Well-known academics are among the victims of an ethnic hate campaign in Ethiopia targeting civilians. Mass arrests and killings are now happening more and more often. “Norwegian academia must now wake up and face what is going on,” says a Norwegian professor.
Bistandsaktuelt, 23 November 2021 : Etiopia: Professor jobbet i byen i 40 år – så ble han henrettet foran huset sitt [in Norwegian]
By Gunnar Zachrisen | Published: 23.11.2021 07.43.51
“Mass arrests and ethnic profiling haunt Addis Ababa,” the BBC wrote over the weekend.
The British broadcaster cites the arrest of two prominent professors as examples of the authorities now being behind a brutal ethnic campaign against civilian Tigrayans. This comes at the same time that the government has introduced comprehensive emergency laws in the wake of insurgents being on the offensive in the civil war and approaching the capital.
Professors Assefa Fissiha and Mehari Redeai taught law at Addis Ababa University, a university that is also part of Norwegian aid-funded institutional cooperation. Both professors have a Tigrayan background.
“Arrests, lynching and murder”
It is also known that another prominent academic, who has collaborated with a Norwegian institution, was arrested last week. Norwegian academics are now trying to assist him and his family.
“The ethnic campaign is spreading. I am familiar with several prominent academics who have been subjected to threats, arrests, lynchings and murders,” says Professor and Horn of Africa connoisseur Kjetil Tronvoll at Oslo Nye University (previously: Bjørknes University College).
He himself has participated in professional discussions with law professor Assefa Fissiha, who is one of the two people arrested over the weekend.
Many have escaped
According to Tronvoll, who follows the situation in Ethiopia closely, many Tigrayan academics and community leaders in recent weeks have fled the country or are hiding in the capital. Many of them have left their homes and jobs in the Amhara region, which is where the worst ethnic hate and violence campaign is now underway.
The Ethiopian state-linked human rights commission EHRC, the UN, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are among institutions that have expressed serious concern in recent days over the mass arrests currently underway. A further source of concern is that the hunt for Tigrayans is now partly left to irregular militia groups and newly recruited vigilante groups in the capital. This is said to be one of the reasons why the United States recently encouraged its citizens to leave the country.
Academics from the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, are also subject to arrests. The probable cause is that an Oromo rebel group has entered into alliance with the Tigray forces and that the authorities are clearing away potential supporters.
Executed in front of home
Professor of Chemistry Meareg Amare has become one of the tragic symbols of the deep tragedy that is now unfolding. The 62-year-old was born in the holy city of Aksum in Tigray, but had done his academic work in and for the benefit of the Amhara region since 1979.
On November 3 this year, Meareg traveled to the university in the regional capital Bahir Dar where he met with the university’s deputy director and filed documents in connection with his impending retirement. In the afternoon of the same day, members of the security forces showed up in front of his house in the city.
There he was executed. No one was allowed to retrieve the body and bury him, it remained on the ground for several hours, a familiar phenomenon from a number of other executions and massacres of Tigrayans.
“Hardworking and humble”
“Professor Meareg is described as a very hardworking professional, a humble, disciplined and religious person. He was a frequent guest on Amhara TV, where he talked, among other things, about the university’s chemistry laboratory or the projects he had initiated to exploit waste from Bahir Dar’s tannery factories, says Professor Jan Nyssen of the University of Ghent in Belgium.
According to Nyssen, he left behind a wife and four children.
The Belgian professor says that – in the capacity of the head of the aid-funded Flemish university cooperation with the Ethiopian partner university – he urged the leadership of the University of Bahir Dar to distance themselves from the killing.
Nearly three weeks later, he has yet to receive a formal response to the inquiry from the university leadership.
Norway has also had aid-funded cooperation with the university in the Amhara regional capital.
“Several of this university’s employees – with a Tigrayan background – are now imprisoned, apparently without the university’s management doing anything about it. Informally, some say that they are afraid that they will also be considered as “junta” (a nickname for Tigrayans, red.),” says Nyssen.
He says that the concerned universities in Belgium are now assessing their connections to the University of Bahir Dar and have so far put the cooperation on the back.
Parliament passed condemnation
The parliament in Flanders, Belgium, recently adopted a statement strongly distancing itself from ethnic persecution in Ethiopia. Flemish universities and university colleges have, like Norwegian ones, had extensive aid-funded partnership cooperation with academic institutions in Ethiopia.
Parts of the academic elite in the country are active participants and partly the driving force in the ethnic campaign that is now underway, Nyssen points out.
Tronvoll says that there is now considerable concern in international research circles about the development in Ethiopia and the profiling of Tigrayan and Oromo academics. In Norway, however, little happens, according to the professor.
“Norwegian academia must react”
“In light of the dire situation now reigning in Ethiopia – with mass arrests and clear ethnic profiling , it is time for the research administration to ask themselves what to do. This also applies to Norway. What consequences should the current situation have for future research collaboration? Are the institutions they work with fellow runners in an ethnic campaign or are they expressing opposition? What about the safety of the researchers they work with? What about academic freedom? What about the aid funding, asks the professor.
He points out that tens of thousands of Tigrayans and a good number of Oromo have been arrested and detained on ethnic grounds in internment camps.
Over 80 ethnic groups
Ethiopia has over 80 different ethnic groups. Oromo make up the largest group, followed by Amharas and then Tigrayans and Somalis. The country’s political history has been marked by a rivalry and power struggle between different ethnic elites. The most prominent rivalry today is between Amharas, who are the Abiy government’s main supporters, and Tigrayans, many of whom support the rebel forces.
Over the past year, there has been a civil war between Ethiopian government forces, backed by Eritrea and Amhara, and Tigray forces. The former alliance occupied the Tigray region for several months, but Tigrayan forces recaptured large parts of the region this summer – with the exception of western Tigray.
This is an area Amhara believe was mistakenly assigned to Tigray around 30 years ago. In this Amhara- and Eritrean-occupied area, extensive door-to-door operations and abductions of Tigrayans that still live there are currently taking place.