-Professor who was summarily fired in 1993, July 15, 2002.
The Ethiopian government's heavy-handed tactics have stifled free opinion and expression in Ethiopia. While the immediate effect of government surveillance and control has been to curb political dissent, such measures also have cast a pall over academic inquiry and stifled independent research. The chilling effect of the government's tactics is keenly felt on Ethiopia's university campuses, where academics and students are afraid to carry out what is ostensibly their main objective: examining and questioning their social and material surroundings. Nevertheless, political turmoil inevitably has found an important outlet on Ethiopia's campuses, particularly because other channels of expression have been limited or closed.
Professors interviewed for this report all said they felt no link to the new ETA, and have not used it as a forum to organize. In fact, they said they have grown accustomed to the absence of a professional association. When asked what steps professors take to discuss issues of common concern, he replied, "Professors at AAU have different views. I don't see that kind of spirit, to organize."193
Those interviewed for this report cited a whole host of problems linked to government interference with the university administration. First and foremost, they complain that, despite repeated promises, the government has failed to grant the university autonomy through a charter. One former professor who left academia in 1999 due to frustrations with the AAU administration explained:
When the university was first created in the 1950s, Emperor Haile Selassie granted it independence, at least in name, through a charter. But when Mengistu Haile Mariam took over the country in 1974, his military regime, known as the Derg, suspended that independence. A European professor who taught at AAU during that period recalls that his employment contract had an explicit clause guaranteeing academic freedom, with the exception of anything deemed contrary to the principles of Marxism-Leninism.195 Since the current government toppled the Derg in 1991, professors have been demanding university autonomy from the government through a charter. They say they were close to agreement in 2001, but discussions were suspended after the April student strike. In April 2002, the government reportedly promised to grant the charter by September.196 As of December 2002, the issue had yet to be resolved.
The most egregious incident of government interference remains the 1993 firing of some forty professors discussed in chapter III above, and the ongoing consequences thereof. Some of those dismissed, including Dr. Taye and Professor Mesfin, have been imprisoned for advocating academic freedom. Professor Asrat Woldeyes died in 1999 after spending five years in prison for his activities with ETA, during which his health deteriorated seriously. Human Rights Watch interviewed two other professors fired in 1993, both of whom said they have attempted to remain active but have had to balance that activism against harassment that they, their families, and their friends have suffered. One repeatedly looked over his shoulder while speaking, explaining that he had recently been threatened with arrest, a threat he deemed credible since he and several of his colleagues in an educational organization already had been imprisoned in the previous eight months.197 Another said that, though he had taken the university to court to grant him access to the university library which was open to the general public, he preferred to stay away from the campus because it is painful for him to go there. He said that professors whom he considered his friends now turn away from him on campus because of the stigma; they have been chastised for being associated with him. His mother-in-law had recently been threatened:
Professors maintain that the legacy of the 1993 firings continues to have a chilling effect on them and would-be academics. The combination of this fear and direct government influence in university administration serves to stifle dissent and activism among the faculty. "I don't know of any other cases of professors being fired for sure," a professor told Human Rights Watch. "But it is definitely insecure."199
In addition, some professors-including supporters of "narrow nationalism" and supporters of Ethiopian nationalism alike-believe the policy of ethnic federalism has been used against them. It is not always apparent whether political motivations have played a role when professors complain of arbitrary treatment by the university administration, whether there was some legitimate basis for the treatment, or whether the problem was merely bureaucratic politics. At least two professors of Eritrean origin were summarily dismissed when the border war began in 1998, one from AAU and another from the Civil Service College.200 Several other professors also told Human Rights Watch they feel they are discriminated against because of their ethnicity. An Oromo professor of anthropology said that he was one of two Oromos and eleven Amharas in his department. He accused the Amharas of practicing "tyranny of the majority" and using department politics to "stifle" his academic work. For example, he said the chair of the department denied him permission to accept a research fellowship at the University of Durham Royal Institute of Anthropology in the U.K. in 2001.201 The Amhara professor who had been chair at the time in turn resigned from the university in 2002 after the university administration denied him approval to spend a year in the U.S. to complete a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University, a decision he believes was taken in part because of his political views.202 As noted, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam (who was among those dismissed in 1991) and other professors have been accused of supporting the Ethiopian-nationalist opposition movement and inciting students to do the same.
