Ethiopia crackdown on student protests taints higher education success

Western backers of the Ethiopian education system should not ignore reports of violent clashes on university campuses

MDG : Ethiopi : Student protest in Ambo

Oromia, Ethiopia, where at least three dozen people were reportedly shot dead by security forces during student protests

Over the past 15 years, Ethiopia has become home to one of the world’s fastest-growing higher education systems. Increasing the number of graduates in the country is a key component of the government’s industrialisation strategy and part of its ambitious plan to become a middle-income country by 2025. Since the 1990s, when there were just two public universities, almost 30 new institutions have sprung up.

On the face of it, this is good news for ordinary Ethiopians. But dig a little deeper and tales abound of students required to join one of the three government parties, with reports of restricted curricula, classroom spies and crackdowns on student protests commonplace at universities.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Ambo in Oromia state. On 25 April, protests against government plans to bring parts the town under the administrative jurisdiction of the capital, Addis Ababa, began at Ambo University. By the following Tuesday, as protests spread to the town and other areas of Oromia, dozens of demonstrators had been killed in clashes with government forces, according to witnesses.

As Ethiopia experiences rapid economic expansion, its government plans to grow the capital out rather than up, and this involves annexing parts of the surrounding Oromia state. An official communique from the government absolved it of all responsibility for the clashes, claiming that just eight people had been killed and alleging that the violence had been coordinated by a few rogue anti-peace forces. The government maintains that it is attempting to extend Addis Ababa’s services to Oromia through its expansion of the city limits.

However, Oromia opposition figures tell a different story. On 2 May, the nationalist organisation the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) issued a press release that condemned the “barbaric and egregious killing of innocent Oromo university students who have peacefully demanded the regime to halt the displacement of Oromo farmers from their ancestral land, and the inclusion of Oromo cities and surrounding localities under Finfinnee [Addis Ababa] administration under the pretext of development”. The Addis Ababa regime dismisses the OLA as a terrorist organisation.

While news of the killing of unarmed protesters has caused great concern among many Ethiopians, there has been little coverage overseas. The government maintains strict control over the domestic media; indeed, it frequently ranks as one of the world’s chief jailers of journalists, and it is not easy to come by independent reporting of events in the country.

Nevertheless, the government’s communique does run contrary to reports by the few international media that did cover the attacks in Ambo, which placed the blame firmly on government forces.

The BBC reported that a witness in Ambo saw more than 20 bodies on the street, while Voice of America (VOA) reported that at least 17 protesters were killed by “elite security forces” on three campuses in Oromia. Local residents maintain that the figure [of those killed] was much higher.

These reports, while difficult to corroborate, have been backed up by Human Rights Watch, which issued a statement saying that “security forces have responded [to the protests] by shooting at and beating peaceful protesters in Ambo, Nekemte, Jimma, and other towns with unconfirmed reports from witnesses of dozens of casualties”. One university lecturer said he had been “rescued from the live ammunition”, and that it was the “vampires – the so-called federal police” who fired on the crowds.

The Ethiopian government likes to trumpet its higher education system to its western aid backers as a crowning success of its development policy. As billions in foreign aid are spent annually on Ethiopia, the west must be more cognisant of the fact that this money helps reinforce a government which cuts down those who dare to speak out against it.

Inevitably, continued support for such an oppressive regime justifies its brutal silencing of dissent. Yes, the higher education system has grown exponentially over the past 15 years but the oppression and killing of innocent students cannot be considered an achievement. Any system which crushes its brightest should not be considered a success.

Paul O’Keeffe is a doctoral fellow at La Sapienza University of Rome, where he focuses on the higher education system in Ethiopia.


Source: The Guardian.

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Posted by on May 22, 2014. Filed under FEATURED,NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to Ethiopia crackdown on student protests taints higher education success

  1. Kurabachew

    May 22, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    The Ethiopian government did great job expanding education in Ethiiopia, Ethiopia’s education had expanded 432% since EPRDF took office, and that is encouraging governmental positive vision and good news.

  2. Zemenu Abate+Gemeda

    May 22, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    Who is to blame for the Current unrest in Ethiopia?
    1. Who is to blame for the Current unrest in Ethiopia? It should not be a question at all, right? It is the TPLF ethnic government who spilled hate to one another and displaced poor farmers without having them compensated, disrupting their way of life.
    2. Who is also to blame? The Jawarain thinking is also to blame. Jawarian thinking is driven from the ethno-centric political thinker Jawar Mohammed, which basically teaches oromos that almost 90% of the land in Ethiopia belongs to oromo , the only people who have the right to live on this land are Oromos and others had to be driven out of it or face death (by beheading by machets).
    It is anybody’s democratic right to oppose the Addis Ababa City’s expansion. However, according to this opposition, it seems that the Federal Government does not have any right to plan and execute any development that could benefit the local communities and the Ethiopian at large. Basically, what the Jawairian Students need is since their ancestors took over from non-oromiffa speaking people the land currently inhabited by them four hundred years ago, the remaining people who lived on that land for thousands of years or those who returned to the land after their ancessitor were forced to leave four hundred years ago should live or face death by machetes. They should be beheaded, Jawarian way.
    Jawarian Students were attacking non-Oromigna speaking students as well.
    They will come in pack of ten or more. They would start speaking Oromiffa. If you know the language your are expected to respond in oromiffa. If you do not speak Oromiffa or if you are oromo and chose not to respond to them, you would face severe beatings by the gang. The Jawarians are determined to oust any individual from the land which they call Oromia. Nobody is allowed to tell them any history. According to them, except Gondar, Gojjam, and Tigray, all other former provinces of Ethiopia including the Northern Kenya belongs to Oromia. If somebody tries to tell them that before the Oromo Migration, the Oromos used to live in the Borena areas only is a fiction created by Woyanne. Hence, no bodya could dare and tell them Wollega used to be inhabited by the Gojjma Damot Amharas, or Keffa, Illubabor, Gamo Gofa, Shoa, Wellega, Harar, Northern Part of Sidamo, Arusi, and Wello,a nd Tigray used to be inhabited by other Cushitic or Semitic, or Nilotic groups will cost you your life or safety.
    3. What is the solution? Good or bad the government of any country aspires to make better developments in any country. However, any development has its advantage and disadvantage. The disadvantage always tends to be disrupting the existing way of life. In that, very often people who live in rural lands would be affected. Good governments always make arrangement to the people who live on the land and compensate them. Bad governments do not compensate the farmers and simply expel them.
    When it comes TPLF, we all know that it is a bad government and does not do the right thing, fairly compensate the farmers for their land. However, we also know since the Derg regime took power, all land belongs to the people (government). These farmers have the right to use the land, but do not have the right to possess or own the land they till. They pay tax for using it and not possessing or owning it. The owner is the government. As the owner, the government has the right to use the land as it sees it fit. Alas, this land was taken from this people by the previous regimes. Hence, they deserve fair compensation.
    TPLF/OPDO pays compensation to the farmers and lease the land for far more amount to the investors. Hence, my proposed the solution is this:
    a. The Government has to pay the farmers fair and adequate compensation when new development disrupt their ways of life
    b. The Jawarian should stop preaching hate, beheading, displacing non-oromos from their homes just for the sake of their self-centered interests. They should know the Local, Regional, and Federal government can make development plan and execute it. This is not knew for any country. Grow up.

  3. Abera Mamo

    May 23, 2014 at 12:17 AM

    After witnessing the economic progress in Ethiopia. I am 100% sure I will be voting to EPRDF on the next election.

  4. redar

    June 5, 2014 at 5:39 AM