North American office: P. O. Box 53022, Medford MA 02153. U. S. A


Human rights week observance and electronic mail conference

Dates: 3-8 March, 1997
Dedication: To past and present Ethiopian men and women who gave up their freedom, family, friends and career to struggle for a democratic Ethiopia


Assefa Negash
Ethiopian Information Service Network In Holland (SHINE)

Paper prepared for the Human Rights week organized by ISCEPC and EEDN (March 3-8, 1997).

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

1. - "Every one has the right to education. Education shall be fee, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2. - Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups , and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3. - Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children" .[1]

I - Introductory Notes

In this paper which I have prepared on the occasion of the human rights week organized by the International Solidarity Committee with Ethiopian Prisoners of Conscience (ISCEPC) and the world-wide Ethiopian Electronic Distribution Network (EEDN), I will try to pick on three related items i.e evolution of the modern Ethiopian educational sector, the struggle of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) and the decline in the expansion of education in Ethiopia in the post May 1991 period. To better grasp how and why organized members of the Ethiopian civil society like ETA have become victims of the current witch-hunt by the incumbent regime, it is apposite here to acquaint oneself with state of Ethiopian education in the post May-1991 period. And we can not do justice to the problems ETA and Ethiopian educators and education are facing today unless we make a brief historical survey of the development of modern education in Ethiopia during the last 90 years.

Hence our attempt to acquaint the reader of this paper with a brief historical survey of the evolution of modern education (formal education) in Ethiopia up to the present period. We would also deal with the deleterious ramifications of IMF/World Bank policies on Ethiopian education and ETA's resistance to this policy and the consequent crack-down on ETA by the incumbent ethnocratic government. These facts are concatenated or connected in more than one way. We cannot grasp the reason as to why ETA's leaders like Dr. Taye have been accused as being anti-American (and by implication anti-Western) unless we understand the implications of policies such as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which groups like the World Bank are pushing in Ethiopia with disastrous consequences thereof (as can be gleaned from the drastic fall in the number of Ethiopian children attending schools in the last 6 years of EPRDF's tenure).

I hope such presentation with background information on education in Ethiopia, would throw into sharper relief the present drive of the incumbent government to imprison ETA's leaders and activists and the US State Department's characterisation of Dr. Taye's imprisonment "as not linked to his activities on behalf of the ETA " [2] thereby lending credence to EPRDF's accusation of Dr. Taye as a leader of an underground "terrorist political organisation". The truth, however, is that the imprisonment of Dr. Taye is wholly attributable to his membership of ETA & the latter's unflinching opposition to the anti-education policies being imposed on Ethiopia by the World Bank/IMF/EPRDF-trio. We hope that the following account will throw light on all these issues. In this paper I shall try to take stock of the history of educational development in Ethiopia (1908-1997); present the profile of ETA and its activities and reflect on the violation of human rights as are related to the curtailment of rights of Ethiopians to free education.

Our ability to pass judgement on the progress or regression in the development of modern education in Ethiopia can only be complete when we are allowed the benefit of comparing the records of the present government with its predecessors. It is against this backdrop that I am presenting some facts related to the development of modern education in Ethiopia during the last 90 years (beginning with the opening of the first modern school by Emperor Menelik II in 1908). I have only listed the major highlights in the process of educational development in Ethiopia without paying due attention to such matters as the relevance (or rather irrelevance of) the educational curriculum, the inadequacy of the educational system to address the existential needs of the Ethiopian society and the inability of the educational system to impart skills, etc. I hope that this presentation would help us to appreciate the reason as to why ETA is at loggerheads with the incumbent government on matters pertaining to the state of Ethiopia's education currently.

The chronologically ordered facts about the development of education in Ethiopia and the regressive trends that we are witnessing in the educational process in present-day Ethiopia are documented in this paper. Thanks, among other things, to the anti-educational policies of the World Bank and IMF groups that have imposed the Structural Adjustment Programme in Ethiopia, EPRDF's decision to make drastic cuts in educational subsides that were hitherto made accessible by Ethiopian governments have begun to take its toll on education of Ethiopians. This policy of the World Bank/IMF/EPRF-trio violates the basic human rights of Ethiopians i.e the right to education that is enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which has been adopted by the incumbent government of Ethiopia in its July 1, 1991 Charter of the Transitional Government (TGE) [3] and subsequently in its new constitution [4]. It is ETA's resistance against the curtailment of the right of Ethiopians to education by the incumbent government and its western supporters (IMF/World Bank, etc) that have earned ETA and its leaders such as Dr. Taye the dubious distinction of being anti-American, etc.

II - Chronological Presentation of Some Basic Facts About Modern Education In Ethiopia From the Imperial Periods Up-to the Present (1908-1997)

IIA - The Imperial Period (1901-1974)

Many of the following facts (in section IIA) are based on materials which Dr. Tekste Negash had collected from various sources and published in 1990 [5].

