The escalated conflicts in Ethiopia.

                                                                                                             2021-05-01

During the latest two years, I have been hearing a lot about the instability in Ethiopia. The problem is, as I see it, not only about instability, it is about severe conflicts, conflicts that have led to armed conflicts. There are a lot of reports on armed conflicts taking human lives and ravaging properties in different parts of the country. To emphasise the seriousness some politicians and intellectuals residing outside the country have given the conflict a status of “genocide”.

It is difficult to understand the root causes of what led the country in to this armed conflict. Whoever I am talking to in recent years has his/her own version of the reality with strong blame of the “others”. These others are the Amhara, the Tigre, the Oromos, the Muslims, the Orthodox, the Protestants etc. Ethnic, religious, historical, cultural, ideological, economic, and other factors are given as major causes for conflicts.

As I mentioned earlier, who ever you talk to puts the blame on the “others”. It is a rare encounter to hear individuals or groups taking responsibility, confessing their mistakes and suggesting solutions on how to get out of the trap. Self-criticism is a rare phenomenon in private and official dialogue in the society. 

In an attempt to realize their goals, different individuals as well as groups are using different strategies. One strategy is to spread information about once conviction directly through personal contacts. But the major battle field is the social media such as twitter, facebook, you tube and other visible sights with large followers. The social media is used as a forum to campaign for ones on version of reality as well as to miscredit ideas or facts coming from the opposing groups.   

For me who is not on the ground and not following the day-to-day events in place, it is difficult to verify what is reported in the social media. In a country like Ethiopia, it is not easy to relay upon or trust either the state or private media. Even if it is difficult to fully relay on any source, I am following the development in the country through media outlets in the country and outside the country.

More than verifying what is true or not from different sources, I am wondering what are the root causes of the conflicts, what could have been done to prevent the escalation to armed conflicts? When the armed conflict is a reality, the important question is how they could be resolved? and how to build a long-lasting peace? are essential questions that needs a reply. 

One of the major problems in Ethiopia is interpretation of history. Some groups are convinced their forefathers were forced to submit to the central government by force. They also express that their cultural heritages and languages are not given the recognition they deserve. On the other hand, other groups are completely denying these claims. 

In addition to that the major ethnic groups, the Amhara´ and the Oromos are convinced that during the last 30 years one of the Ethiopian minorities the Tigranes took power and isolated them and other Ethiopians. Open statistical figures showed that the key positions in the military, civilian and economic sectors were occupied by elites from the minority Tigray group. According to many sources including individual witnesses and human rights reports, the minority government imprisoned, tortured and killed those who opposed their undemocratic acts. 

After the internal struggle within the coalition partners in the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples´ Revolutionary Democratic Front), the ruling party TPLF (Tigray Peoples´ Liberation Front), was forced to leave power in non-violent transition in 2018. Following the peaceful transition, new alliances and conflicts started and even in some cases developed in to armed conflicts. In the beginning the Amharas´ and the Oromos´ allied against the Tigre ruling elites to remove them from power. Gradually the alliances cracked and friends within the same group and other groups started to consider each other as enemies. Many minor conflicts were allowed to escalate, political killings started to take place without getting any resolutions.

While it is difficult to deal with the problems, government and different authorities needed to listened to all voices. By listening to all voices to find solutions that are at least acceptable to competing parties and by allowing open forums for free discussion, would have minimized the taking up of weapons as means of reaching one’s political goal. 

Where armed struggle has been taken as alternative, measures needed to be taken. The first step is to stop the armed conflict, the second step is to provide humanitarian help to those who are affected by the armed conflict, the third step is to rebuild the different services of the society, the fourth step is to work hard for the long-lasting peace. The best alternative to all these sufferings is avoiding armed conflicts as a means of resolving political conflict.

Use and misuse of social media.

January 20, 2021

I think it was in 1989, I attended my first computer evening classes in the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commissions office. The computer program available in Ethiopia then was called MS DOS (Disc Operation System) for IBM. While already available in other countries, I saw gradual introduction of different versions of windows. 

