The Curse of Education: An Ethiopian Paradox (Yimer Muhe)

If one dares to assign responsibility to Ethiopia’s fate of turmoil and tragedy over the past 50 years,the lion’s share would unequivocally fall on the shoulder of the educated class.The uncertainty that has become the trademark of Ethiopia starting with the Student Movement in the late 60s, followed by theentanglement of the youth – the cream of the crop – in meaningless bloodshed in the 70s, the share of the educated is undeniably significant. As a result, the impact of that period will keep determining the fate of the country for generations to come in many unsavory ways. Simply put,what we are harvesting today as a people and a country – the good, the bad, and the ugly – was sown in the fateful 60’s and 70’s by Ethiopia’s educated, whether we admit it or not.  So, one can justifiably conclude that as far as Ethiopia is concerned, education by and large has been a curse not a blessing.

Here the idea is not to vent out against the educated/the intelligentsia, or to take an anti-intellectualstance but to point to a bitter fact and hold the educated accountable because there are people who have been hurt and traumatized, and a country ravaged by ethnic clashes and on the verge of disintegration resulting from what the educated obviously should or should not have done, and should and shouldn’t have taught and propagated.The truth is, in the good old days,despite the absence of equality, fairness and justice, the farmer in the hinterlands of Oromia, or the Amhara region was only minding his usual business of tilling the land in peace until somebody crept behind him and baptized and poisoned him with the issues of nations and nationalities and ethnic politics.

Before Col. Mengistu– Ethiopia’s Emperor Bokasa – embarked on his wholesale slaughter of the country’s youth in the 70’s, there was a vision. That vision was owned by the educated, most of whom returned home in droves from outside to be part of the change following the fall of Haile Selassie. Unfortunately, they also brought with them their culture of cantankerous divisiveness that proved to be toxic and terminal despite the fact that they had so much in common to be united, andnothing of significance to be mortal enemies as they ended up to be. When the camps of EPRP (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party) and AESM/MEISON (All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement)started cannibalizing each other in the streets of Addis Ababa and other big cities of the country, the Junta,though briefly alliedto AESM,apparently lost respect for the educated and helped intensify their animosity and exploited it to its own advantage. How the corporals and the sergeantsand some commissioned officers who came out of their barracks demanding pay raiseproved to be more savvy and cunning than the MAs and PHDs is still mindboggling. As a result, Ethiopia’s youth was consumed by the “Red Terror” that was unleashed and the country was soaked in blood. Isn’t it difficult toargue that education was not ominous and a curse in the case of Ethiopia?

One thing no one can take away from the educated of the 60’s and 70’s is their good intentions, something we could not say about the ones who sided with TPLF in the last 27 years.  Back then,they were not self-serving with the exception of very few. Theydid not harborulterior motives ofpower grabbing, self-aggrandizement, and in the process ofbecoming wealthy. No doubt, their cynic, hairsplitting, and stubborn stances were the main culprits that stood on the way of unity and nation building.Not to let the Juntathat summersaulted and grabbed the “Red Book” under its armpit off the hook, but the educated should take the lion’s share of the blame because united they could have manipulated and tamed the soldiers  to effect a much better time and a promising Ethiopia for us all.Instead, either by commission or omission, they converted great opportunities into irreversible misfortunes that cost Ethiopia and its people very dearly. Without going into details, they are also no less responsible for the subsequent advent of the demonic TPLF on the country’s political scene.

Fast forward to the last 27 years, among the prominent scholars who worked for TPLF, Professor Endrias Eshete conspicuously stands out fromthe rest. The Professor’s resume was illustrious until he joined TPLF in the early 90s. In the early 70s, as a young professor, he was a mover and shaker behind the scenes of the Student Movement in the Haile Selassie I University (now the Addis Ababa University). Back then, he mingled with the students and aroused themwith his oratorynot to budgefrom their quest for justice, fairness, and equality, also endorsing their call for “Land to the Tiller”. Who would have imagined this same Endreas would start working in cahoots with the most ruthless dictator – TPLF – some 20 years later? While he was in the USA, during the reign of Derg, he probably participated in every major Ethiopian related conferences as a guest speaker. As a Philosophy Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, he was admired by his peers and students.Who would have imagined the Professor, we thought we knewvery well, would carry out a politically motivated decision by firing some 40+ professors and do TPLF’s dirty job, in the same university, some 46 years ago, he mesmerized the student body with his impassioned speech from the stage in the venerable Christmas Hall? Is education really always a blessing in the case of Ethiopia?