1908 - establishment of the Menelik School

1925 - establishment of Teferi Mekonen School

From 1926 onwards, the Ethiopian government set aside educational budget.

1935-1941 disruption of education in Ethiopian due to the occupation of the country by Italy due to the closure of government schools or conversion of the schools into military garrisons. The first generation of educated Ethiopians was systematically and mercilessly wiped out by the Italian fascist occupation forces.

1942 - the first post-war schools were opened in Ethiopia and educational expenditure in 1942 amounted to 600,000 Birr.

1942-1955 - A great effort was made to expand formal education in Ethiopia. The school system functioned without any curriculum guidelines and relevant books. The educational budget rose from 500,000 Birr in 1942 to 19 million Birr in 1958/59 period. In the 1940's the second largest budget was allocated to the field of formal education.

In 1943 - there were 19,000 students in the whole country. In 1946 the number of Ethiopians enrolled in Ethiopian schools has reached 35,000.

By 1949 this figure has reached 53,000 students.

By 1946, there were 34,844 students of whom 3,374 were girls (this represented just 9.7% of the total student population).

By 1953, there were 85,000 students enrolled in the Ethiopian schools.

By 1954/55 - the number of Ethiopian students enrolled in the school system has been more 95,000.

By 1959/60 enrolment in government schools had reached 250,000 students of whom slightly more than 50,000 or 20% were females. Enrolment of students increased from 196,000 in 1960 to 1,100,000 in 1974/75.

Until 1974 only 4% of the age group had access to secondary school education.

By 1974 period 93% of the Ethiopian people were illiterate.

By 1974 primary education was available to only 12% of the primary school age population.

By 1974 up to 25% of the secondary school graduates were unemployed [6].

The amount of budget allocated for education in Ethiopia until 1974 represented only 1.8 of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) whereas the average educational budget of other African countries was 3.9% [7].

In 1974 there were 2800 elementary schools in the country.

IIB - The Military Dergue Period (September 1974 - May 1991)

Enrolment in all schools (government as well as private) increased from 224,934 in 1959/60 to 1.042,900 in 1974/5 period. This represented a 15% annual increment in student enrolment in the 15 years period.

The enrolment of students increased from 1,042,900 in 1974/75 to 3,926,700 in 1989. This represented a 12% annual increment in the 15 years period.

By 1982, the total number of government primary schools was 5409.

By 1989 3.7 million students were enrolled in Ethiopian schools and this represented only 15% of the school age group. Thus 85% of the school age group in Ethiopia had no opportunity to go to school [8].

By 1988 20% of the 13-15 year age-group were enrolled in junior secondary schools (grades 7-8 according to the Ethiopian school system). In this same year, only 12% of the 16-18 age-group were enrolled in senior secondary schools (grades 9-12).

By the end of February 1990, the literacy rate in Ethiopia was 77.2%. By the end of 1993, the literacy rate was estimated to be just 55%. This signifies a decline of 22.2 % in the number of literate Ethiopians in the subsequent years (particularly in the 1991-1996 period).

By 1993 there were 8196 government primary schools in Ethiopia.

Out of 2.8 million students in the primary schools in the 1993/94 period, 280,000 or 10% were from Addis Abeba city.

Currently only 20% of the school age population is enrolled in the Ethiopian schools.

III - Education in Ethiopia - Some Facts About the Current State of Education in Ethiopia (May 1991 - 1997)

According to the 1991 UNESCO report, compared to the rest of Africa [12]:

1 - Education in Ethiopia is at a very low level in terms of the distribution and quality of education, and its relevance to the society whose needs it needs it is meant to serve.

2 - The enrollment of Ethiopian children in primary education is just 30% and of these 50% drop out of the educational system before they have acquired any knowledge or skill and swell the ranks of the illiterate.

3 - The size of Ethiopian female student population is just 1/3 or (33%) of the total student population.

4 - The enrollment of Ethiopian students in the different regions of the country varies from 5% to 70%.

5 - The Ethiopian student population in highschools is just 12% of the age-group.

6 - The fact that almost all highschools are located in the towns and cities means that they are inaccessible for the majority of the rural population of Ethiopia.

7 - Even those highschools located in the towns and cities of Ethiopia are not well equipped; classes are overcrowded and as such do not offer the students a suitable educational environment or ambience.

8 - Schools that have been constructed to accommodate 1000 students are today forced to accommodate 7000 as there was hardly any investment in educational infrastructure in the past few years.

9 - According to ETA what is surprising about the current state of education in Ethiopia is the fact that at a time when paying for educational facilities is beyond the capacity of Ethiopians, the minster of education, Mrs. Genet Zewdie, who is member of the incumbent ruling party of the EPRDF has told the Ethiopian people saying that "as our economy has not developed, we have been forced to make parents pay for the education of their children".