After some years in Sweden, my wife and me bought our first computer in 1994. That machine contained two separate parts, a big box with 127 mb hard disc memory and 4 mb processer. One very big screen we put over the box. Some years later I was buying some memory cheeps to upgrade the computer. 

Gradually the devices started to be refined in forms and smaller in sizes until we have our smaller laptops, mobile telephones and iPad devices. This development included an advance in different operating systems and apps for different functions. These apps are used for our financial transactions, for educational purposes, for communication and other day to day activities. 

The major advance in communication technology led to the creation of big search tools and communication forums such as facebook, instagram and twitter. Hundreds of millions are daily using these social medias in communicating with each other.

By using social media people are not only just communicating with each other for private and official purposes. Academic knowledge, political ideologies, businesses ideas, historical facts, environmental awareness issues etc. are disseminated. 

There are those who are using the social medias for constructive purposes with intention of sharing their useable wisdom of knowledge and experiences. There are also those who use it to promote themselves, to exaggerate their successful life their lovely families and their progressive carrier. It is not difficult to tolerate these ones.  

On the other hand, it is sad to see, there are individuals and groups that are misusing this media to spread lies, hates and their biases on every aspects of life. They create fictious stories and distribute about persons they never met or consider their “enemies”. There are some who instead of opposing some opponent’s ideas, insulting them and degrading them to sub-humans. More than distributing hate propagandas, they use these forums to spread their racist and right extremist ideologies and to recruit inexperienced young members to their groups.

In such a short blog it is difficult to analyze widely the pros and cons of the social medias. It is the responsibility of social media users to work for the advantage of their audience and support genuine and civilized engagement with each other. It is equally important to stand against the misusers of social media.

Corona Virus (Covid19)

2020-04-04

Before the beginning of 2020, I don´t remember I heard about Corona Virus or Covid19. When I first heard about it I did not give it much attention. Gradually it became daily news with a lot of details on the television, newspapers and different social medias. 

First the focus was China particularly the city of Wuhan. After a while the virus found its way to South Korea, Italy, Iran and other parts of the world. Today the virus is turned in to pandemic and it is found all over the globe. Some countries are affected more than others. The situation in Iran is getting extremely bad due to the existing economic and political situation as well as the US sanctions. In the US while the infection is expanding to different states, New York is the most affected city in the country. Among European countries Italy and Spain suffered most and lost thousands of their citizens. 

The Nordic countries are no exceptions. While there could be different mechanisms for the speed of spreading of the virus, it is in Sweden believed that it first spread through skiers returning from Northern part of Italy. 

Within the Nordic countries measures taken for limiting speed of the spread of the virus varied quite a lot. While Denmark, Finland and Norway took drastic measures of closing schools, boarders, airports with some major restrictions, Sweden took measures with slow speed. 

The Swedish government and health authorities are giving continuous information, instructions on how to behave to limit the spread of the virus and warnings on what to do and not to do. Persons over 70 years are asked to restrict their movements, high schools and universities started to give their education digitally, administrative and factory workers are giving temporary permission to stay at home. 

There are also warnings not to come closer to other persons while we are out of our homes, so called “social distance”. There was a restriction in the first round that meetings for more than 500 persons were not allowed. A few weeks later the restriction has gone down to meetings allowed to a maximum of 50 persons. This is by far a large number of people compared to some countries such as Germany, where more than 2 persons are not allowed to meet (this must be outside the family because many families can have by far large number of members than 2). This restriction affects many cultural and other activities. 

Considering all this, how is my life as an individual affected and how am I coping with it? My wife and I lived and live in Gothenburg, the second largest city of Sweden with about 680, 000 residents. While living here I was weekly commuting 250 km to my work at Karlstad University. Since mid-March I am working online from home. 

At present most part of the day, we are staying at home. We go out for shopping once every two to three days (while we are doing our own shopping, we also do shop for a friend who is 86 years old). As usual we bake our own bread and prepare our different meals.

