[DEHAI] FW: Ethnic Conflict in Higher Institutions: Where is it heading?

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Apr 15 2009 - 07:20:02 EDT

Ethnic Conflict in Higher Institutions: Where is it heading?

Written on Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 at 2:59 am by ethioforum



jpg> AAU
jpg> Tesfaye Kebede (Sidist Kilo, Addis Abeba) Historically Ethiopian higher
Institutions have been the main source of leaders for both the ruling and
opposition parties. Since early 1960s, the time when most of the current
party leaders were higher education students, Ethiopian higher education has
been the breading ground for the would be leaders of the country. In those
days, it is in university campuses that the most contentious issues of the
time like ‘meret le arashu’ and ‘equality of nations and nationalities’ came
to the forefront. Taking the significant role played by higher institution
students in the past and the current circumstances into account, this short
article will touch on some of the manifestation of the failed ethnic policy
in higher learning institutions. Accordingly, the first part will illustrate
how the ethnocentric policy of the current regime is affecting the
relationship among students of different ethnic background, and its
implication on their parents and beyond. The second part will briefly
indicate how Woyane is moving from politicizing ethnicity to ethnicizing

The impact of ethno-centrism on students’ relationship and beyond

In many of the years since 1960s Ethiopian student movements of different
forms have served as mouth- piece of the people. The public has continuously
been backing and reflecting on their initiatives. Students have paid a great
deal of price in their attempt of airing the grievances and concerns of the
people out. Government after government the response has been a heavy-handed
crack down. Despite all these students have stood united for the basic human
right, democratic values and national issues. Thanks to Woyane and its
ethno-centric policies nowadays let alone to stand together for the good of
the people and the nation they barely agree among themselves. These days it
has become common news to hear that a student of one ethnic group being
attacked by the other. It is hard to find a university which finishes its
academic year with out such horrendous incidences and interruption. It is
not unusual to see campuses surrounded by Zenawi’s Special Forces.

These kinds of news are evidences for how bad and deep ethnic politics had
gone in our country. It is not something that should be taken as a simple
conflict among some interest groups as it is usually portrayed by the very
regime which brought such divisive system for sake of short-term political
benefit. It is a very serious issue with far reaching consequences.

The immediate causes of such conflict vary from a simple personal
disagreement between students who just happen to belong to different ethnic
group that would then be translated into a full-blown inter-ethnic conflict
to the ones instigated by organized attacks of certain ethnic group. The
organized attacks are mostly orchestrated by Woyane agents, who disguise
themselves as students and actually live in campuses getting all the
benefits like students and even more. Whenever these thugs feel that
students are united even on issues other than politics they play their dirty
game of dividing them along ethnic lines. In some instances they have gone
as far as killing a student of certain ethnic group for the sake of
instigating violence against the others. The old fashioned “divide and rule”
principle of Woyane, which is being executed by their agents and some
students, has effectively halted any united action of students even for the
very fundamental non-ethnic, administrative and academic grievances.

Woyanes love to immediately label any student action as an ethnic issue. In
a bid to weaken any solidarity an issue will be depicted as a demand of
Oromo students, Amhara students, Gurage students and so on; not ever
presented as the issue of the whole students. To mention some, when students
opposed the unfair and politically motivated land re-distribution in 1996 it
was labeled as the question of Amhara students. When students asked the
government to stop the distraction of Bale natural forest by fire in 2001 it
was told us as an issue of Oromo students. When students protested against
the day light election fraud of 2005’s national election it was branded as
the issue of Amhara and some other students. When 300 Oromo students
expelled from Addis Ababa University no students form other ethnic groups
had the courage to stand together with them. Some of these students didn’t
return to school yet. No body stood on the side of Tigray students when they
were singled out for an attack in Ambo Agricultural College and later
petitioned to the Ministry of Education to be relocated to their region.

The follow-up crack-down of student protests is further evidence for how
deeply ethnicized higher institutions are. In all of the aforementioned
cases students were hunted down based on their names as to which ethnic
group they belong to. Even the ethnic composition of the notorious federal
police, who are usually sent to the universities to quash protests, depends
on the perceived ethnic background of the protesters. The federal polices
either directly ask as to which ethnic group a student belongs or, if they
want to look a little smart, they demand to see the identification card of
students so that they would be able to match their names to a certain ethnic
group. The saddest part of the story is the accomplice of the very students,
who share the same bed, class and dinning room with, but just happen to be
of different ethnic background, in the hunt down

The implication of such an act is far greater than any kind of conflict a
country might go through. These are not simply students. They are the would
be leaders of the country and the reflections of what a society would be
like in the future. The very idea that is haunting us down now and on the
verge of disintegrating the country is conceived in university campuses. Our
‘champions’ of ethnic politics, and divide and rule were in one of these
campuses in their early student days. History has taught us how we ended up
so. Ethiopia today is the result of what has happened 30 or 40 years ago in
the university campuses. There is no doubt that what is happening now in
higher learning institutions will determine what Ethiopia would look like in
the future. It is of a great concern to let these institutions, which should
have been used to bridge the gap among different groups, be places for
ethnic radicalization. What kind of leaders are they going to make? What is
it like to be an Ethiopian beyond belonging to one of the ethnic groups?
What would you feel about a person who targeted you for the mere fact that
you belong to a certain ethnic group? What would the outlook of a person who
went through this be? What is there left for students to think outside their
ethnic lines? Ethnic conflicts are not confined to campuses. They are
affecting students’ parents and neighboring population too.