IVA - Brief Profile of ETA (February 1949-1997)

The Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) is one of the oldest trade unions in the country with a history that spans 48 solid years. It was founded on February 21, 1949. It is the second largest professional association next to the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions which predates ETA in organizational existence. ETA is an organisation that represents more than 120,000 Ethiopian teachers of various ethnic origin and religious persuasions dotted across the breadth and length of Ethiopia. As a professional organization, it is a multi-ethnic, trans-confessional institution that promotes the professional interest of its members and, more importantly, the larger interest of society by paying great attention to the development of education in Ethiopia. Ever since its foundation, ETA has been subject to repression by the powers that be. Particularly during the last 23 years it has been subjected to increasing government interference. If under the Dergue ETA had been silenced as a legal representative of Ethiopian teachers, under the incumbent government its very existence as an independent professional organization has been called into question for no other reason than its resistance to being party to the ethnic politics and divide and rule policy of the TPLF government.

ETA is a member of the world-wide teachers' association known as Education International (EI). ETA' members have contributed tremendously to the development of education in Ethiopia by serving in the remotest and inaccessible parts or outposts of Ethiopia, often times, travelling for days on foot and pack animals. Following TPLF's assumption of power in 1991, ethnic politics was instituted as a guiding political creed in Ethiopia. The incumbent government sought to organize every facet of the Ethiopian political, economic and social life on ethnic lines. This attempt was a serious challenge to the very existence of professional institutions of the Ethiopian civil society such as the ETA whose very essence and organizational structure were premised on a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional membership.

Thus ETA became one of the major victims of the newly instituted ethnic politics. This brought the incumbent government on a collision course with trans-ethnic, trans-confessional professional organisations like ETA. Hence the incumbent government's targeting of ETA for dismantling and deconstruction. Its members defiantly resisted the attempt of the newly ensconced regime to dismantle their organisation by reorganizing it on ethnic lines. To the chagrin and disappointment of the TPLF regime, all its attempts to easily reorganize and steam-line ETA on ethnic lines failed to materialize and weaken and divide ETA as was hoped by the incumbent ethnocratic regime. Then the incumbent government resorted to brute force and administrative and illegal measures to streamline ETA. Teachers, and particularly leaders and activists of ETA such as Dr. Taye were harassed, persecuted, dismissed from their teaching profession, tortured and some even killed with a view to force acceptance of EPRDF's formula. Married couples (teachers) were forcefully posted to the various newly carved ethnic homelands in line with TPLF's policy of sending professionals to their "ethnic home areas" or ethnic enclosures. As such exogamous marriages and families based on inter-ethnic marriages were deliberately and forcefully broken in consequence of the incumbent government's policy of ethnic fragmentation of Ethiopian society.

There have been many instances of married couples (teachers) for example an Oromo husband teacher being forced to the newly designated ethnic enclosure or Kilil 4 (Oromia region) and his Amhara wife (also a teacher) being forced to go to the so-called Amhara Killil (Amhara region) or ethnic homeland. This has resulted in the painful break-up of families and traumatic experience for their children. No body has as of yet documented the pain of these forced family break-downs occasioned by the government's divisive ethnic policy in its bid to hold onto power by monopolistically controlling the reins of power by dividing the Ethiopian society on ethnic lines. In spite of all these pressures, ETA members and leaders have not budged an inch and defied the government refused to toe its political line. The assault on the honourable of institution of the time-tested exogamous marriage which has formed the basis of multi-ethnic Ethiopia and its forced replacement by endogamy is a serious challenge to the future existence of Ethiopia as a multi-ethnic country.

IVB - Highlights of Post-May 1991 Developments and Human Rights Violations as Related to ETA and Its Members

The following fact-sheet is based on information received gathered about ETA from various publications, press releases, including those of ETA, etc.

- ETA's democratically elected leadership was harassed by the incumbent government.

- Out of ETA's 133 branch offices dotted all over Ethiopia, 131 have been closed by the repressive measures of the TPLF government and the offices expropriated.

- 23 teachers have been brutally killed in consequence of the inter-ethnic conflicts that the incumbent government has unleashed in areas like Arsi, Gojjam, Hararghe, Wellega, Shoa, etc.

- 16 teachers have been abducted by security forces of (owing to their political beliefs) the incumbent government and there whereabouts unknown. They were abducted from such places like Addis Abeba, Bale, northern Omo, etc.

- 358 teachers who were legally elected as ETA representatives and serving in different regions of Ethiopia have been repeatedly imprisoned by the TPLF government for failing to hand over ETA's offices to the government and their unflinching support for ETA [13].

