Ethiopia: A Time to Heal, A Time to Reconcile
Alemayehu G Mariam
An ethnic-based conflict between Addis Ababa University (AAU) students following derogatory graffiti posted on toilet-walls and library walls has left half a dozen students with severe injuries while others had faced arrest. For decades, the clash between students at universities has witnessed many ethnic-based conflicts which many observers claim it to be the weakness of the administering body. Likewise, the Wednesday [January 2] conflict was particularly between those from the ethnic lines of Oromo and Tigre. Reports indicate that the conflict was instigated when member (sic) of the latter ethnic group scrawled derogatory remarks on the walls of toilets and the library and in his own dormitory as well.”
An official of Addis Ababa University alleged the “conflict was instigated by students who found derogatory statements posted on the wall”. Some 20 students were reportedly injured in the incident and three hospitalized including two who underwent surgery. Police reportedly arrested 20 students on unspecified charges.
My initial reaction reading this report about Ethiopia’s “best and brightest” was sheer disbelief. “This just can’t be true. It is beneath the dignity of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation (young people) to engage in such a cowardly and dastardly act. Ethiopia’s university students know better than to wrestle in the filth and sewage of ethnic politics.” I kept on reassuring myself that such wicked hatemongering could not possibly be the work of Ethiopia’s budding intellectuals, future scholars, scientists and literary men and women.
My certitude slowly gave way to gnawing disquietude. I asked myself, “Supposing the inflammatory graffiti and “derogatory statements” were written by bona fide AAU students? What would such a vile, gutless and vulgar act say about these students? About the injured students who reacted with righteous indignation? About the AAU student body? About all Ethiopian university students? About all of Ethiopia’s young people?”
As I wrestled with these questions, I was overcome by an irrepressible feeling of shame and ignominy. I kept interrogating myself, “How is it even possible for Ethiopia’s best and brightest — Ethiopia’s Cheetahs — to engage in such backward, barbaric, cruel, vicious and villainous act? Why would one group of young Ethiopian university students deliberately plan and scheme to dehumanize, demoralize, demonize, degrade and brutalize another? Why? Why? I could not come up with a rational answer.
I became even more bewildered trying to answer these questions as I was drafting my “proclamation” to make 2013 the Year of the Ethiopian Cheetahs. I could not logically fathom the occurrence of this disgusting and horrifying drama in which some Ethiopian Cheetahs were acting like Hippos and behaving like hyenas.
I put aside my roiled emotions and paused to think, and think really hard. What evidence is there to factually establish the “ethnic-based conflict” was the work of a bona fide AAU “student”? Who really is the alleged “student” who put up the offensive “graffiti and derogatory statements”? Must we believe the story line about the incident concocted by a wily university public relations desk jokey? How is it that Ethiopian “universities have witnessed many ethnic-based conflicts for decades” and continue to witness them with predictable regularity? Are there no adults in charge at the universities ready, able and willing to take preemptive and preventive action?
Doubt slowly began to displace my disappointment, shock and shame as I pondered the real possibility of this so-called “ethnic-based conflict” being stage-managed by the invisible knights of the empire.
When I finally put on my forensic lenses, I could clearly see the fingerprints and footprints of a dirty rat lurking on campus once again undetected.
In May 2010, Jawar Siraj Mohammed, a young Ethiopian political commentator and graduate student at Columbia University reported, “After interviewing several students involved in these [campus] conflicts and witnessing two violent episodes in Haramaya and Adama universities in 2006, I have come to the conclusion that lack of academic freedom at the universities and infiltration by agents of Ethiopia’s secret police and security services are the major sources of conflict.”
It also dawned on me that in September 2011 we learned “Ethiopian security forces (had) planted 3 bombs that went off in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on September 16, 2006 and then blamed Eritrea and the Oromo resistance for the blasts in a case that raised serious questions about the claims made about the bombing attempt against the African Union summit earlier this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.” It was the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa which conducted its own “clandestine reporting” and fingered “GoE (Government of Ethiopia) security forces” for this criminal act.
I also recalled a 2006 secret 52-page document written in Amharic and prepared by the so-called Directorate of the Diaspora of the Foreign Ministry in Addis Ababa detailing strategy and tactics to harass, persecute and smear critics and opponents of the ruling regime and spread ethnic strife in the Ethiopian Diaspora. As I thought more about the AAU incident, the anecdotal evidence of regime dirty tricks used to undermine, neutralize and destroy opposition parties, harass and persecute dissidents and others kept popping out.
My preliminary analysis of the circumstantial evidence on who is responsible for the “ethnic-based conflict” at the AAU campus points exclusively at the usual suspects. The inescapable conclusion (until substantial counterfactual evidence is presented) is that the hate crime that took place on the AAU campus on January 2 is likely the work of anagent provocateur (s) (one or few individuals placed on campus to act as agitators and instigators) and not a bona fide student(s).
A summary review of the uncontroverted evidence supports this conclusion. First, a single “student” is officially blamed for causing the incident. This factually negates the existence of an organized hate group of students of one ethnic group engaged in the persecution of another and intent on causing ethnic strife, dissension and discord on campus. Second, the identity, background and affiliation (ethnic and otherwise) of the “student” who is said to be responsible for the criminal act has not been factually established. University officials fingered an unidentified student as being responsible. But is this “student” a bona fide student or a regime undercover agent provocateur masquerading as a student? Does this “student” have a history of ethnic animus against students of other ethnic groups?
Third, no motive has been established for the “student” who put up the graffiti and derogatory statements in multiple locations including the “walls of toilets, the library and in his own dormitory as well.” In hate crime situations, when derogatory graffiti are directed toward a group, they are usually displayed in locations likely to be seen by the target group and intended to spark random expressions of outrage. Why would the “student” fingered for this crime target all students of an entire ethnic group as the object of his personal fury?
Fourth, other than the graffiti depicting the offensive statements, no additional evidence of hate crime was found in the possession of the “student” who committed the hate crime.
Fifth, the January 2 hate crime incident on the AAU campus cannot be seen as an isolated incident. The fact that periodic and recurrent campus hate crimes have been occurring “for decades” on Ethiopian university campuses is uncontro- verted. Why haven’t university officials taken swift and decisive action to prevent campus hate crimes with full foreknowledge of the occurrence of such incidents? Is the lack of action and intervention by university officials evidence of official tolerance, complicity, indifference and/or gross incompetence in the investigation and prevention of the occurrence of campus hate crimes? The evidence further shows that in the aftermath of the hate crime, university officials took no decisive action or implemented no preventive measures to ensure the safety of other students who could be targets of ethnic harassment on campus from a potential flare up of violence.
Sixth, why did AAU officials publicly announce, without a full and independent fact finding investigation, that the “conflict was instigated by students who found derogatory statements posted on the wall”? Why haven’t AAU officials empaneled an internal and/or outside independent investigation to thoroughly examine the causes and participants in the hate crime and make recommendations to prevent such incidents in the future? Why have university officials left this incident entirely to the police? Could it be that university officials turn a blind eye to campus hate crimes because they are directed to do so?
Seventh, why are the victims of this hate crime also the targets of arrest and detention by police?