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Mr. Obama’s visit to Ethiopia sends the wrong message on democracy, Washington Post. June 25, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Sham elections.
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“AFRICA DOESN’T need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Those were President Obama’s words when he addressed Ghana’s parliament in July 2009, during his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. The historic speech, watched around the globe, was an optimistic clarion call to the leaders on the continent from the son of a Kenyan. “First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” Mr. Obama said.

The president seems to have forgotten that speech. Last week, the White House announced that, while traveling to Kenya next month, Mr. Obama also will stop in Ethiopia, the first such visit by a sitting U.S. president to the country of 94 million. It’s almost unfathomable that he would make time for an entrenched human rights abuser such as Ethi­o­pia while cold-shouldering the nation that just witnessed a historic, peaceful, democratic change of power: Nigeria.

Administration officials justify the trip by citing the United States’ long-standing cooperation with Ethi­o­pia on issues of regional security and the country’s accelerating economic growth. Ethi­o­pia is a major recipient of U.S. development assistance, and the African Union has its headquarters there. But it also stands out in Africa for its increasingly harsh repression and its escalating chokehold on independent media and political dissent. Since June 2014, 34 journalists have been forced to flee the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Ethi­o­pia is also one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists.

The administration already undermined Ethiopia’s struggling journalists and democracy advocates in April, when Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said Ethi­o­pia has “moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election, it gets better and better.” Shortly after her statement, the ruling party held an election in which it secured 100 percent of the parliamentary seats. That was indeed an improvement upon its 2010 performance, when it won 99.6 percent of seats. In the months ahead of the May 24 polls, opposition party members and leaders were harassed and arrested. The Ethiopian government refused to allow independent election observers, except from the African Union. Since the election, two opposition members and one candidate have been murdered. The government hasdenied any responsibility for the killings.

Meanwhile, Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and the one with the largest economy, overcame risks of electoral violence and Boko Haram’s terrorism to manage a peaceful transfer of power for the first time since the country’s return to democracy in 1999. With numerous African countries facing elections in the next two years, a visit to Nigeria would have signaled U.S. commitment to partnering with governments that respect freedom, the rule of law and the will of their people. Snubbing Nigeria for a trip to Ethi­o­pia sends the opposite message, in essence validat ing Ethiopia’s sham elections and rewarding a regime that has shown no intent to reform. Six years after his idealistic speech in Ghana, Mr. Obama is sending a message to Africa that democracy isn’t all that important after all.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-wrong-message-on-democracy/2015/06/24/a558f68c-1956-11e5-ab92-c75ae6ab94b5_story.html

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Ethiopia’s higher-eduction boom built on shoddy foundations, George West, The Guardian June 25, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Ethiopia the least competitive in the Global Competitiveness Index, Free development vs authoritarian model, Schools in Oromia, The Global Innovation Index, Uncategorized.
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The country desperately needs new universities to drive development, but most of the 30 built in the last 15 years fall woefully short

 

Higher education

 

The declining standard of Nigeria’s premier institution, the University of Ibadan, ten years ago is reflected in Ethiopia where the quality of new universities varies widely. Photograph: George Esiri/REUTERS

 

Ethiopia’s higher education infrastructure has mushroomed in the last 15 years. But the institutions suffer from half-written curriculums, unqualified – but party-loyal – lecturers, and shoddily built institutions. The rapid growth of Ethiopia’s higher education system has come at a cost, but it is moving forward all the same.

Twenty years ago the Ethiopian government launched a huge and ambitious development strategy that called for “the cultivation of citizens with an all-round education capable of playing a conscious and active role in the economic, social, and political life of the country”. One of the principal results of Ethiopia’sagricultural development-led industrialisation strategy (ADLI) has been a rapid expansion in the country’s higher education system. In 2000 there were just two universities, but since then the country has built 29 more, with plans for another 11 to be completed within two years.

The quality of these new universities varies widely; from thriving research schools, to substandard institutions built to bolster the regime’s power in hostile regions. One professor recalls a hurried evacuation from part of a recently completed university while he was working there: one of the buildings had collapsed.

But there have also been success stories. The University of Jimma, for example, has come first in the Ethiopian Ministry of Education’s rankings for the past five years, and is held up as evidence of ADLI’s efficacy since its establishment in 1999. The most recent development at Jimma, the department of materials science and engineering (MSE), opened for students in 2013, and has quickly expanded to become one of the top research schools in the sub-Saharan region. The department’s founder, Dr Ali Eftekhari, has since received a fellowship from the African Academy of Sciences on the back of the project’s success.