- 150 teachers and ETA members have been repeatedly (on more than one occasion) imprisoned by the incumbent government.

- 2335 teachers and ETA members have been suspended from their jobs and laid off without any reason and without pension rights.

- 4728 Ethiopian teachers have been displaced in consequence of the ethnic-cleansing campaigns engendered by the incumbent government in the last 6 years.

- 6000 experienced teachers have been suspended from their jobs in the so-called Oromo ethnic enclosure or Kilill and they were slated for dismissals by 1994 [14].

- 576 experienced teachers have been illegally displaced from areas like Dessie, Gonder, Ambo, Asebe Teferi, Arba Minch, Nazareth, Goba, etc. These teachers were told by the government that they do not belong to these areas as they were not natives (ethnic wise) of these areas.

- Teachers who are ETA members and make financial contributions to ETA out of their meagre resources have been labelled as anti-government and punished with dismissals from their jobs, thereby undercutting the continued existence of ETA as an independent civic institution. On the contrary the TPLF government deducts a certain percentage of money from the salaries of ETA's members and channels it to the bank account of the puppet ETA that has been created by the TPLF government.

- Teachers who refuse to toe the political line and prescriptions of the incumbent government are denied salary increments, career developments (no educational opportunities are allowed to such "recalcitrant" teachers).

What is more, such "disobedient" teachers are transferred to remote and inaccessible areas where living conditions are very harsh, etc. Or they are denied transfer to areas of better educational opportunities for themselves and their children. Such members of ETA are denied transfers to the big towns and cities of Ethiopia even after they have served in the remotest areas of Ethiopia for years. Normally such teaches deserve transfer to these areas of better educational opportunities.

- Academic freedom of teachers are violated and teachers forced to submit to an evaluation of their performance by those who are outside the teaching profession [15].

- In September 1995, a flyer was distributed by the EPRDF government to all schools warning that severe measures would be taken against members of ETA should they try to protest against the incumbent government. This flyer urged schools administrators to closely follow and scrutinize the activities of all teachers who are ETA members and supporters [16].

- On October 23, 1994 the Ethiopian Ministry of Interior wrote a letter to the Addis Abeba high court saying that it has issued a certificate of legalization to the new EPRF-spawned ETA claiming that the old ETA under the leadership of Dr. Taye has been disbanded as "it was part of the now defunct Dergue government" by the EPRDF.

- Financially, ETA was dealt a heavy blow when the incumbent government illegally froze ETA's bank account. In consequence of this some (8,000,000 Birr) eight million Birr (more than 1 million US dollars) belonging to ETA was expropriated by the incumbent government. Although, on July 2, 1993 (Sene 25, 985 Eth. Cal.) the Addis Abeba zonal court of Arada ruled in favour of ETA and ordered the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) to release ETA's bank account, the CBE has refused to budge to the court ruling and failed to release the 8 million Birr which ETA has legally deposited at this bank. In consequence of this, more than 400 employees of ETA and their families have been exposed to starvation and deprivation [17].

- Contrary to the rulings of the court in favour of ETA (on June 17 1994), the zonal administration in southern Wello had prevented the reinstatement of ETA members to their jobs. Similar violations of court rulings in favour of ETA were perpetrated by EPRDF government officials in areas like Nazareth, Jimma, Gonder, Debre Birhan, Arba Minch, etc [18].

- The eastern Shoa zone administration had illegally imprisoned ETA's elected leaders for three months and expropriated ETA's office and properties [19].

- The Dire Dawa Educational Bureau has in a letter written on February 12, 1994 ordered that no teachers can gather for a meeting [20].

- In northern Gonder and parts of northern Wello children have been forced to learn in Tigrigna which is not their mother language; in the so-called Oromia region, such as Shasemene, Assela, Jimma, Agaro, Debre Zeit, Nazareth, etc children have been forced to learn in Oromigna which is not their mother language. Those teachers who went appeal to the government authorities in such areas like Shashemene and Debre Zeit about the difficulty and inability of the children to pursue their education in these languages were beaten, imprisoned and subsequently transferred to other areas for "agitating the children and stirring trouble".

- Thousands of teachers were dismissed from their jobs in the so-called region 5 or Ogaden region and forced to suffer from deprivation. These teachers, many of them with long years of service to their country, were dismissed from this region as they were not Somalis and do not speak Somali language. In place of them, 2227 teachers with no qualification or training were hastily recruited as teachers just because they spoke the Somali language. Later these newly recruited teachers proved inadequate for the job and were summarily dismissed as incompetent in September 1995. In the mean time, the educational process in this region of Ethiopia has suffered and tens of thousands of children exposed to ignorance.

- Government officials and school directors (many are TPLF members and sympathises) in the Region 14 (Addis Abeba region) have forcibly expropriated the offices and properties of ETA after they received a written circular order by the Region 14 educational bureau instructing them to take over these ETA offices.

