Published: Saturday, 05 April 2014 14:10
Several years ago, the Addis Ababa University suddenly decided it could do without its Department of Philosophy. The discipline was condemned to death after being found to be guilty on charges of ‘irrelevance to the stated goals and aims of the national agenda as it relates to tertiary education’.
The EPRDF ignored appeals from academics, students, distinguished alumni, academics and others whom it described as ‘chauvinistic elites whose intellectual snobbery has blinded them to the needs of the society which they exploit for their selfish ends’.
Sadly, the willful ‘downsizing’ of a once great center of learning has continued, with the latest victim having become the highly respected Department of History. Will such academic genocide ever stop?
By Tesfu Telahoun Abebe Ethiopia’s main institution of higher education was established in 1961 as the Haile Selassie I University. This institution quickly earned a sound reputation as a center of excellence and had been rated as one of the best universities in Africa. Following the chaotic Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, the ruling junta renamed it as the Addis Ababa University and ever since, the institution has deteriorated to the point where it is but a shadow of its former grand self.
The University has by tradition played a prominent role in the nation’s contemporary political history. It was a hotbed of anti-royalist sentiment leading up to the abortive coup of December 1960 and the revolutionary fervor in its sprawling campus (once the palace of Emperor Haile Selassie I) continued with ever increasing militancy throughout the 1960s and up to September 1974.
Marxist, Leninist, Maoist and other radical literature pervaded the august campus and was disseminated to schools and colleges across the nation. The university, it can rightly be said, had been the epicenter of the still unresolved revolution of 1974.
Agrarian reform, self determination and collectivization became catch words for the revolutionary intelligentsia but were incomprehensible to the largely illiterate population. Some of the student revolutionaries opted to wage armed struggle in the countryside, others chose city streets to do battle.
All too soon the various shades of communists took up arms against one another in bloody urban warfare. The junta in power annihilated the urban guerillas but could not stem the separatists in Eritrea province and their TPLF allies in Tigre.
Indeed, one Legesse (a.k.a. Meles) Zenawi, late premier of the second republic since the 2500 year monarchy was unceremoniously discarded, was among the rebellious firebrands who would go on to fight for the following 17 years until all power was in their hands.
Hundreds of thousands (a very conservative estimate) had died as a series of concurrent wars and drought induced famines took their toll. For a few months during 1991, the heavy sacrifice in lives lost, internal displacement, forced exile, destroyed infrastructure and other losses seemed to have not been in vain.
The new regime, eager to dilute public revulsion of the bitter pill-the inevitable secession of Eritrea and the EPRDF’s dangerous ethnic based ideology-promoted free speech, a market economy and political pluralism.
However, the velvet approach was only a thin veneer of pseudo-democracy. The former student-rebels who were now in power especially feared the dynamism of their Alma mater (the university they had once attended) and accordingly, the university has been harshly dealt with by the regime.
Scores of lectures, researchers and other academics-many of them highly respected intellectuals with international repute have been pushed out for one reason or another.
Particular targets of the regimes wrath have been all who oppose what can properly be described as the regime’s ‘ethnic compartmentalization’ by which Ethiopian unity has been undermined and territorial integrity imperiled.
Decimating the academic staff was but a prelude to much more radical actions. After all surmised the EPRDF; if patriotic teachers and their students could pose potential problems to the regime, imagine the damage from entire of departments which have curricula which counter the EPRDF’s narrow tribalism.
This is what is behind reports of the imminent closure of the much valued and respected Department of History. If this is true, it will further demonstrate the extent of EPRDF’s total disdain for all viewpoints other than its own primitive politics.
It is also even more telling of the regime’s desperation over its inability to effectively suppress the deep sense of national unity which is inherent in all Ethiopians. On a parting note, the closing of a university department will not and can not change the reality of Ethiopian history.