By Selam Beyene, Ph.D. — Meles Zenawi was awarded an MA degree in Business Administration by the Open University in 1995, and an MSc in Economics by Erasmus University in 2004, while perpetrating egregious crimes against humanity. Rumors abound now he has given orders to scholars in the country to provide feedback on a thesis that he is working on for an advanced diploma in tandem with his relentless efforts to promote a policy of genocide by mass starvation , and to suppress basic human rights through systematic imprisonment, harassment and killings of innocent civilians .
Although dictators are generally known for the extreme measures they take to project a false impression of grandeur and to disguise their crimes and inferiority complex through absurd propaganda, Zenawi’s obsession with the ivory tower as a cover for his vices has no parallel in the annals of despots in power. It might come as a surprise that a leader of a country like Ethiopia, which is in the lowest ranks with respect to every conceivable measure of human development, could make time for advanced study. However, time is no constraint for an autocrat, who has no allegiance to the country he rules, who does not abide by any laws, and who subjects the constitution to the service of his selfish interest and those of his cronies.
Institutions of higher learning may not be held accountable for future actions of their graduates. However, it is contrary to reason for a university to claim it upholds the principles of fairness and justice while consciously admitting to its programs of study tyrants and despots with proven records of human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
Ironically, a stated mission of the Open University, one of Zenawi’s preferred institutions of erudition, is to promote “educational opportunity and social justice” . His other alma mater, Erasmus University, declares that its “… driving forces are academic curiosity, critical reflection and social engagement”.
The lofty ideals of these universities are in sharp contradiction to their decisions to have an association with a despot with well-established records of anti-academic and anti-intellectual campaigns, which include the suppression of freedom of speech and other fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The world first witnessed Zenawi’s viciousness against the academic establishment when in January of 1993 he ordered his police to shoot and mutilate hundreds of Addis Ababa University students for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression. Subsequently, Zenawi fired over 42 professors from the same university when the academics expressed opposition to the brutal force the dictator used against the students. On April 18, 2001 Zenawi’s special forces police opened fire on a peaceful protest organized by students of the university, and killed at least 41 people and wounded hundreds . More recently, in the aftermath of his infamous defeat in the May 2005 elections, Zenawi unleashed his special forces to mow down 193 unarmed civilians, and sent thousands of university students to concentration camps .
Since he assumed power, Zenawi has used economic deprivation as a tool of repression, and has subjected the vast majority of the people to immeasurable suffering. As the following facts suggest, no dictator in history has so blatantly and effectively utilized mass starvation for the purpose of propagating authoritarian rule to the same degree as Zenawi has done so.
Meanwhile, Zenawi has taken effective measures to perpetuate the famine for political ends, i.e., to penalize ethnic and political groups that did not vote for him, and to send a macabre message to others who may dare challenge his authoritarian rule in the future.
As the Edinburgh Evening News (26th July 2008) correctly observed: “The catastrophe is not an accident of nature. The squalor and folly of the Addis Ababa regime needs to be corrected.”
On the political front, Zenawi has virtually incapacitated opposition parties with brazen use of torture and imprisonment.
Zenawi has suppressed freedom of speech and the press, while giving a deceptive impression of an open society to the outside world.
John Dewey once wrote: “When men think and believe in one set of symbols and act in ways which are contrary to their professed and conscious ideas, confusion and insincerity are bound to result.” Thus, it is a travesty of scholarship for an institution of higher learning, that professes social justice, to open its doors to despots and tyrants with crimes so egregious as those committed by Zenawi. Irrespective of the source, the money the tyrants pay to these institutions for their diplomas is money tainted with the blood, sweat and tears of millions of helpless people. The credentials these institutions bestow upon the tyrants are potent weapons used to legitimize the authoritarian rules of the despots and to perpetuate their regimes through terror and repression.
September 7, 2008
1) Professor Brenda Gourley, Vice-Chancellor, The Open University
2) Dr. A van Rossum, Chairman, Supervisory Board, Erasmus University
Selam Beyene, Ph.D.
Email = Beyene50@gmail.com