Over four decades ago, believe it or not, every freshman’s dream at the Haile Selassie University was to be like Endreas. He was their role model, and trail blazer. The question is,how did such an inspiring intellectualbecome a close confidant of the fascist TPLF? What business does any scholarhave with TPLF anyway let alone of the stature of Endrias Eshete?

This article is not aboutEndrias Eshete as much as it is about any scholars who failed to live up to expectations.Through their mere presence around, occasional advice and perennial silence, Prof. Endrias and his likes, without a doubt, did encourage the Beasts of Dedebit become greedier, more vicious and blood thirsty. There is no question that the good old professorwas anenthusiastic partner of TPLF.He also undoubtedly did help attract other weak and opportunist intellectualsto join the camp of malice and destruction.I don’t mean to forget our heroes, the likes of Pro. Mesfin Woldemariam, Dr. Dagnachew Assefa, Dr. Birhanu Nega, and Dr. Merrara Gudina, just to mention a few,who have put their lives on the line time and again for the good of the country and its people. Still, isn’t education for the most part in the last 50 years a curse in disguise in the case of Ethiopia? Also think of Dr. Tekeda Alemu, and Dr. Ashagre Yigletu who subserviently worked for Derg – the other merciless dictator, and the list could on and on.

Pro. Endreas’s marriage to TPLF smacks of Machiavellianism, and indeed TPLF was his “Prince”. Just like Niccolo Machiavelli argued in his book “The Prince”, Pro. Endreas – the soul mate of Meles Zenawi – apparently never raised an eyebrow when TPLF used deceit, looting, scamming, ballot rigging, torture, incarceration and murder ofinnocent people; and he apparently did not have any reservationson the “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation”, and the“Charities and Societies Proclamation”that TPLF declared in 2009to further stifle free speech and associationin order to maintain and protectits supremacy and interests, for such stepswere justified from a Machiavellian point of view. We recently learned, as President of the Addis Ababa University,hedid in fact reprimand a young scholar in his office for confronting Meles Zenawi –the“Prince”. That speaks volume about the Professor. So, would it be unfair to concludethe good old professor wasthe standard bearer of betrayaland that he hasalso reverted to be the anti-thesis of scholarship? Is it possible to commit intellectual mutation in order to assimilate with the basest of the base such as TPLF? Does the Law of Diminishing Returns ever apply to intellect? What happened to morality, and ethics – subjects that Endrias is very much familiar with as a Philosophy professor?

In a conference he had with teachers recently, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmedsaid that “…teachers are like a tree with enveloping branches that protect and provide shelter to everything under its shade – ants, camels, humans, etc. while exposing itself to the elements”. Well, that is not what Pro. Endrias and his likes have done. Instead, they willingly exposed the Ethiopian people to the vagaries of the TPLF dictatorship through their collaboration. As a result, today, Ethiopia is fracturing at its seams awash with wannabe warlords. Ethnic groups that coexisted peacefully and cross-married for centuries are now at each other’s throats due to TPLF’s ethnic Politics of the last 27 years that Pro. Endrias Eshete and his likes tacitly espoused. They might not have given the orders or pulled the triggers, buttheir complicity is very clear asthousands have lost their lives as a result. Therefore, their very intimate connection with the Beasts of Dedebit should be good enough ground to hold them accountable and prove their guilt by association in a court of law. Justice has to run its course in all directions in order to heal Ethiopia once and for all, with forgiveness in the background.

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