Every day we are doing our own small exercises and we even take part in the 20 minutes television gymnastics. We are also out for short walks and biking tours. One recent development in our social life is meeting our best friends online. We are five couples spread in the city and one couple live on an island outside the city. Once a week we see each other and talk to each other. We update each other on how the week was for us and talk about what is going on around us. 

Here, I just attempted to say a little bit on Corona Virus or Covid19 and its effect on our daily routines. This is a very short personal reflection, which did not attempt to go in to the economic, political and social effects and the future consequences of the virus. I hope soon the virus will be stopped so we can return to our “normal” life that will include re-building what we lost and prepare to face similar pandemic in the future.

Getahun Y Abraham   

Peace is a precondition for a prosperous future.

In Ethiopia during the last two years there is a sign of change. The release of political prisoners in the country, and even in negotiation with other countries getting Ethiopians released from prisons of other countries, creating a good contact with the diaspora Ethiopians are good signs for changing course. Equally important is the reuniting of the divided orthodox church and giving equal treatment to Christians and Muslims of the country.

The diplomatic effort by prime minister Abiy Ahmed´s government to convince the political parties and different armed groups outside the country to return home and struggle in a peaceful means is a vital step towards democratic development and sustainable peace. As one aspect of this, the agreement to resolve the long-lasted boarder conflict with Eritrea is also a huge achievement for the new Ethiopian government. This peace effort with Eritrea, and the attempt to create a peaceful coexistence between neighbouring countries and the help to create an agreement between the factions in the Sudan conflict led to prime minister Abiy Ahmed to receiving the Nobel Peace Prize of 2019.

While there are a lot of positive developments that need a long list to count here, there are also some negative developments and disgraceful acts that cannot skip our attention. The attempt to murder the pro-change prime minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the murder of the progressive Amhara region leaders and the burning down of churches and mosques are some of them.  

Equally disgraceful are ethnic conflicts that are showing their ugly face by neighbours killing each other, mob actions against those considered “enemies” and recently even university students killing fellow students from another ethnic group than their own. It is truly sad that people in the 21st century are trying to resolve their problems by killing each other. From what I understand Ethiopia´s problems are myriad and a deep analysis is needed to understand the root causes and systematic efforts to resolve them are required. But what all parties involved in a conflict need to understand is that hatred and killing each other will never solve the problems of the country. Listening to each other, respect for each other´s ideas and dealing with differences through dialogue instead of aggressive physical attacks against adversaries. Peace is a precondition to build a democratic and prosperous society in a country. 

Neville Alexander

I attended 8-10 of May, 2019, South African – Sweden University Forum (SASUF) 2ndconference in Stellenbosch. In this conference I met two Ethiopians, one living and working in Sweden and the other one in South Africa. While we were discussing Ethiopia and South Africa, one of them, a civil engineer and professor in South Africa was talking about the bad sewerage system in Ethiopia. He said still we don’t have a central sewerage system in Addis Abeba that connects to the private houses and properties. 

After talking for a while about the sewerage system, when we changed topic to talk about something else, he turned to me and asked me if I knew Professor Neville Alexander. I said yes he was a well known person and I told him I listened to him in 2008 or 2009 at the then Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and I just thanked him after the lecture. I told my new acquaintance I heard the Professor died some years back. He was a bit surprised that I said I meet the Professor some years back and listened to him.

My new acquaintance asked me if I knew Professor Alexander´s Ethiopian connection. I was surprised and said no. He told me there are biographs of the Professor and an interview he gave to BBC on his background. His grandmother was an Ethiopian slave who was freed by the British navy from a boat that was on its way to an Arabian country.

That same evening I went to the BBC homepage and found  the link where he gave an interview about his maternal grandmother, an Oromo woman from Ethiopia (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14357121). I also read about him on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neville_Alexander). The next day when I talked to colleagues from South Africa, I understood many of them knew about him and his work. A professor from Nelson Mandela University gave me a book of tribute with a text from his colleagues and Neville Alexander himself. From this tribute and texts from him I learned that, he is a literary giant, anti- apartheid fighter, activist and an intellectual of his time.

