By Jason Warick, The Starphoenix, June 13, 2012 – The University of Saskatchewan should not be hosting an Ethiopian politician implicated in corruption scandals and the forcible removal of tens of thousands of peasant farmers from their homes, human rights groups say.
A group of 30 protesters from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta stood outside the U of S administration building Tuesday at noon with placards and flags demanding the removal of Shiferaw Shigute.
“Saskatchewan university, send him back!” the group chanted. “Saskatchewan university, shame on you!”
Tom Wishart, the U of S special adviser on international initiatives, said he was not familiar with the allegations against Shigute, as the delegation arrived just a few days ago. He said the university takes such concerns seriously and the matter is being researched.
Shigute, a minister in the Meles Zenawi national government and chief of Ethiopia’s Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Regional State, arrived in Saskatoon on Sunday and has been in private meetings with U of S officials. Shigute is part of a delegation that is discussing a longtime education and agriculture partnership between the two regions.
Protesters and human rights groups say the partnership has produced many benefits for Ethiopian people, but Shigute’s involvement will raise many questions.
“The university is keeping him hidden,” Taye Maulugeta of Regina said. “We have a right to see him. This guy should not be here.”
Fellow protester Ali Saeed drove overnight from Winnipeg to participate.
“We heard Shigute was invited here. He is responsible for pushing thousands of people off their farms to places where there is no water, no food,” said Saeed, winner of the government of Manitoba’s recent Human Rights Commitment award.
“Why are we in Canada associating with this man?”
According to U.S., European and Ethiopian media reports, legal experts and human rights organizations, Shigute is leading the removal of peasant farmers from southern Ethiopia. Many of these families are allegedly being sent back to the region where the world saw shocking images of famine in the mid-1980s.
Shigute could not be contacted for comment, but he has denied the allegations in media reports from Ethiopia.
“We should not be doing business with this man,” said Obang Metho, a U of S graduate and executive director of Washington D.C.based Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia.
Metho penned a letter to U of S president Peter MacKinnon, as did officials with other human rights groups in advance of Shigute’s arrival.
“I would like to highly commend the University of Saskatchewan for their laudable efforts in reaching out beyond the borders of our great province and nation to meaningfully address the long-standing issues in Ethiopia of chronic food insecurity, malnutrition, lack of agricultural development and inadequate health care,” Metho wrote.
However, Metho lists the concerns over Shigute’s involvement, including the forced removals, a citation for corruption surrounding his time with the national coffee growers’ association and other allegations.
He said the U of S should take a stand for the people of Ethiopia and demand Shigute be removed.
“Truth, academic freedom, freedom of expression and the respect for the basic dignity and rights of all people do not exist in Ethiopia.
The U of S, the people of Saskatchewan and the government of Canada can all help create an environment most conducive to success by unflinchingly addressing these issues,” Metho wrote.
Wishart said he’s heard from about one dozen people expressing opposition to Shigute’s presence. Wishart said the university receives 150 different delegations every year and he wasn’t aware of the allegations against Shigute.
“I’m not in a position to make any judgment,” he said.
Wishart said university officials are consulting with the Canadian government and others on the issue, but no conclusions have been reached yet.
Wishart said the 15-year partnership has been of great benefit to both Ethiopia and Saskatchewan, providing valuable education and knowledge exchanges.
Officials with the Canadian government’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade department said they would look into the matter, but had not responded by press time Tuesday.