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Universities must not become combat zones!

Universities must not become combat zones!

The universities of Ethiopiahave earned the moniker “little Ethiopia” on account of the fact that they are populated by students from every corner of the country. They have always been regarded as platforms for a civilized dialogue, not as combat zones where students engage in verbal and physical skirmishes. The students have always epitomized unity and tolerance for ethnic, religious and ideological differences. Ever since the establishment of the first university almost seven decades ago students have shown a united front in articulating opposition to successive governments. While universities admittedly experienced ethnic conflicts in the past 26 years, they were intermittent and limited in scope. Nowadays, though, even simple disagreements between individual students tend to escalate into violent ethnic conflicts.

 

Frankly speaking it’s perplexing and indeed quite an embarrassment for a nation whose patriotic citizens paid heroic sacrifices to defend its sovereignty for centuries now witness fatal ethnic clashes between students barely out of their teens. It is primarily up to the government to nip this dangerous trend in the bud through a variety of preemptive measures including organizing national consultative forums. Parents also need to ask themselves what they are teaching their children and if they are steeping them in morals. Universities are supposed to be places where knowledge is gained, where critical debates are held, and where diverse opinions are freely expressed with no fear of reprisal.It’s therefore disappointing to see these trailblazers of modernity turn into warzones.

 

The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) claims that a new Ethiopia is being built on the back of the system of federalism that is being implemented in the country under its vanguard. It is now 23 years since Ethiopia’s particular brand of federalism came into force with the adoption of the constitution. The EPRDF is fond of saying that Ethiopia is inhabited by an incredible kaleidoscope of ethnic groups. And it frequently declares that the motto “unity in diversity, diversity in unity” encapsulates Ethiopians’ aspirations. But to what extent do the youth who were born during the EPRDF’s rule share this aspiration? How successful were the endeavors to build a multi-ethnic unity in cognizance of the fact that diversity is beauty? Who is to blame when the EPRDF-era generation, which grew up on a constant diet of rhetoric espousing division instead of unity, is goaded into violence by tribalists while pursuing university education? Shouldn’t something practical be done when tribalism is eclipsing the ideals that Ethiopianness represents? The senseless bloodletting that has been

occurring in Ethiopia stands in stark contrast to the solidarity and bravery Ethiopians have displayed throughout their history. History shall blame the generation which produced the youth of today and the government for the shocking events that have transpired in universities.

 

The government’s primary obligation is to safeguard the security and wellbeing of the public. Failure to duly discharge this responsibility was bound to lead to the kind of deadly conflicts that have beleaguered higher learning institutions. The EPRDF and the government it heads should be ashamed by this dereliction of duty as it has exacerbated the fever pitch state of Ethiopian politics for the past three years. Furthermore, the violence has not only disrupted the teaching-learning process, but also subjected the parents of students to anxiety. Unless the government attaches the utmost importance to the crisis and act swiftly in concert with the relevant stakeholders to address it before it gets out of hand the consequences will be dire.

 

One of the major factors fueling the political volatility in Ethiopia is the irresponsible use of social media. Radical elements bent on sowing instability are exploiting social media as an instrument to spread emotive rhetoric aimed at instigating the youth to launch attacks against the youth of other ethnic groups. They make use of inflammatory poems and monologues, fake news as well as doctored pictures and video footages to perpetrate wicked deeds that in no way symbolize the civility and farsightedness characterizing Ethiopians. It is incumbent on all citizens to dissuade these elements from committing heinous acts that history shall judge harshly. Otherwise, their name will live in infamy as that of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for the destruction they wrought on the world as the architects of Nazism and Fascism.

 

As we have said time and again patriotism, solidarity, and mutual tolerance and respect are traits which define the proud people of Ethiopia. They are protective of a compatriot who is not native to the community clash whenever he or she clashes with a native. This is precisely what is being witnessed presently in different parts of the country. Unfortunately, forces with sinister motives are taking what should be a peaceful political struggle into an unwanted direction by inciting the youth to engage in ethnic violence. While the government is primarily responsible to ease the tension gripping Ethiopia from developing into a tinderbox that suddenly ignites, all citizen who feel they are invested in the fate of Ethiopia are expected to contribute their share.

The surest way to put a decisive end to the needless violence rocking the nation and avert its recurrence is to obey and enforce the basic liberties enshrined in the constitution and the rule of law, promptly deal with violations of human and democratic rights, and ensure the prevalence of social justice.

It’s then that universities become centers of knowledge and enquiry, not crucibles of ethnic conflicts and combat zones.