V - IMF/World Bank Policy on Education - Basic Premises :

- In the specific conditions of the 1990s these two financial organisations believe that colleges and universities are redundant as the number of trained man-power in Ethiopia is more than necessary for the country's present needs [21].

- One condition on the basis of which these two omnipotent financial institutions extend their loans is an agreement on the part of the recipient government to slash down health and educational subsidies thereby forcing the poor people to pay for these services which are beyond their economic means or wherewithal.

- IMF and World Bank advise a client government like TPLF to throw out qualified employees on the streets so as to allow the government to increase its profit margin and thus enable it to pay back loan and interest on the money received from the World Bank. In the specific condition of Ethiopia this prescription of the World Bank has been used to promote EPRDF's policy of entrenching and institutionalising the dominance of a minority Tigrean ethnic group in power by ethnically cleansing non-Tigreans from the Ethiopian state institutions [22]. In 1994 total Ethiopian debt to western governments and financial magnets like the World Bank, IMF, etc amounted to 4.5 billion US dollars. This is exclusive of the 3.3 billion US dollars Ethiopia owes to the USSR for military purchases during the now defunct military regime.

VI - Institutionalisation of Skewed Patterns of Educational Development and the Narrowing of Educational Opportunities for Ethiopians in the Post-Dergue Period - Some Facts and Figures.

A - According to the Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA), the number of students which have dropped from schools in the last few years following the economic dislocation, destabilization, inter-ethnic conflict occasioned by the policies of the ethnocratic TPLF regime is more than 2,000,000. The number of ESLCE students which used to sit for the ESLCE exam has fallen by 24,000. Ethiopia is one of the backward countries in terms of educational development. The number of students that get enrolled into colleges and universities is just below 1%. The number of Ethiopian kids attending kindergarten schools is less then 1%.

B - According to ETA [24], the number of Ethiopian students enrolled in Ethiopian schools has fallen by more than 2,000,000 in the post-May 1991 period. This is a fact which has even been admitted by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education.

C - in 1994 the number of students which sat for the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Exam (ESLCE - an exam which qualifies students for entry into colleges and universities) has dropped by 12,000. This is a very unprecedented. The trend till 1991 had always been one of increasing number of students sitting for the ESLCE exam instead of a decreasing number of students as is the case.

D - Between 1991 and 1993, the Ethiopian primary school (grades 1-6) population has dropped by 665,526 while the number of pupils in junior secondary schools (grades 7-8) and senior secondary schools (grades 9-12) has dropped by 70,000 and 102,000 respectively. This has resulted in the total decline of the student population by 835,526 students in the first two years of EPRDF's (TPLF) political tenure [25]. According to this same report, in the same period (1991-1993) the student population in Tigrai (the ethnic-homeland of TPLF leaders) has grown by 32% while in the areas south of Tigrai the student population has declined by 34% compared to the case before May 1991. This skewed trend a is reflection of the favouritism with which one region (Tigrai) is treated to the exclusion of other regions of Ethiopia.

E - An unpublished study commissioned by the USAID in 1994 has documented the drastic decline in the net enrolment of students from 38% in 1990 to 20% in 1994 (USAID/Ethiopia, 1994) [26]. The USAID report tried to explain away this drop in the student population as follows. According to USAID, during the previous military regime Ethiopian peasants were forced to send their children to schools. But now under EPRDF as they are free from such government interference, they have turned their back on schools and refused to send their children to these schools. There may be some truth in this assertion. However for understandable reasons, the USAID report was not at pains to hazard other possible causes such as the negative ramifications of the political destabilization, displacement and economic dislocation of millions of Ethiopian families on the ability of all these displaced people to send their children to schools.

Moreover the USAID report was, for obvious reasons, not forthcoming in assessing the negative effects of the shock-waves which the dismissal of tens of thousands of educated Ethiopians has sent to the remote corners of the Ethiopian countryside. What rationale would Ethiopian parents have in sending their children to school when they see that university graduates with long years of experience are thrown out on the street in EPRDF's Ethiopia? Why invest in a child that will bring home nothing on completion of his/her study ? This is the important aspect which the recent USAID study has deliberately, if advertently, failed to consider as such honest inquiry into such causes touch on the raw nerves of America's beloved client i. e the EPRDF government. For the record, it is instructive to mention the fact that a study commissioned by UNICEF in 1993 in some four major Ethiopian cities and towns had established the fact that more than 25% of the street children in areas like Addis Abeba, Gonder, etc were children of the demobilised ex-Ethiopian army [27].