He was on Robin Island for ten years (1964-1974) with Nelson Mandela and the other anti-apartheid fighters. During his stay on Robin Island he was the cause for turning the prison in to a “university”. As an already well educated person before his prison terms, he encouraged both the illiterate prisoners to read and write and his colleagues for further studies. 

When I read more about him, I also understood his struggle both for diversity and unity of South Africa. He dealt with the nationality question and with rights of minorities. He worked for minorities´ right to start their education in their own mother tongue and then in the later stage to start using the languages that are used nationally (Afrikans) and internationally (English).

While attempting to give voice for the minorities, he was also critical to the post-apartheid South Africa´s still using the racial divisions Black, Coloured, Indian and White. He is critical to dividing people on the base of the colour of their skin. He was also critical to the present day South Africa for economic and social injustice that left the poor in the country in the same living standard before the fall of apartheid.

As I mentioned earlier, he is a literary giant of his time and if I am going to go deep in to his work, it needs much time to read most of his work and to try to summarize his main areas of focus. I will keep that for the future. But before I finish this short introduction, I will quote his view on identities in South Africa, that could equally apply for his grandmother´s home land, Ethiopia, “We have to insist that we are all South Africans and that those subnational identities that do not undermine our national unity can and should be accepted as consonants with the democratic project.  Such subnational identities would include those based on gender, language, region, religion among others, …” (In Enough is a feast, A tribute to Dr. Neville Alexander, 22 October 1936-27 August 2012, p.93).   

Building a house on a strong base: Education reform in Ethiopia.

It is interesting to follow the discussion on education reforms in Ethiopia. There are discussions on education policy, quality of education and the role of teachers. Higher education and schools are in the center of the discussion. On the other hand, it is not an exaggeration to say that preschools are quite invisible. 

We hear in the mass media that the country´s new education road map is designed and will be available for public discussion and comments. Hopefully it is a map that shows the educational terrain of the country including the high and low performance areas. We can also expect it will show where there are difficulties to proceed towards the aimed goals. The map hopefully is also open for redrawing whenever new realties demand to do so.

A hot issue for the last few years has been quality of education on all levels. While there is a consensus that the education quality has fallen, there is no common definition of what education quality is, what the indications for the fallen quality were. There are some who explain the fallen quality based on students´ low level of reading, writing and mathematical abilities compared to the students in the same grades some 20-30 years back. Others try to explain that the low quality is the result of increased numbers of students, school expansion to give opportunity for more children, inadequate learning facilities, shortage of trained teachers, etc. Instead of just general explanations there is a need to undertake a research to establish what is a good quality/standard to strive for and how to go ahead to achieve that quality/standard. 

While discussing to improve the quality of education, there is a necessity to review the situation of teachers in the country. It is obvious that teachers are facing diverse problems to alleviate some of the problems. There is a need as a first step to increase their income. Then there are other major needs such as creating a good working environment, improving the quality of teacher education and also start working on gradually increasing the status of the profession. What we are investing on teachers will also positively influence the quality of education on all levels. 

Higher education which also includes teacher education should focus on transforming and developing the country. More of critical thinking, more of creative and innovative citizens in the higher education can contribute to a better understanding of the society at large as well as see the hindrances for its development.  More competent teacher graduates can work for improving their own lives as well as for the socio-economic development of their society. 

The largest number of students are not attending higher education. They leave school after attending elementary or secondary classes. These groups also need to attend quality education with relevant knowledge and skills that will allow them to be economically independent. Basic societal services could be provided by these students who as part of their education could be trained as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc. The education system should consider to open opportunities for these groups if they need to pursue further education to improve their knowledge and skills in the same or another field. 

Debates are taking place about higher education and schools but one group that is not given enough attention is the preschools, where the youngest of the society get their first contact with institutional education. Different problems are facing this level of education. First the shortage of preschools, secondly in the available preschools there are no sufficient education facilities, thirdly, there are no sufficient well qualified preschool teachers, and fourthly, there are no sufficient preschool teachers training institutions in the country. 

