The Nation Cries

The Nation Cries!

The Reporter

April 20, 2001

(By Fitih Tezenega)

 

As it has been reported repeatedly, students of the Addis Ababa University (AAU) were discussing with Dr. Hailu Ayele, vice-president of AAU on some significant matters on 11 April when the Special Force unexpectedly stormed the campus and disbanded the crowd, thereby causing bloodshed. Consequently, W/o Genet Zewdie, Minister of Education, came to, may I

 say, the ''rescue'' of students and said the action of the police was ''illegal'', and Dr. Hailu  followed suit. {She was reported to have asked some members of the Special Force who ordered and called on them to storm the university's compound.} As to their responses, only they and Genet know. On the same day, she pondered on the matters with representatives of students and arranged a general meeting to be held on 16 April. Meanwhile, the Federal Police Crime Prevention Department issued a statement on 12 April saying that "the police was forced to intervene to prevent the escalation of the crisis..."  

 

All demands of the students were constitutional and the procedures were also legal because they didn't attempt to stage a peaceful demonstration without legal permission. They were only presenting their demands to the vice-president after they discontinued classes beginning from 10 April. Let's mention and see the validity of two of their demands. Firstly, they demanded the withdrawal of campus police for it was not responsible to the university’s administration. Secondly, they demanded that the new draft Charter of the university shouldn’t be put into practice for they were not allowed to participate in the drafting process.   

 

As far as the withdrawal of campus police is concerned, the Ministry of Education itself accepted it "in principle". The campus police have always been calling on "unnecessary organs” to come in and disband crowds in the compound when students gather to discuss certain issues. They have been accountable to the Federal Police, i.e., the university is not mandated to have its own civil security guards whose primary task should be to safeguard the well being and security of the university community and property. Unfortunately, the new draft Charter has failed to grant the university with mandate to recruit its own security guards. Funnily enough, the charter establishes a governing board (Art. 9), which is to be chaired by the Ministry of Education. Directly or indirectly, the ministry was participating in the drafting process. Why should it accept the issue "in principle" now? Couldn't it get the issue addressed in the draft charter?

 

 The new Charter was also promulgated without the participation of its subjects, i.e., the students. Due to this, it is saddled with numerous problems which would practically deny students of basic academic and democratic rights. Without participation, and serious deliberations, the university's administration has been trying to get it ratified by the Council of

 Ministers. It is this illegal, and undemocratic move that the students opposed.  Genet and the students agreed on all of the issues but the procedure on the withdrawal of campus police. She promised to work for the proper reorganization of the students’ union, and the participation of students in the drafting process of the Charter. She also acknowledged the

 respect of their democratic rights. However, there have been doubts whether she would press forward in this regard. The only positive quality she has been exhibiting in her official capacity is that her office is always open, and she likes to discuss matters with students.

 

To date, what she has promised regarding the clash between the police and students is to carry out investigations into the matter. But she had to at least apologize for the illegal incident on behalf of the government. To my understanding, the situation could have resulted in resignation - an uncommon practice in our country. After all, the measure was taken without

 her prior knowledge which practically diminished the scale of her official duties to zero level.  Apology was, therefore, the least thing Genet could do. But the government preferred to remain unrepentant. Apology cannot redeem the consequences of the actions of the police but it could be a step forward in the government's approach to students of higher learning.

 

While we were expecting official apology, the Federal Police Crime Prevention Department issued a statement on 12 April after W/o Genet labeled the actions "illegal" and after the Ethiopian Television unusually aired the news about the incident. The statement said "...two members of the police were made to enter the compound to prevent the escalation of the situation... While the police was trying to correct this move realizing that it was a mistake, the students got involved in illegal actions..." It also warned students that they should refrain from illegal actions which would otherwise become "unacceptable".

 

In the first place, it is doubtful whether the Federal Police authorized the intervention of the Special Force. In other words, the Special Force may not be under de facto direct command of the Federal Police. If that is the case, the latter was used only for cover-up purposes, i.e., to hide the identity of the government authority that authorized the actions. If an investigation is

 to be conducted, and the responsible authority is revealed to the public, the chance of which is little, it would be this same institution that would be mentioned.

 

Be that as it may! But the statement failed to clarify what it called "illegal" actions of students.  Obviously, what it called "illegal" was the students' move to question who the two members of the police were after they had identified and caught them. In the first place, the infiltration was totally unnecessary because there was no sign of escalation of the situation as Dr. Hailu himself admitted. Secondly, the fact that they were caught didn't mean they were to be automatically harmed. But the police had already put some six students under its custody who were later on released. It was, therefore, a reprisal action. Is it, therefore, to "save" the lives of their members that they stormed the compound? Not, indeed! It rather seemed that this was already preordained from the outset. What they called "illegal" action simply served as an immediate cause that precipitated the unilateral use of force. The infiltration of the two agents was, therefore, not intended to "prevent the escalation of the situation..." Rather, it was intended to be a provocative move, though the police argued it was a pre-emptive action.

 However, it is quite difficult to unequivocally identify the source of the government's  ''prejudice'' against students.

 

 The Federal Police attempted to blame the administration for the latter's failure to search for solutions. But the police became part of the problem, not the solution. They poured cold water on the initiative of the administration and the students to settle their differences. In a nutshell, the statement of the police was pointless and preposterous. It was a self-defeating statement. By issuing the statement, the authority behind the curtain reaffirmed its intransigence not to abide by the rule of law. Hence, there is no guarantee whether the government wouldn't relapse into similar actions in the future under similar circumstances.

 Coincidentally, the new draft Charter (Art 15 (3)) provides that the president "shall call upon the appropriate law-enforcing organ when he makes sure that there arises havoc that may cause human and material casualties." Currently, Dr. Hailu is serving as acting president for the presidential post has been vacant for more than half a year. Even before the introduction of

 the Charter, the president was exercising a de facto authority. Therefore, Dr. Hailu's authority was eroded. What is he doing now? If he is committed to the cause of the principle of autonomy, he has to show it by resigning. He has to go for three clear reasons. Firstly, he is no longer the right person to administer the University. Secondly, the police stormed the campus without his prior knowledge and permission. Thirdly, the Ministry of Education issued a statement on 16 April saying "any failure to resume classes beginning from today is considered as voluntary withdrawal" i.e., it contravened the regulations of the University, and it was not the ministry's mandate to decide accordingly.

 

 In a negotiation with students yesterday, Genet managed to solve the problems for the time being except the procedural issue of the withdrawal of campus police. In its statement, the ministry accepted the withdrawal the police "in principle" but, as it said, it differed on the question of time. These days what we call procedure matters most in the political arena. If the

 Ministry of Education was committed to reach at an amicable settlement of the crisis, it could take time to ponder the issue. So, the process could not bear fruit. The ministry has taken the situation back to square one. It is understandable that the campus police cannot and should not leave the compound overnight. What I say is that the difference could be settled sooner or later. Unfortunately, the ministry embarked rashly on its old principle of "take it or leave it", which it has applied on institutions of higher learning in the regional states. By so doing, the ministry has contributed to the creation of a frustrated constituency.

 

The whole series of actions testify to the fact that constitutional rights are endangered. It is tantamount to the defeat of democracy and the beginning of the era of tyranny. Cry my beloved country! The pages of the constitution of the land has become a pile of rubbish papers at last. I feel at ease now to say that we are already in a state of darkness, under the rule of

 the jungle. Every Ethiopian, whether they be dead or alive, have paid in blood and sweat to sustain the costs of institutions of higher learning. The same cost was incurred to erect the pillars of democracy which the government is currently undermining turn by turn.  

 

 

                                           Copyright MCC, 2000