These children do not include the hundreds of thousands of children of civilians whose lives were disrupted as a consequence of displacement from Eritrea (more than 300,000), Ogaden, southern Ethiopia, etc that are now proliferating the streets of "safe" places like Addis Abeba. All these destablizations and economic dislocations are major causes of the all-time fall in the number of Ethiopian students enrolled in schools and not the deceptive explanation of USAID which seeks to attribute the drop in the student population to the alleged refusal of the Ethiopian peasants to send their children to schools thereby passing the buck from the incumbent government (the originator of the problem) to the peasants (the innocent victims). After all we should not forget the fact that incumbent government is currently the second largest recipient of US aid in Africa.

F - According to a recent memo of ETA, the famous Harrar Teacher Training Institute (TTI) has been closed [28]. The reason for its closure is the fact that the authorities' insistence to impose the language of the region or Kilil (the newly imposed ethnic enclosure imposed by the incumbent government) without having prepared the necessary logistical and teaching materials needed for such abrupt leap to the usage of another language as a means of instruction. The Harrar TTI is one of the oldest of the 12 teacher training institutes that exist in Ethiopia.

G - The Department of Adult Education within the Ministry of Education that had some 142 staff and library had been completely abolished in 1994 without any trace of it.

H - According to ETA's recent communique many schools have been closed in Arsi, Shoa, Kembata and the Ogaden regions [29]. As any one can hazard, the ethnic-conflicts and the massive displacements that have been deliberately engendered in areas like Arsi; the on-going military conflict in the Ogaden and the failure of the incumbent government to pay for salaries of teachers, failure of the government to supply teaching materials, etc are among the reasons for the closure of many schools in these and other regions of Ethiopia. Here it is instructive to illustrate the negative ramifications of the incumbent government's policy by acquainting readers with what happened recently in southern Shoa region of Kembata, Alaba and Tibaro zone.

Two schools serving thousands of students from the towns of Kacha, Birra and Angatcha in the Kembata, Alaba and Timbaro zone have been closed and the students forced to stay at home due to the regime's failure to pay the salaries of teachers and provide teaching materials needed to run the schools. In Ethiopia the government of the day has always been responsible for the payment of salaries of teachers and to the cover the cost of teaching materials in schools. When the appeal of the people of these zones failed to produce any result, and their appeals fell on deaf ear, on December 4, 1996 (Hidar 26, 1989 Ethiopian Calendar) he people of these areas and the students staged a protest march against the indifference of the local authorities to their pleas.

The local authorities disappeared from the towns when they heard about the protest march. The protesters marched towards the zonal town called Durame. In the mean time, the local authorities informed the government about the protest march and the TPLF government which was not responsive to the pleas of people was quick in dispatching its army that was heavily armed with bombs and automatic rifles. The protesters were told not to proceed towards Durame town. However, the protestors told the TPLF soldiers they will not return unless their request gets an answer. Later the TPLF soldiers promised the protestors that they will pass on their appeal to the higher authorities and that they will get an answer if they only return to their homes. After having got this assurance the protestors returned to their villages [30].

For all who may have any doubt as to where IMF and World Bank policies are taking Ethiopia, what did happen in these two areas of southern Shoa should serve as warning signs or harbingers as to what is in store for Ethiopia in the coming years. As the above statements of ETA indicate, many schools have been closed in Ogaden, Shoa, Kembata, Arsi. If schools have been closed in southern Shoa for lack of money to pay for the salaries of teachers and to cover the cost of teaching materials, what guarantee do we have against the further spreading of this trend to other regions of Ethiopia except may be to the ethnic homeland of TPLF leaders ?. This is a worrisome development to say the least. This government tells us that it is building the country; devolving more power to regional governments so that they can build their own ethnic regions, etc.

But what we have seen in the last 6 years is not any construction in areas outside Tigrai but destruction and weakening of the already existing infrastructures like schools, roads, clinics, etc. Compare the activities of this government in areas south of its ethnic homeland with what it is doing in Tigrai. In the last few years since its seizure of power, some 600 schools were constructed in Tigrai - the ethnic homeland of the incumbent rulers of Ethiopia . Add to this the six colleges and higher institutions of learning that were constructed in Tigrai in the last 6 years . This is democracy a la EPRDF/TPLF. This is the equality for which TPLF fought against the previous "Amhara regime of the Dergue". This is the concept of equality as understood by the incumbent Tigrean ethnonationalist regime and its supporters.

Education is meant to impart knowledge that allows human beings to solve their existential problems by taming the destructive forces of nature and harnessing their environment for their existential needs. Education is also meant to imbue members of the human society with scientific concepts that would promote rational thinking thereby protecting human beings from their victimisation by fatalistic thoughts and superstitious beliefs that reinforce passivity and impotence in the face of new challenges in life. Education is meant to promote democratic values and norms by building bridges across cultures and bringing together people of diverse cultural and ethnic groups, etc. Today far from being an instrument of building a multi-ethnic society like Ethiopia, education has become a vehicle of division of the Ethiopia society on ethnic and confessional lines. Instead of serving as an instrument of promoting human rights and tolerance among people, education in Ethiopia has become an instrument for the perpetuation of differences, vice, etc.

