By Hawi Chala
The Ethiopian higher education system has shown a remarkable expansion in the last decade since Ethiopia has built over ten new universities, escalating the total number of the country’s universities to 21, and along side has emerged various private colleges and universities. Never in its history could Ethiopian universities enroll thousands of students annually as it is enrolling these days. The presence of these higher institutions has a significant role to the intellectual, social, political, economic and moral life of Ethiopia. The more a country has educated professionals, the easier can we tackle social, economic and political problems the country mired in for centuries.
Beyond its main role as educational mission (teaching & research), universities are also places where students create social network, involved in different socio-political movements and develop critical thinking. Naturally students go to university with various ideas in mind like enjoying the student life, meeting new people and perhaps getting a good degree.
However, nowadays since the current government brings fear to this equation in our campuses, the daily life of our students filled with anxiety. Rather than being a safe haven for students, Ethiopian universities are currently a place where anxiety is developed and became an arena of regular confrontation between government, students, and academics, particularly for Oromo students as history shows.
Ever since higher institution started in Ethiopia, in 1950 the Haileselassie university college, campuses have been root causes of changes happened in the country.
Rough looking of the past history, one can observe that university students have been the driving forces of major revolutions broke out in the country. The 1977, “Land to the Tiller“, movement that resulted immediate land reform program was led by university students. The student movement became the dominant factor in the fall of the absolute Haileselassie regime in 1974. It was intellectuals and university students who were the frontline victims of the Red terror holocaust, that killed thousands and forced many to flee from own country opening exodus of brain drain of that poor country, a situation which is chronic to this day. The movements that toppled the Derg regime was also initially provoked by university students, which later continued by the current ruling party of TPLF. The various protests, between 2001 to present, which initially started by Oromo university students and latter joined by other students across the country, were also the recent achievement ignited by university students.
It is clear from the above that if there is one single factor that explains the direction of Ethiopia history has taken in the last five decades or so, it is the role of the students. Shortly speaking these historical evidences show us that university students have been the pillar of socio-political changes brought in the country and became an enabling linkage between autocratic governments and the voiceless public.
Being this is the fact, however, the ideological policies adopted by the current TPLF regime have affected academic freedom in Ethiopia differently than in the past and brought fear and anxiety to the academic atmosphere.
Nowadays, the Ethiopian higher institutions severely lack educational freedom, i.e. freedom of association and expression, where students and staffs can freely express their ideas, freely associate and throw criticism against government.
Since the TPLF regime has good awareness on the historical role of universities as the center of social and political movements, EPRDF has used different strategies to stifle political movements in higher education institutions.
The serious measures undertaken by the TPLF regime was started when 41 professors were dismissed from Addis Ababa University in 1993 due to criticism on the country’s political situation. The regime has then refrained any move to make the universities autonomous in administering their own affairs. Until this day university presidents and other university officials are directly appointed by the Prime Minister rather than elected by the university community. The major task of the university officials is basically to hamper any political movement in the universities rather than working to bring a robust academic environment.
The case of twisted mind students
If you are/were student in one of Ethiopian universities or colleges, you might be a close friend of these twisted mind students without noticing the other side of their personality. These twisted mind students are those who in daylight seem normal students, but spy on the other side of their personalities against their mates. These students closely monitor the political activities of other students on behalf of the government. They are registered as students, attend lecture class and commonly share dormitory with other students, but their primarily task in the university is to spy over other students who have different political opinion.
Having a close social life with other innocent students to comfortably monitor their daily life, these government spy agent “students” could easily expose their friends whenever they noticed any activities opposing or criticizing the government. Well known among campus officials, these students closely work with security officials. They have full authority to report to police any one who pointed his/her finger at government and also any one whom they suspect have ideas against government.
Acting as coordinator, the big spies have also appointed counterspy fellows in each faculties and respective departments to closely monitor class session and similar activities from near distance.
The dire situation of our campus students does not stop here. To the worst, they are even forced in public to be member of the ruling party political organizations (OPDO, TPLF, ANDM and SEPDF) in accordance to their ethnic background. In addition, they are obliged to attend their respective parties’ biannual meetings. Those students, who resist joining party membership, will definitely be monitored from their footstep. They will be harassed, intimidated and beaten both physically and mentally. They might be referred to further torture if they are activists and involved in some movements in campus.
Seeking for better bonus and better promotion, the spying students will tirelessly monitor those students to endanger their innocent life.
Unfortunately, the yoke and the burden of this strategy always remain heavy to Oromo campus students more than other students due multicolored reasons.
First, the representation of Oromo people in Ethiopian history always causes bitterness and alarm among any ordinary Oromo let alone to a university level Oromo student. The question of power sharing is inevitable among every single Oromo.