Preschools are the primary socializing institutions after the family. Here children learn to take care of themselves, to cooperate with their classmates, to compromise with other children and when they are in a problem to resolve their conflicts in a peaceful way. If the country wants to build a future democratic society it should invest on high quality preschools. 

Anyone who wants to build a house does not start with the roof. S/he will start building the base with strong material to enable it to carry the whole building. The building will rise gradually and when it is completed, it will stand the wind, the rain, the sun, the earthquake and other problems. Preschools are strong bases in a society in which citizens can start to become well prepared for matching the future needs in their society.                

Teachers role in promoting democratic education in Ethiopia.

 

In a short note a while ago, I tried to write on the relevance of education for promoting democracy in Ethiopia. For education to be a tool for promoting democracy teachers play a vital role.

During their working hours teachers are meeting small children to adults from preschool up to tertiary education. They are the ones who are providing knowledge about the past, the present and the future of Ethiopia and other parts of the world. In addition to parents it is  through them the young generation learn the skills necessary for their day to day life as well as long term development of the country.

Teachers are not only transferring knowledge to their students. Teachers who are aware of their responsibility give space for their students for asking, commenting and coming up with   solutions for problems. By allowing participation of their students, teachers make the young generation contribute to knowledge development. In addition, general knowledge, teachers need to understand the situation in their local community to be able to integrate it in to the education they are providing. Students need to recognize the reality of their life in their education.

A country like Ethiopia with the large population of school children and a possible shortage of teachers might have a problem to at once  focus on quality instead of producing a large number of teachers. But the long-term strategy should be on having teachers with high motivation, social competence and necessary skills for exercising their profession.

The government should take the lead in up lifting the profession. This could be done by encouraging teachers who are already working by increasing their salary, improving their working environment and providing them with on the job training to improve their skills and update their knowledge in the field. It is also a government responsibility to give the necessary support and directives to teacher training institutions to recruit students with motivation and to give them a good quality education with the necessary skills to be good teachers.

Teacher training institutions are responsible for providing student teachers with the accumulated knowledge of the profession including the teaching and assessment skills.

It is important during their education student teachers are out in the field to observe the reality in schools. This will introduce them to their future working places as well as give them a picture of the problems schools are facing at present. These problems could be brought to teacher training institutions for further discussion – and hopefully finding possible solutions.

To improve the education system by strengthening the teacher profession needs measure from different actors. Teachers can play their part by occasionally making effort to improve their knowledge and skills by reading and participating in available courses to strengthen their  professionality, government and teacher training institutions by working to provide the necessary material and other facilities to produce competent teachers. Parents and the general public need to show respect for the profession and give necessary support for teachers who are responsible for upbringing future skilled and democratic citizens.

Getahun Yacob Abraham (PhD).

Education for democracy in Ethiopia.

The last three to four months the Ethiopian government is moving ina hopeful direction. Releasing political prisoners, calling for opposition parties within the country and in the diaspora to work together, showing a good will to bring together the country that was divided in ethnic groups for the last 27 years, etc. is a positive stage forward. we hope this radical reform process will continue until it achieves its goal of establishing a stable democratic system in the country.

The new Prime minister in his speeches on different occasions is raising important issues. One of those issues that attracted my attention was education and the respect the society should give for teachers. For now, I will start with the issue of education in general and I will be back in another occasion to discuss about teachers.

One of the great American educationalists, John Dewey, wrote in one of his texts from 1889 “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” This strong statement by Dewey is emphasizing the importance of education for promoting democracy. In the education system from preschool to tertiary education there is a need to install the values of democracy and social justice. Already in the preschool children should start to learn to respect each other, to learn that it is ok to have different opinions on the same phenomena, to practice the equality between boys & girls, understanding and respect cultural and linguistic diversity, start caring for their flora and fauna. When on all levels we are orienting our children the respect for democratic values, we can see the future generation which is aware of its rights and will also respect others rights. A generation that will discuss, compromise and resolve conflicts in a peaceful way.