Instead of amplifying the positive heritage of shared common values, education a la EPRDF is used as instrument of spreading bigotry, exclusiveness, intolerance, etc. Instead of amplifying the repertoire of the positive contributions which different cultural groups in the Ethiopian society have made to our common Ethiopian heritage, the school system in present day Ethiopia is engaged in de-emphasizing these positive cultural heritages and over-emphasizing and playing up the negative aspects of our common past. So today the Oromo, Amhara or Gurage, etc children are taught that the Lalibela churches are nothing to them as Lalibela churches have been designated the unique heritages of the Agews. Equally the Oromo or Gurage, etc children are taught that the castles of Gonder are nothing to be proud of as common national heritages as they are designated as the "unique heritages" of the "Amhara", etc. Thus education under the incumbent government is compartmentalizing our understanding of our own common heritage and history; promoting dwarf and exclusive ethnic consciousness; blocking the inter-ethnic intermingling that has been a constant feature of Ethiopian society both in peace times (migration, trade, exogamous marriage) and times of crisis (wars, epidemics, etc). Education a la EPRDF has a disintegrative as opposed to integrative function; it cultivates exclusiveness as opposed to inclusiveness. For example the issue of instruction in one's vernacular or language has been politicized to such an extent that it has been used by EPRDF and its likes as a means of creating Chinese Walls between Ethiopians instead of fostering mutual understanding and respect. It is against all these drives that the Ethiopian Teachers' Association is fighting.

ETA is not against the policy of teaching children in their own native languages. In fact ETA has long since adopted UNESCO's recommendation of teaching every child in his own vernacular in his first years of life (elementary school level). The advantage accruing to a child in teaching him in his/her own first language or vernacular (in the first years of life) has long since been established by studies conducted in many multi-ethnic societies such as that of Indonesia that have adopted the motto of "unity in diversity". Far from opposing the policy of teaching students in their own vernaculars or mother tongues, ETA has in fact called for the institution of such a curriculum after a good preparation of text books, trained man-power, etc and not haphazardly as has been done by the incumbent government for political ends [31].

ETA's advice to the incumbent government to embark on the use of various Ethiopian languages after a careful study and preparation of trained man-power and teaching materials was not heeded and today Ethiopia is awash with semi-illiterate children who merely go to school but have not picked anything useful as there are no qualified teachers nor teaching materials in Oromo, Sidama, Kembata, Hadiya, Gurage, etc languages. By imposing Kilil languages, children have been forced to attend classes in languages which are not their first mother language. This is contrary to the letter and spirit of the very UN human rights convention which EPRDF has signed and adopted. Summarizing the negative ramifications of the government's current educational policy listed above under IVB and VI ETA stated the following :

"The effects of all these have undermined the process of educational development and quality of education. A destructive verdict has been passed on one generation. Teachers have been demoralized and encumbered in discharging their professional responsibilities. The incentives and efforts of parents to send their children to schools have been undermined if not exhausted. Children in their prime age are spending their time aimlessly on the streets and exposed to ignorance and illiteracy and many forced to roam from place to place selling their child labour or working on the streets as pedlars, etc. Many children are joining the illiterate camp thereby swelling the camp of illiterates. In short in the 21st century, Ethiopia is preparing to be the centre of illiterates. Ethiopia is hanging on the abyss or precipice on her way to eternal destruction [34]" (translation mine).

By way of ending this presentation, let me just quote an expert in the field of Ethiopian educational development. As early as 1959 Dr. Mulugeta Wodajo, a man of long-time experience who is conversant with problems of the modern Ethiopian educational system, wrote the following lines about Ethiopian education.

"If the schools are to preserve their identity, the Ethiopian national system of education must be both a reflection of the past and a guide to the future. The educational system must in the first place aid in the transmission of the nation's cultural heritage from one generation to the next and, in addition, it must train capable persons who have the ability to interpret, enrich, and adopt that heritage to new needs and to changing conditions as they may arise. Any system of education in Ethiopia that fails to satisfy these demands is bound to make the country a lost nation - a nation living in darkness whom the world will forget and ignore [35].

