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Lest universities become rabble rousers’ playground

Lest universities become rabble rousers’ playground

Some six students were killed and scores more were injured in the past few weeks in a spate of clashes that rocked public universities across Ethiopia. Fearing for their lives many students attending the troubled universities have either taken refuge in places of worship or returned to their homes. The violence has not impacted students only. The safety of the universities’ academic and administrative staff has been endangered as well. Unless the malicious campaign to render universities a locus of conflict and destabilize the country is nipped in the bud, peace and stability will remain elusive. Although the community of each affected university knows quite well the identity of the “anti-peace forces” on whom the violence is blamed, it’s entirely unclear why the authorities are not forthcoming with a satisfactory explanation. Why is no firm action taken against agitators both from within the universities and outside that brazenly carry out attacks? Turning a blind eye when universities become a playground for rabble rousers is akin to complicity.

Parents send their kids to universities so that they develop into mature individuals capable of solving problems. The purpose of going to university is not to be schooled in a specific field alone; it’s to produce a continuous crop of disciplined and responsible citizenry. Students learning under a system which gives precedence to quantity over quality cannot be imparted with the advantages a university education is supposed to give them in order to get ahead in this competitive world are prone to get easily involved in bloody clashes. Elements incapable of engaging in civilized politics are exploiting this vulnerability to sow ethnic and religious conflicts in a bid to turn universities into war zones. To make matters worse students and lecturers claiming to represent the interests of certain groups are pouring fuel on the fire by peddling lies and a false narrative with the express purpose of stymying the efforts of universities to resolve disputes constructively. It’s counterproductive to do nothing even as the architects of the violence to wreak havoc with abandon.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that rabble rousers are able to operate with impunity due to the near absence of accountability. What justifies inaction while a few troublemakers subject the other law abiding students to suffering and disrupt the teaching-learning process? As that community elders embark on an initiative aimed at persuading students to go back to class one wonders what the government is doing. Why are students furthering the nefarious political agendas of others are allowed to blatantly harass other students to quit classes? Why can’t security forces intervene promptly before incidents which campus police are unable to deal with get out of hand? Why can’t the concerned authorities give reassurances to students anxious about their safety? Why are organized forces attempting to force their way into universities to stir up trouble treated with kids’ gloves? Universities cannot return to normalcy through denial or impromptu conciliation efforts.  It should not be lost on anyone that failure to thwart elements bent on turning universities into battle grounds is apt to have dire consequences. The facts on the ground bear this out.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has warned that if the crisis gripping universities continue the government will be forced to suspend classes altogether. This is a road the government must not go down. After all it has the authority and the means to enforce the law in universities and elsewhere. If it cannot enforce the law through regular procedures, it is legally entitle to take all the necessary measures to maintain law and order. Ethiopia’s universities can no longer be permitted to become the dens of rabble rousers. It’s pointless to talk about the rule of law while universities are unable to perform their core duties of teaching, research and community outreach. Universities are supposed to be places which enjoy academic freedom, contribute to solving the problems of nearby communities and produce a steady stream of knowledgeable and upstanding citizens. It’s saddening and indeed disgraceful to turn institutions already woefully inadequate at these tasks into conflict zones. If universities are to effectively discharge the responsibilities entrusted to them, the government is duty-bound to create a conducive learning environment.

Ethiopia badly needs universities capable of solving the multi-faceted problems confronting its people. The top university leadership, faculty members, support staff, students and surrounding communities must all accord priority to the attainment of this goal. They have to exert a concerted geared towards ensuring that the students enrolled in universities are inquisitive and continuously strive to improve the lot of fellow Ethiopians as opposed to engaging in killing each other senselessly. The government and parents too owe the obligation to provide whatever support is necessary to this end. It’s particularly incumbent on students to exercise caution in regards to how they consume unverified information disseminated over social media. They need to realize that they can be incited to violence by information appealing to their worst instincts only when they let themselves be infected with animosity and mistrust. Throughout modern history university students in Ethiopia and the rest of the world are known for rising against oppressive governments, not brutally attacking one another. The shocking fact that a considerable number of university students are prone to act hastily without ascertaining the veracity of the information they get and trying to resolve real or perceived problems through frank discussions constitutes a grave danger that compels the government to rethink the education policy which shaped them. The time to act in unison is now lest universities become rabble rousers’ playground!