To build a future democratic society there is no alternative to investing in our education system from preschool up to universities. This includes both human resources and infrastructure. In this process, we also need to think to be fair in our treatment of the rural and urban areas of the country. There is a need for careful planning, implementing and evaluating our achievements. This process will help us to learn both from our successes and failures.

The few points I raised above could be the starting points for further discussions. This is not an issue we can reach a conclusion with just a few lines of comments. This issue has been there and discussions about it will continue for generations. Those working with education need to identify educational needs, share experiences, describe, analyze them and come up with recommenda­tions for transformation.

Getahun Yacob Abraham (PhD).

 

 

Summer memories from a village at the southern shore of Lake Siljan.

 

 

One day in the Spring of 1994, I attended the funeral ceremony of my wife´s aunt Karin who passed away at the age of 94. She was not married and she had no children. Before she died my wife Margareta and I used to visit her in the old age home in Dalarna´s regional capital Falun.

After the funeral ceremony in the church in Leksand there was a memorial service in the parish house. Then those of us who were family members gathered in Hjortnäst, a small village 5 km away from the church. In Hjortnäs we came to a village road, “Presgattu” that led us in to an open compound, “Callesgården”. This was where Karin and her seven siblings were born and raised, one of them my wife´s mother.

It was a wonderful sunny day and for me it was a first visit to Hjortnäs and “Callesgården”. It was green all over and it gave me a positive feeling to come to this place.

In “Callesgården”, we were gathered under a roof of one of the houses, which belonged to Karin´s brother Erik. Soon a talk about Karin´s little house started. Then I didn´t know what she had or had not. I learned then that some 50 meters from where we were sitting, there was a small log house, locally called a “Harbre”. It was originally used as a storage for grain but in 1940s one of Karin´s brothers, Anders, rearranged the interior of it and modified it to a Summer cottage for his family. Later on, when Anders and his family moved to the main house in “Callesgården” Karin and her sitter Anna took over and lived in the “harbre” during the Summer. Anna had died earlier and Karin remained as the last owner of this small house.

While sitting under the roof of Erik´s house the talk about the “harbre” continued.  A question came from one of the relatives, “What can we do with this small house? Could we move it somewhere? By the way is there anyone who is interested to have it?” There was a silence for a while and my wife and I looked at each other and without exchanging words, we agreed to take it. We told them “we will buy it” and they as inheritors agreed to sell it to us.

We paid the small amount they requested and for the first time we in 1994 owned a small Summer cottage. We only owned the small house, the land on which the house was standing was owned by Hans-Olof, one of my wife´s cousins. There was no water and no latrine in the house.

Every Summer since then we tried to improve the cottage. The first Summer we could change some broken tiles in the roof to stop leakage of rain water, the following Summer we cleaned and prepared the chimney and extended the veranda. During following Summers we bought the land the house was situated on, we joined the local association for drinking water and we also hired a carpenter who built a simple wooden out house with two “rooms”, one for a storage and the other one for a dry latrine. Gradually we added to our property a small plot of land with a one room very small wooden hut. This year we are expanding the original small house (harbre) with one room.

More important than the gradual development of the property is for us the possibility to spend (part of) our Summers  in our “harbre”. We have a very positive relation with our relatives in “Callesgården” as well as with our neighbours. During mid-Summer, we are together with relatives decorating and raising the mid-Summer pole around which children and adults dance together. A big grill party comes later during the evening.

Our Summers for the last 23 years were enriched by people and nature in the area. During warm days, we are swimming in Lake Siljan. Various cultural activities, some of them coming every year, are to be found. Among the ones coming repeatedly is a theatre, “Himlaspelet” (Heavenly play) written by a local writer in the 1940´s.  Several of the roles are played by locals and so are the musicians participating. In addition to cultural activities, exploring and experiencing nature is a major activity. Around Lake Siljan, there are spots from which you have beautiful views of the surrounding areas and hiking tracks are numerous.  During the Fall, there are possibilities to pick different types of berries and mushrooms.  Through the years we have had the opportunity to experience what the human and natural environment provides.