None of the professors interviewed for this report said the government had overtly interfered with what they taught or wrote as academics. But they consistently reported that government policies serve to encourage self-censorship, including the absence of tenure in Ethiopian universities, the authorities' regular practice of hiring professors on limited two-year contracts, the fact that government-appointed officials have final say on all leadership appointments, and systemic lack of transparency.203
Particularly controversial has been that all university instructors are employed on two-year contracts, at the end of which they must undergo student and peer evaluations. In December 2002, professors accused the government of using evaluations to exert control over academia; the university president and vice presidents resigned in protest.204 A week later, five faculty deans and professors reportedly resigned in protest of continued government interference. A faculty dean was quoted in the press lamenting, "The academic staff of the university had expected better academic freedom and improvements in all fields after the face-to-face discussion with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi this summer. But things have turned out to be otherwise."205 (He was referring to the mandatory capacity building seminar led by the prime minister in July and August 2002.)
A number of professors complained that the use of two-year contracts and the absence of tenure serve to stifle academic freedom. A professor who used to teach at AAU under the Derg recalled that any instructor possessing a Ph.D. automatically had tenure. Another professor clarified that tenure was effectively abolished after the 1993 firings.206 The university rulebook, which dates back to the Derg, regulates tenure only for expatriate professors, not for Ethiopians.207
Human Rights Watch does not know of any cases where the threat of termination has been used to influence professors' teachings or writings directly. However, such threats clearly have contributed to a climate of self-censorship. A political science professor told European colleagues that he feels more comfortable writing about his discipline than he has in the past.208 And a law professor is proud that the administration has permitted the faculty to teach a human rights course in which students debate the current human rights situation and that he has published widely on legal topics of his choosing. Yet, because he is a government employee, he opted not to express his opinion that the government was at fault during the 2001 student strike. "I didn't speak out either way during the strike, because I consider myself a government employee," he said. "However, I think the government should have been more mature and given in to the students' demands."209
The government also has final say in the appointments to positions of leadership within the university. In the selection of chairs and deans, for example, the faculty nominates three candidates and forwards their names along with the number of votes each received to the government-appointed administration, which then may select any of the three for the position. In many cases, these procedures are non-controversial. In the law faculty, for example, two of the three professors nominated expressed their preference not to be chosen as they had already served as dean, and one professor said the entire faculty was content that the administration chose the third. However, three professors told Human Rights Watch researchers they felt even the possibility of government interference wielded substantial influence over their decision of whom to nominate and over their departments in general.210
Academics also said that administrators abused their authority for political ends, most commonly to prevent certain professors from taking advantage of research and travel fellowships, as discussed above, but also to deny promotions and salary increases or otherwise discipline professors who displease the government. Human Rights Watch received four reports of professors whom the university had denied permission to travel abroad to conduct research. The Oromo professor mentioned above was forced to forego a research grant of approximately U.S.$40,000 in Britain in order to keep his job.211 Another was denied an exit visa and was accused of supporting the OLF. Shortly thereafter police came to his home and threatened him, leading him to flee the country.212 The others resigned to pursue one-year fellowships, one in the U.S. and the other in Germany. They plan to return to Ethiopia after their fellowships, but say they will seek employment outside the university. Yet another lecturer got permission to continue her studies in Europe, but, in order to receive an exit visa, had to provide a guarantee that a family member would reimburse the Ethiopian government the entire amount of her scholarship if she does not return (approximately U.S.$90,000 for two years tuition, room, and board).213 The monetary guarantee is understandable given the devastating effects of the brain drain from Ethiopia, but such a severe financial burden imposed on academics by the government could be arbitrarily applied and may violate university autonomy.