The observations which Dr. Mullugeta made some 28 years ago are, in my opinion, even more valid today than ever before. Far from being a reflection of the past and a guide to the future and an agent of transmission of the nation's cultural heritage, national ethos, etc; education in Ethiopia has currently become an instrument of division meant to channel society's energy and potential towards a mutually destructive end. Education a la EPRDF fixates our attention on the past (the past about which we an do nothing) thereby preventing us from focusing our attention on the present and the future about which the present and coming generation of Ethiopians can do a lot. Instead of producing creative Ethiopians citizens capable of building on the positive heritage of their country, the Ethiopian educational system under the present ethnocratic system is creating citizens whose mind set is fixated on the past - a past which is sought not so much for its positive inspiration but to magnify our negative heritage. The current drive of education a la EPRDF is not geared towards helping us find our bearing through the labyrinth of the present and future and solve the mammoth tasks ahead of us but meant to create Chinese walls between the Ethiopian people.

This is what the incumbent government's obsession with the Ethiopian past has achieved in the last 6 years. This is a dangerous trend and rightly this is what the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) is fighting against. And this is indeed a trend against which all of us should fight if we are to promote human rights, democracy and mutual coexistence. The past should be sought for its positive inspiration; it should serve us as a lesson so that we may not repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. Today Ethiopians face an uncertain future - a future which is full of challenges and dangers. It is time to rise up to the occasion and shoulder our generation's responsibilities in changing the image of Ethiopia - a country whose name has long since become a metaphor for hunger and human tragedy thanks among other things to the contribution of the flawed political system obtaining in the country and to the many western TV footages that beam pictures of emaciated Ethiopian children and mothers for much of the last 25 years !!!!


Foot Notes:

1-Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted at the 148 Geneva Conventions

2-See the 1996 US State Dept. Report on the Human Rights condition in Ethiopia.

3-See the Charter of the TGE, July 1991.

4-Constitution of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, 1995.

5-See Tekeste Negash’s informed study entitled "The Crisis of Ethiopian Education: Some Implications for Nation Building", 1990, Uppsla, Sweden.

6-Desta Asayeghn as quoted by Tekeste Negash in his book entitled "The Crisis of Ethiopian Education". In preparing this part, I have benefited a lot from the facts which Dr. Tekste has collected from various publications by Ethiopians and expatriates.

7-See Morra Lopisso’s excellent and analytical article in Amharic entitled "Who Were the Major Beneficiaries of Education in Ethiopia?" that appeared in the once vibrantGuramayle Amharic magazine, Vol. 1. No 2, December 1993.


9-See Seyoum Teferra’s paper: "The Participation of Girls in Higher Education in Ethiopia", in the book entitled "Gender Issues in Ethiopia", edited by Tsehai B/Selassie, Inst. Of Ethiopian Studies, AAU, 1991.



12-UNESCO’s report as quoted in the communique of ETA entitled "ETA’s Views on the New Educational Policy of the EPRDF", april 16, 1994.

13-Paper presented by ETA’s general secretary Mr. Gemorraw Kassa at the 47th anniversary of EETA in February 1996.

14-ETA’s press release concerning the New Educational Policy of the EPRDF, April 16, 1994.

15-See the Resolution of the 26th Congress of ETA issued on Feb 7, 1997 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

16-See ETA’s press release entitled: "The Ethiopian Teachers Association and Human Rights", Addis Ababa, 1996.

17-see ETA’s press release in Amharic langauge entitled "Ethiopian Teachers and Human Rights", Addis Ababa, 1996.




21-The World Bank made similar bold, if insensitive, suggestions to the Nigerian government about getting rid of colleges and universities in Nigeria as according to World Bank, these institutions are redundant for Nigeria. For details, see the well-informed book entitled "Academic Freedom in Africa", published by the CODESRIA group based in DAKAR, Senegal.

22-See the book entitled: "The Pillage of Ethiopia", 1996.


24-Press release of ETA concerning the New Educational Policy adopted by the incumbent government, ETA, April 16, 1994.

25-Tobiya magazine, Vol II, No 6, September 1993.

26-USAID/Ethiopia (1994b): "The Demand for Primary Schooling in Rural Ethiopia" as quoted by Tekste Negash in his book "Rethinking Education in Ethiopia", Uppsala, Sweden, 1996.

27-See UNICEF’s study entitled "Children and Women in Ethiopia, A Situation Report", 1993.

28-ETA’s memo dated Feb. 1997.

29-ETA’s memo to SHINE dated Feb. 19, 1997.

30-For details, see Tobiya newspaper, Vol IV, No6, Jan 1997.

31-This was disclosed by Ato Gemorraw Kassa, General Seecretary of ETA at a conference which he addressed on June 30, 1996 in Amsterdam, Holland.

32-Seee Tobiya, Vol IV, No1, December 1996.

33-See the book entitled "The Pillage of Ethiopia", Adey Publishing, Los Angeles, CA, 1996.

34-See ETA’s communique in Amharic entitled "The Ethiopian Teachers and Human Rights", Addis Ababa, 1996.

35-As quoted in Tekste Negash’s book entitled, "Rethinking Education in Ethiopia", Uppsala, 1996.