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The downside of generalizing

A couple of weeks back, our Prime Minister addressed in his speech a crowd of individuals from the business world, wealthy and accomplished individuals, with the hope of raising funds to support Prosperity Party. I am sure many of you might have been shocked, to say the least, when he started to compare people from the business world to PhDs in economics and political science. In discussions with peers, I realized that for many, the purpose of such comparison was not quite clear. A close acquaintance of mine who is an accomplished economist, and I am sure many more others, were enraged by such comparison. From my understanding, the message of his speech is simply, that ‘business people making millions and employing millions are the real thing we need in this country, and not PhDs with no real and tangible contributions’. But I knew that deep down that, when making this claim, he had in mind a certain group of PhD holders and not every single PhD holder that has existed in this country. I am sure we all have our resentments against this group of PhD holders. Particularly those of us who have studied in local universities and been lectured by PhDs are familiar with this group. Many of us who closely follow Ethiopian politics have been deeply disappointed by some who claim to be “Drs.” but yet have been the sources of unrest and conflicts in the country. I knew the Prime Minister had these individuals in mind when he made the claim.

But still, as a public figure and one each of us looks up to, making any negative claim that tends to generalize is unexpected and unacceptable. Here is why the speech is unacceptable. First and foremost, Ethiopia is a vast country, and not everyone is the same. Therefore, not every PhD holder is the same. We all know of at least one PhD, be it in economics, political science, or other fields, that have made significant contributions to this country. Secondly, it should be recognized that doing a PhD takes a lot of effort, time, stress, commitment, hard work, and sacrificing one’s other personal lives like starting a family for instance. This of course applies only to those who have earned the degree and not to those who got it through some political affiliation or some other dishonest strategy. Making such a claim can have a demoralizing effect. Third, there are Ethiopian youngsters out there who are aspiring to one day earn a PhD in economics or political science in the hope of one day contributing to their country’s development. What would these youngsters think when hearing the Prime Minister’s claim? They will hear clear and loud that it is totally useless to have such an aspiration. And lastly, the claim totally goes against the motto of ‘Medemer’ that advocates for inclusiveness. Why exclude PhD holders from the march to prosperity?

In one of my previous articles, I had written about how Ethiopians love the title of ‘Dr’. Although I recognize that doing a PhD requires hard work and commitment, I have to admit that the reverence we give to ‘Drs.’ is just too much. Like I said before, doing a PhD is doing three to five articles on a very narrow topic of research. Being a ‘Dr.’ cannot be a goal on its own. Maybe the problem of many PhDs in this country is that the prime motives behind doing a PhD is, first, to be able to earn a better income back home and/or be able to benefit from scholarship money, and second, to be able to benefit from the respect that comes with being a PhD holder. And our choices of subjects for our PhD researches are mainly driven by the availability of scholarship funds in the chosen area of study than on personal interest and usefulness of the topic to our country. And of course, the quality of PhD researches out there also very much depends on the level of supervision and support in the joined university.

But the Ethiopian government also plays an important role in changing the quality of PhD researches being produced. Incentives in the form of research funding should be provided to those who produce papers that add value to the country and most of all, be able to use the inputs for policy design and implementation. Blaming it all on PhDs would not be fair!   

Contributed by Tsion Taye
Contributed by Tsion Taye