The government has apparently left two prominent opposition politicians who teach at AAU, Professor Merera Gudina of the Oromo National Congress and Dr. Beyene Petros of the Southern Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Coalition, free to engage in their political activities. Dr. Beyene, who is also a member of parliament, attributes this to their high profile. He was originally on the list of those to be fired in 1993, but believes he was spared because he was so well known. He said it was a shame, though, that other professors are afraid to be active in politics.214 A representative of the Ethiopian Democratic Party said that professors, like students, who are active in that party prefer to keep their role secret. Members of the EDP have been victims of frequent harassment including arbitrary arrests and government interference with party meetings.215
Continued Denial of Students' Rights
Ironically, the only student demand that was granted was the one the government refused to grant during the strike last year: removal of uniformed police from the campus. On September 17, 2001, 272 private security guards took over campus security after two months of training.218 Students said the climate is now freer than when police were there. A number of students recalled a particularly notorious police commander known as Yared who had repeatedly called students into the campus security office for questioning when the police maintained an official presence on AAU. Although students said that such practices have ended, some said that undercover security agents and students who double as informants continue to harass students, especially Oromos, on campus.219
The administration apparently allows some student associations to operate. Dr. Tetemke Mahri, academic vice president, said in a news interview, "We don't allow religious and political activities. Other than this [the students] are free to hold meetings." He added that the university discouraged associations based on ethnic background.220
Students interviewed by Human Rights Watch, however, indicated that the university denied many the right to association. One said that even the poetry club had been banned. He told Human Rights Watch that students interested in poetry have met clandestinely since the strike: "They had asked for permission and the administration replied orally-it is not good, you should be dormant until the situation improves."221 Political parties do not carry out any activities on campus. A handful of students openly participate in opposition parties, but an official of the EDP said that most have requested to be secret members.222
Students told Human Rights Watch that religious associations (including Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, and Pentecostal) and associations of students from each regional state, divided largely according to ethnicity, do in fact exist on each university campus. They say the most active of these is the Tigrean Development Association. There is apparently an Oromo Development Association as well. However, all of the Oromo students interviewed for this report, as well as students and professors of other ethnicities, complained that Oromos consistently had been denied permission to form associations of their choice. One said, "Oromos must meet outside the campus. We ask the administration for permission to meet every year when freshman come, and they say no. We gave them a letter, and they said, `Why do you give this to us?'" Students or former students at Addis Ababa University, Bahir Dar University, and Awassa Agricultural College said they belonged to clandestine Oromo associations. Two students complained that security agents accuse them of sympathizing with the OLF and harass them when they gather in groups of even two or five students on campus. "As five students we cannot get together or police will come displace us. This happened to me last year. . . . We can't talk about food on campus, . . . university elections, or anything."223
The student union first published its newspaper Hilina in 2000 in Amharic. Shortly thereafter, the university administration blocked the funds the union had raised by selling advertising in the paper and refused to allow the students to print any further issues. Hilina remains effectively outlawed though, in a press interview, AAU Academic Vice President Dr. Tetemke Mahri denied that the newspaper had been banned. He said that the university did not take issue with the factual content of the 2000 newspaper. Rather, he explained, the administration felt that the editors' decision to publish in the Amharic language as opposed to English was inappropriate "because of the ethnic and language difference that exists within the University." He admitted that the university had withheld the paper's money from the student editors, he said because the students failed to follow proper procedures to withdraw the funds from the university's bank account. He did not explain why the funds had still not been dispersed two years later.224 According to the university rules regarding student publications as published in 1982, students have "the same rights as other Ethiopians" to freedom of expression as well as a "responsibility" not to infringe on national law or the university code of conduct.225
196 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 24, 2002. For a discussion of the importance of a charter, see Yakob Adugna, "The students do not have more rights than any other Ethiopian citizen: Interview with Dr. Tetemke Mahri, Academic Vice President of Addis Ababa University," Sub-Saharan Informer, July 12, 2002.
200 Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July 20 and 26, 2002. On abuses, including mass expulsions and arbitrary deprivation of nationality, against ethnic Eritreans during the war, see, Human Rights Watch, "The Horn of Africa War: Mass Expulsions and the Nationality Issue (June 1998 - April 2002)," A Human Rights Watch Report, January 2003.
207 Senate Legislation of Addis Ababa University (with revisions up to the end of the 1985-86 academic year), February 1987. Since 1987, the rules have been updated by circulars but the university has apparently not published current rules together. An administrator interviewed by Human Rights Watch said he was not aware of any relevant updates. Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 23, 2002.
225 Rule 5.5 on Student Publications, Senate Legislation of Addis Ababa University (with revisions up to the end of the 1985-86 academic year), February 1987, p. 208. Since 1987, the rules have been updated by circulars but the university has apparently not published current rules together. An administrator interviewed by Human Rights Watch said he was not aware of any relevant updates. Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 23, 2002.