In the early good days, parents hardly care about where their children are
going to be placed to study. Now the story is quite different. The concern
has become the ethnic region where the institution is located. Location here
has less to do with distance and cost of transportation that goes with it.
It is all about the security issue. What is going to happen if, as usual, a
conflict for the same reason of ethnic based clash occurs? This is the
question that every parent wants to answer before sending their children.
Because of this reason the number of parents who are sending their children
to private college is growing. Mind you, I am talking about sending students
to one of the universities in their own country. No one ever raises such an
issue even when an Ethiopian is sent to other country to pursue her/his
studies. I have never thought of such an issue when I was offered to study
abroad. Families are well aware that a university in their
neighborhood/region is not immune from any inter-ethnic conflicts. Their
only consolation is the fact that their children are near and can be home
when the inevitable happens, and won’t be attacked by the surrounding

The spill over effect of an outbreak of a conflict is so great that people
living in nearby areas have in many occasions threatened to storm campuses
in support of their ethnic groups. That is what happened when a student from
Tigray died for unknown reason in Nazareth, which later was confirmed to be
non-ethnic and off-campus. The surrounding people were on the verge of
invading Mekelle University to attack Oromo students. Simply imagine
yourself as an Oromo student or, for that matter, any other student with
similar story who happen to be studying in Tigray or somewhere else, but
threatened to be attacked for the death of a student hundreds of miles away,
which has nothing to do with you. What would have happened if the threat
hadn’t been avoided? What do you think would be the reaction of parents and
relatives of victim students? This is not an imaginary threat. It is an
imminent one. Once such an incidence happens the outcome would be
irreparable and would have far reaching consequences. This case is simply
raised as an example but the story is not different in other higher
institutions too.

As a further evidence for how low ethnic politics has taken us, let me give
you a brief account of one of distressing, but worth mentioning, incidences
I witnessed in my student days at AAU. It was immediately after the
contentious 2005 national election. Defying the ban imposed by Zenawi,
students were protesting against Woyane’s day light election fraud. As
usual, in response, Woyane sent its blood thirsty Agazi forces to quash the
protest. It is not what the Agazi’s did that struck me most. Rather, it was
the bizarre attack waged by our fellow students. Later, I was able to
confirm that some Tigray students were instructed by security personnel
ahead of time to stay around their dormitories. It wouldn’t have been
surprising if this instruction was intended to isolate other students or to
protect those who haven’t been involved in the protest. But, it was instead
aimed at putting them as a back-up force that would attack students when
they flee to dormitories. Most students sustained injuries not from Agazis
but from their fellow students. The story doesn’t end here. After taking
everything under control it was time for celebration. Agazis left the campus
but their compatriots remained behind. To show case their victory over their
fellow students and to further harass the people standing out side the
campus, who were crying and shouting in solidarity with students, these
senseless students started beating their drums and singing victory songs.
Still now, I wonder where they got those drums at that time. Was it part of
the preparation or a simple coincidence?

Mind you, these are not some aliens. They are fellow country men and
students whom we shared rooms with. This begs to question what kind of
students are our institutions producing? Where is the failed ethnic policy
taking us? It is hard to blame students who are manipulated into doing
something tragic and regrettable. The blame should absolutely go to the
Woyanes, who are hell-bent on ethnicizing everything, and their
discriminatory policies. This is a clear case of failed ethnic policy which
is destined to promote the supremacy of a minority on the pretext of ethnic
equality. Absurdly enough some officials consider this as a success story.
For them, it is a story that indicates how they succeeded in avoiding any
united action against the government. Short-sighted Woyanes don’t have any
clue what they are leaving behind for their children and grand children. But
in reality, it is becoming increasingly clear that no ethnic group, even
those who enjoy an exclusive protection from the regime, or institution is
immune from such a tragedy. We are all in it together. Ethnic politics has
never had a happy ending anywhere in the world. It leads to a terrible
ending, especially when there is an overwhelming perception that the ethnic
minorities at the helm of power are oppressing, and exploiting the majority.