Next, the Qubee generation of the Oromo students have inherited multifaceted questions ranging from self-identity to liberty question, that wait him/her to find an answer.
Thirdly, the majority f Oromo students came from rural areas and have observed the plight of Oromo people with their naked eyes, have grown up with injustice done against Oromo across generation and have moral responsibility to raise the voice of the voiceless.
Last not least, each Oromo students feel the pain of thousands of Oromo prisoners, who are suffering at the different prison camps across the country because of their struggle for the right of Oromo people.
Due to these moral responsibilities shared, the majority of Oromo students in colleges and universities are activist, advocating for the right of their oppressed nation and have no stony heart nor deaf blinded, that ignore to volume the plight of the voiceless. They have a justice question always running in her/his mind.
The TPLF regime is aware of the fact that these legitimate questions are implanted in the heart of every single Oromo, but by any means the regime needs to keep it buried, cover and unquestioned. To enforce this, the government has deployed many spies over Oromo students in campus areas.
Thousands of Oromo university students, who are either suffering at different notorious prison camps across the country, or those who fled their homeland, are the victims of this friendly spying strategy of the government. Our hero students, who lost their life for the cause of Oromo, from the recent death of Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda to many hundred, whom we can’t mention all here, were also the victim of these twisted mind students’ egoistic personality. Developing a stony-heart towards their own friends, it is these opportunistic students who have ended the dream of many brilliant students in prison.
The other anxiety of our Oromo university students comes during cultural ceremonies. If one usually enjoys wearing Oromo cultural clothes, he/she will join the list of the target group. Every single activity of the Oromo is exceptionally under their target though they don’t even give attention when it comes to others.
According to many human right organizations reports, there are multiple cases when Oromo students at the major university campuses dragged from their rooms by police at midnight and disappeared and their where about is unknown. Just imagine the feeling you would have when you found your self at prison in the morning when you were sure that you slept last night in your campus room after a long day stay at library.
Given the difficulty of academic subjects that require a hard work together with uncertainty of their life for feeling insecure, our university students have developed anxiety emanated from being monitored every single day. They have developed anxiety because they fear that they would be thrown to prison for they have asked a question about the plight of Oromo people or because they have posted on facebook or other social media about the violation of fundamental human right.
Since the last few years university students have been told that they will not be employed by government agencies unless they become members of EPRDF. Holding a university degree without TPLF party membership is a nightmare to many to secure a professional job. Since the government is the major employer in the country, students are therefore obliged to register for party membership. Once they become party members, they stop criticizing the government and are expected to spy on their teachers and other students who are against the regime.
The nightmare and anxiety still continue when it comes to scholarship opportunities abroad. Students from ruling party background will score high in the competition, while self merited students can´t come close to the competitions. Students from Tigray origin take the majority of scholarship that come from North America and Europe. It is neither because of their self-merit nor can they afford the costs. It is rather because of the scholarship committee is overwhelmed by Tigreans origin. This is why we don’t usually see many Oromo students winning scholarship abroad since they have already granted the TPLF scholarship of notorious Khality prison.
The five to one strategy
This is brand new strategy used by the Ethiopian government to effectively control and monitor people activities at a grassroot level. Effective at urban level, the strategy is becoming common even among rural farmers, just to monitor the rural farmer horrible life struggle, a struggle that unable to feed himself three times a day.
According to this strategy, people are supposed to be organized in to a group consisting of six members, where one of them is a spying to government in his/her other hidden personality. Based on many people to whom I have talked with, this strategy is very common currently especially among college/university lecturers, though it is also spreading among ordinary people.
I remained blown away when I learnt about this ridiculous idea is engineered by this government, especially when it is spying ordinary people, the farmers, the poor people who are working hard to win a bread of the day. When you realized how irrational the ideas is, you will have to join me to laugh at our blinded leaders since they don’t listen us if we tell them their mistakes.
The five to one strategy is designed to keep different groups of people opposing each other’s idea, so that they cannot bond together to criticize the government rather they fight to destroy one another forgetting the government behind.
The twisted mind students are everywhere even in social medias. You might have noticed in your facebook wall many people with hidden personality spamming under people posts and advocating for oppressors.
The nightmare and anxiety of our university students are multi faceted. The aforementioned few points are only the “peak of the iceberg”, which I believe will give some supporting hints to understand the growing anxiety of students.
Zewde, Bahru : Documenting the Ethiopian student movement: An Exercise on oral history. Forum for Social Studies, 2010, Addis Ababa.
– Hawi Chala can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or haw chala, facebook page.