This success is much-needed. At 8%, African higher education enrolment issignificantly lower than the global average of 32%, and Ethiopia trails even further behind, with fewer than 6% of college-age adults at university. Research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) is starting from a particularly low base in Africa. The World Bank reported last year that though the sub-Saharan region has “increased both the quantity and quality of its research” in recent years, much of this improvement is due to international collaboration, and a lack of native Africans is “reducing the economic impact and relevance of research”.

Dr Eftekhari echoes these concerns: “The problem for development in Ethiopiaand similar African countries is higher education itself. This is the reason that I focused on PhD programs. “For instance, Jimma’s department of civil engineering has over 3,000 undergraduate students. These civil engineers are the future builders of the country, but there is not one PhD holder among the staff; most only have a BSc.”

Eftekhari improvised and sweet-talked in order to get the department established; in its first year, the department taught 18 PhD students – all native Ethiopians – on almost zero budget, with staff donating their time and money until funding was secured from the ministry of education. Despite the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) push for development, Ethiopia’s political landscape remains a minefield for education professionals, says Eftekhari: “People are always suspicious about the political reasons behind each new project. I decided to start with zero budget to allay those doubts. In developing countries everything has some degree of flexibility. I used this to borrow staff and resources from the rest of the university until we could secure a budget.

“Many of the staff saw the project as a career opportunity,” says Eftekhari, but altruism also played a part. The department’s research focuses primarily on solving the country’s pressing poverty and development problems. “They knew they were actually saving lives,” says Jimma’s innovation coordinator, Maria Shou.

The belief that science and engineering is key to alleviating poverty propels the work of the school. Projects range from the development of super-capacitors for the provision of cheap power, to carbon nanomaterials for Ethiopia’s expanding construction industry. “You only need a couple of weeks in Ethiopia to realise that materials science is a priority,” says Pablo Corrochano, an assistant professor at the school. “Even in the capital you’ll experience cuts in power and water; in rural areas it’s even worse. Producing quality and inexpensive bricks for building houses, designing active water filters, and supplying ‘off-the-grid’ energy systems for rural areas are all vital to the country’s development.”

However, Jimma’s success could be seen as a bit of an anomaly. Paul O’Keeffe, a researcher at La Sapienza University of Rome, who specialises in Ethiopia’s higher education system, believes that similar initiatives are needed, but that the government’s politics are an obstacle: “My research indicates that the rapid expansion of the public university system has seen a dramatic decline in the quality of education offered in recent years. Instead of putting resources into improving the existing system, or establishing a few good institutions, the EPRDF has built many new universities, largely for political reasons.

“A lot of the time the universities are merely shells. They do not function as universities as we would expect and are poorly resourced, and in some cases shoddily built. It would seem that they are built almost as a token where the EPRDF can say to hostile regions ‘look we are doing something for you, we’ve built a university’.”

Even when the universities do function, the quality of education is often low: “Once the funding, say from a western development agency, is finished for a particular course, it is no longer taught as the university authorities believe they can get funding for a new course instead; whatever is the latest fashionable course. So often this type of education for development is not sustainable.”

Reports of spies, classroom propaganda, of curriculums that have been abandoned half-written due to funding cuts, and of unqualified staff are common at these universities, which make up the bulk of Ethiopian higher education, says O’Keeffe. “The party line is peddled during class, students are required to join the party, [there are] various reports of spies in the classrooms, who monitor what is said and who says it.”

A lecturer at Addis Ababa University, who wished to remain anonymous, is concerned primarily with the lack of qualifications among staff: “What is disturbing is that those who have just graduated with BAs and MAs are the lecturers. That is the manpower that they have. If you talk with students you wouldn’t believe that these students actually graduated from these so-called universities. Their inability to articulate their thoughts is breathtaking. It is extremely frustrating and you wonder how they have spent four years at university studying a doctorate.”

In this context, the MSE school provides a beacon of hope. The school’s success demonstrates that higher education – Stem research in particular – has the potential to thrive and play a central role in helping Ethiopia to reach its goal of becoming a middle-income nation by 2025, provided political interests are put to one side. Let’s hope the EPRDF takes note.

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jun/22/ethiopia-higher-eduction-universities-development