The more adventurous ones will venture out of the country - the brain drain will continue unabated.

 

·         The Party will find other recruits, imprison or kill demonstrating students and will call it business as usual.

 

·         The quality of the national institution will deteriorate and ultimately change into a Cadre school.

 

·         It will weaken the gathering momentum of Ethiopians - a momentum that was gathering steam to do something practical to help the country.

 

·         This may result in the Party extending its grip over a weakened society.

Then what can we Ethiopians do?

First, we have to understand that the current government is not interested in having a strong and united Ethiopia. This has been demonstrated by the current leader several times, including his untiring resolve to divide Ethiopians when they showed their usual patriotic unity in the Isayas-Ethiopia war. We should not fall prey to the machinations of the regime and try to respond likewise.

We have to know that the Party leader, Mr Meles, is dispassionate about Ethiopia. He is ruling the country as a hired executive. A hired executive ultimately works for his own success. In fact, there is a checking mechanism in private companies, and it is to the best interest of executives that the well-being of a company is at the forefront of the agenda. In case of Mr Meles, there is no a checking mechanism. He has the power to destroy the country if he finds it profitable. Our only prayer is that he understands the personal merit and gratitude he can muster if he listens to Ethiopians, preserves Ethiopian unity, does not sell out its interests to her enemies, and removes himself from power voluntarily.

Will he do that? Miracles could happen but it is doubtful. The apathy he showed, the arrogance he demonstrated, the uncompromising stand he portrayed in the recent debate with leaders of institutions, political parties and business people, does not point to him being tamed.

The only thing that will tame this Party and its head is a united resolve of Ethiopians demonstrated by a real action. Ethiopians need to participate in all, humanitarian, civic, and political activities that encourage unity of purpose and action. Political parties, civic institutions and individuals that are struggling in the country must be supported. Led by these parties, institutions and individuals, a consistent, persistent, and concerted effort by Ethiopians will ultimately empower the population and peacefully force the current regime to relinquish power that it has so much abused. Let's believe in ourselves.