BY: Zelalem Abate
Academic activities such as studying, teaching, inventing, leading, administrating and other responsibilities in a university or college require at a minimum academic freedom. Unfortunately, however, academic freedom in higher education institutions of Ethiopia is drier than the Sahara desert. Ethiopians who have been part of these institutions as a student, teacher, or any other workers have been grilled by this desert. Although, no one can tell better than we, the victims of this inferno; national and international human rights organizations have documented the absence of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in the colleges and Universities of Ethiopia(1).
Higher-education students’ activities are monitored routinely by government agents who are registered as students while, in fact, their primary mission is spying for the minority government. These spy-government agents have total authority to report to the unprofessional and notorious police not only students who criticize the way the country or the government is run but also any students whom they suspect have such idea. Furthermore, the spy agents play the governments divide and rule game by promoting fight among students on ethnic line (2). As a result students live in fear of the government and each other. Only students loyal to the Ethiopian Peoples Democracy Front (EPRDF) in general and the Tigrai Libration Front (TPLF), in particular, could escape this harassment although they themselves could spy each other as well.
The TPLF Spy agents create a climate of fear in colleges and universities and exert strong pressure on every student to enroll as a party member as soon as the student joins the institution. Each student is supposed to be member of one of the four political parties which include the TPLF (the mastermind of ethnic division), Oromo People Democracy Organization (OPDO), Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and Southern Peoples Democratic Front (SEPDF) (3). Whether they like it or not, party membership should be based on ethnicity-nothing else. Then, these member students form campus- student committees. The campus-student committees are run by four chairpersons who came from the minority TPLF and the other three pseudo organizations. These paid TPLF cadres who run these campus committees are called “campus coordinators”. The campus coordinators are not real students but merciless individuals who are in need of money and other benefits in exchange of their spying service to the government.
The government spy agency and “security forces” (informed by campus coordinators and other spies) harass students who are unwilling to be party members physically and mentally. State security forces illegally detain and sometimes torture activist students who want to form their own non-ethnic based student unions or who just demonstrate to express their frustration in the campus. For TPLF, students who discuss their fundamental human rights and issues about their country are crossing the”red lines”. As a result, these students could be beaten, arrested and tortured. TPLF government also spreads verbal terror among the students. For example, they randomly call students on their cell phones to warn them they are being watched and followed. Furthermore, they call students’ parents and scare them to stop their children from “causing trouble”. What the TPLF calls trouble is freedom of expression, assembly and organization.
As most Ethiopians know, the shameful TPLF government divides our society in to anti-development and development groups. For example, for this lawless government, the business men who give a chunk of bribe to its cadres are developmental businessmen and those despise TPLFs racially intoxicated policies and do not give bribes are anti-developmental businessmen. Similarly, there are developmental and anti-developmental students. Obviously, the pro-developmental students are the EPDRF members and anti-developmental students are those who are unwilling to be party members. Non-cadre or non-TPLF affiliated students are relentlessly told (through TPLF cadres) that they could not get job if they do not have EPRDF membership ID card. They could also be evicted from their education in one or another way (4).
Privileges for abroad further education are totally based on party and ethnic line. Students hailed from Tigrai do not get in to competition at all-they get it through blood line. Students of Tigrai origin took majority of scholarships that come from North America, Europe and China. In fact, scholarships coming from these highly developed countries are not posted for the students and non-tigrian students rarely hear about these opportunities. Mind you just like financial institutions, the scholarship committees in most of the institution are run by TPLF Tigraes or their loyal subordinates. Other scholarships coming from other countries such as India are posted but still only EPRDF members or its loyalties are almost always the winners.
The same is the case about job opportunities after graduation. Graduates of Tigre origin have unquestionable right to work anywhere in the country and they are chosen to run important offices (5). Students from other ethnicities may get the job as long as they are loyal to the EPRDF, but only in their own segregated region called Killil. Students who are non-Tigre and at the same time non-loyal to EPRDF will never get jobs. The later groups of students, in fact, could systematically end up in prison without any offence if they do not submit and become member to one of the TPLF affiliated parties. Students who stayed with their conscience and resist membership to TPLF or its servant organizations could be followed and denied employment, not only in government owned business and offices but also in any non-governmental organizations.
In summary, TPLF has changed higher education institutions of Ethiopia to merciless cadres training centers. It looks the TPLF government is “building” so called colleges and universities not to produce educated citizens but to increase its immoral and unethical party members. The campus looks a fenced land where wild wolves chase a herd of sheep. Majority of students spend most of their time in fear of the government security forces and spying agents rather than focusing on their education. TPLF has broken the trust between the professors and students and among the students themselves. Students who try to organize themselves on non-ethnic basis are punished while the Ethnocentric EPRDF members are promoted for making students fear and hate each other on ethnic line. The current environment in higher- education institutions in Ethiopia promotes baptism in racism, fear, lie, betryal, mistrust and corruption, certainly not in education. The Ethiopian people and the society of the higher institutions shall realize this realty and take action that could reverse this dangerous anti-social course.
1. Amnesty International Annual Reports: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/ethiopia/report-2012
2. Freedom in the World: http://www.refworld.org/publisher,FREEHOU,ANNUALREPORT,ETH,5194a2fa3f,0.html
3. EcadForum: http://ecadforum.com/blog1/ethiopias-universities-educational-institutes-or-places-of-political-training-for-the-oppressive-tplf/
4. Ethiomedia: http://www.ethiomedia.com/broad/3675.html
5. Yilma Bekele: http://zehabesha.com/the-role-of-higher-education-and-ethiopia-by-yilma-bekele/