In a country as diverse as Ethiopia there is no doubt that equality and
respect among all ethnic groups is the only way out of this mess.
Ironically, there is no one who talks a lot about equality of all ethnic
groups than Woyanes. What they are actually doing, however, is quite the
opposite. It is in no ones interest to blow up ethnicity for the sake of
short-term political profiting. But, as things stand now, the dictatorial
regime, lead by a single person for nearly two decades, is running Ethiopia
on the principle that ‘all ethnic groups are equal but some are more equal
than the others.’ It is a principle that practically privileges few and is
unjust for others. As Obang Metho once said “no one is 99 percent Ethiopian,
we all are 100 percent Ethiopians”. All the benefits should also go
accordingly. There is nothing more dreadful than seeing the current
‘leaders’, who at one time referred the discriminatory and disrespectful
treatment by their fellow students as one of the reason to fight for justice
and equality, to let the same trajectory, in much more worse way, happen
again. Their dangerously die-hard ethnocentrism has left higher learning
institutions highly polarized.

An effort to institutionalize ethnicity and ethnicize academics

Woyane is moving from politicizing ethnicity to institutionalizing ethnicity
through the educational system. This hasn’t come up by a simple historical
coincidence. It is the one of the meticulously planned acts of an
irresponsible regime, which has vowed from its conception to obliterate
anything that stands patriotic about Ethiopia, to intimidate anyone who has
the gut to speak loud about Ethiopianism, and to eventually disintegrate the
country. This is a regime, which has apparently intended to make everybody
pledge allegiance to their ethnic group; not to united Ethiopia. Any talk of
unity will automatically be translated as a betrayal of the régime.

Education is one of the instruments being used to promote their distorted
ideology. In making the already deteriorating quality of education worse
Woyane is implanting its politics in the educational system. Social science
subjects of primary and secondary education are deliberately designed to
instill narrow ethnic attitude and destroy the social fabric of Ethiopia.
Continuing their path to destruction, recently Woyane has come up with the
plan to replace all text books of primary and secondary education, except
mathematics and science, so that they can infuse their rotten ethno-centric
ideology into it. If it was to improve the curriculum, why are they then not
changing Mathematics and science books? The obvious reason is that these
subjects are not convenient enough to incorporate their politics and
divisive ideology. This is all against their own constitutional provision
which says that education should be free from any political and religious

Another worrying development worth mentioning is the systematic move by the
government to further ethncize the academic environment. It is mainly
related the way high ranking posts in higher institutions are filled, and
other things associated with it. Higher educational institutions, especially
universities, are one of the federal institutions administered by the
central government. They are typical federal institutions. Like any other
federal institution the appointment of high ranking officials, particularly
presidents, should have been open for all qualified Ethiopians. The reality,
however, is otherwise. Almost all of assignments for the institutions
located in the regions are ethnic-based. In some instances the selection
mechanism has gone as far as finding some one who grew up in the near by
area. These officials are not going to serve specific ethnic group as other
local officials do. They are paid by the federal government, assigned to
serve a federal institution and students who came from all over the country.
So, what is the point in taking ethnicity as a basic criterion? It is simply
the reckless obsession of Woyane with ethncization of everything and an
effort to instill their poisonous ideology in the educational system

There is no guarantee that the discrimination and ethnicization would stop
at the top level. What do you expect of a university president appointed
based on his/her ethnic background to do when it comes to the recruitment of
instructors and serving all students equally? A glimpse look into the ethnic
composition of the academic staff in most institutions shows where things
are heading to. There are also accusations that teachers and high level
officials were directly or indirectly involved in some of the ethnic-based
clashes. In addition to the well evidenced and reported lack of academic
freedom it is sad to hear when students associate their academic results
with the ethnic background of the lecturer or theirs. The very existence of
such an attitude is by itself a disturbing development. This is clear
evidence that ethnic politics has brought the educational system to a new

As we all know the ethnic policy of Woyane has transformed many places into
no-go-areas to other ethnic groups. It is hardly possible to be employed and
live in an ethnic region other than ‘yours’. Higher educational institutions
are one of the very few places that are left multi-ethnic. The actions of
the Woyane, however, are quickly turning them into ethnic institutions. This
is one of the planned attempts of the reckless regime to institutionalize
its failed and dangerous ethno-centric politics.

Instead of addressing the failed ethnic policy what Woyane has opted to do,
it appears, is to tackle each incident on a piece meal basis. There is
nothing special about each and every inter-ethnic conflict. They are all
results of the extension of divisive ethnic policy to the educational
system. In a country like Ethiopia where the elites are the absolute shakers
and movers of the country, it saddens to see highly polarized graduates
coming out of higher learning institutions. Let alone finding a sustainable
solution, Woyane hasn’t even acknowledged the existence of the problem. The
painful reality is that they have planted a ticking bomb waiting to go off
any time. Once it goes off, it will have an irreversible damage to all of
us. No one will be immune from it, regardless of the number of people an
ethnic group represents, the perceived military or economic strength a
certain group might have. In being united, with respect and equality, we all
benefit. Let us work for it in every front.

The writer, Tesfaye Kebede can be reached at: Tesfayekebede69@yahoo.com




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