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Ethiopia Universities

Ethiopia: A Time to Heal, A Time to Reconcile

aauLast week, The Reporter reported:

An ethnic-based conflict between Addis Ababa University (AAU) students following derogatory graffiti posted on toilet-walls and library walls has left half a dozen students with severe injuries while others had faced arrest. For decades, the clash between students at universities has witnessed many ethnic-based conflicts which many observers claim it to be the weakness of the administering body. Likewise, the Wednesday [January 2] conflict was particularly between those from the ethnic lines of Oromo and Tigre. Reports indicate that the conflict was instigated when member (sic) of the latter ethnic group scrawled derogatory remarks on the walls of toilets and the library and in his own dormitory as well.

An official of Addis Ababa University alleged the “conflict was instigated by students who found derogatory statements posted on the wall”. Some 20 students were reportedly injured in the incident and three hospitalized including two who underwent surgery. Police reportedly arrested 20 students on unspecified charges.

My initial reaction reading this report about Ethiopia’s “best and brightest” was sheer disbelief.  “This just can’t be true. It is beneath the dignity of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation (young people) to engage in such a cowardly and dastardly act. Ethiopia’s university students know better than to wrestle in the filth and sewage of ethnic politics.” I kept on reassuring myself that such wicked hatemongering could not possibly  be the work of Ethiopia’s budding intellectuals, future scholars, scientists and literary men and women.

My certitude slowly gave way to gnawing disquietude. I asked myself, “Supposing the inflammatory graffiti and “derogatory statements” were written by bona fide AAU students? What would such a vile, gutless and vulgar act say about these students? About the injured students who reacted with righteous indignation? About the AAU student body? About all Ethiopian university students? About all of Ethiopia’s young people?”

As I wrestled with these questions, I was overcome by an irrepressible feeling of shame and ignominy.  I kept interrogating myself, “How is it even possible for Ethiopia’s best and brightest — Ethiopia’s Cheetahs — to engage in such backward, barbaric, cruel, vicious and villainous act? Why would one group of young Ethiopian university students deliberately plan and scheme to dehumanize, demoralize, demonize, degrade and brutalize  another? Why? Why? I could not come up with a rational answer.

I became even more bewildered trying to answer these questions as I was drafting my “proclamation” to make  2013 the Year of the Ethiopian Cheetahs.  I could not logically fathom the occurrence of this disgusting and horrifying  drama in which some Ethiopian Cheetahs were acting like Hippos and behaving like hyenas.

I put aside my roiled emotions and paused to think, and think really hard. What evidence is there to factually establish the “ethnic-based conflict” was the work of a bona fide AAU “student”? Who really is the alleged “student” who put up the offensive “graffiti and derogatory statements”? Must we believe the story line about the incident concocted by a wily university public relations desk jokey?  How is it that Ethiopian “universities have witnessed many ethnic-based conflicts for decades” and continue to witness them with predictable regularity?  Are there no adults in charge at the universities ready, able and willing to take preemptive and preventive action?

Doubt slowly began to displace my disappointment, shock and shame as I pondered the real possibility of this so-called “ethnic-based conflict” being stage-managed by the invisible knights of the empire.

When I finally put on my forensic lenses, I could clearly see the fingerprints and footprints of a dirty rat lurking on campus once again undetected.

In May 2010, Jawar Siraj Mohammed, a young Ethiopian political commentator and graduate student at Columbia University reported, “After interviewing several students involved in these [campus] conflicts and witnessing two violent episodes in Haramaya and Adama universities in 2006, I have come to the conclusion that lack of academic freedom at the universities and infiltration by agents of Ethiopia’s secret police and security services are the major sources of conflict.”

It also dawned on me that in September 2011 we learned  “Ethiopian security forces (had) planted 3 bombs that went off in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on September 16, 2006  and then blamed Eritrea and the Oromo resistance for the blasts in a case that raised serious questions about the claims made about the bombing attempt against the African Union summit earlier this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.” It was the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa which conducted its own “clandestine reporting” and fingered “GoE (Government of Ethiopia) security forces” for this criminal act.

I also recalled a 2006 secret 52-page document written in Amharic and prepared by the so-called Directorate of the Diaspora of the Foreign Ministry in Addis Ababa detailing strategy and tactics to harass, persecute and smear critics and opponents of the ruling regime and spread ethnic strife in the Ethiopian Diaspora.  As I thought more about the AAU incident, the anecdotal evidence of regime dirty tricks used to undermine, neutralize and destroy opposition parties, harass and persecute dissidents and others kept popping out.

My preliminary analysis of the circumstantial evidence on who is responsible for the “ethnic-based conflict” at the AAU campus points exclusively at the usual suspects. The inescapable conclusion (until substantial counterfactual evidence is presented) is that the hate crime that took place on the AAU campus on January 2 is likely the work of anagent provocateur (s) (one or few individuals placed on campus to act as agitators and instigators) and not a bona fide student(s).

A summary review of the uncontroverted evidence supports this conclusion. First, a single “student” is officially blamed for causing the incident. This factually negates the existence of an organized hate group of students of one ethnic group engaged in the persecution of another and intent on causing ethnic strife, dissension and discord on campus.  Second, the identity, background and affiliation (ethnic and otherwise) of the “student” who is said to be responsible for the criminal act has not been factually established. University officials fingered an unidentified student as being responsible. But is this “student”  a bona fide student or a regime undercoveragent provocateur masquerading as a student? Does this “student” have a history of ethnic animus against students of other ethnic groups?

Third, no motive has been established for the “student” who put up the graffiti and derogatory statements in multiple locations including the “walls of toilets, the library and in his own dormitory as well.”  In hate crime situations, when derogatory graffiti are directed toward a group, they are usually displayed in locations likely to be seen by the target group and intended to spark random expressions of outrage. Why would the “student” fingered for this crime target all students of an entire ethnic group as the object of his personal fury?

Fourth, other than the graffiti depicting the offensive statements, no additional evidence of hate crime was found in the possession of the “student” who committed the hate crime.

Fifth, the January 2 hate crime incident on the AAU campus cannot be seen as an isolated incident. The fact that periodic and recurrent campus hate crimes have been occurring “for decades” on Ethiopian university campuses is  uncontro- verted.  Why haven’t university officials taken swift and decisive action to prevent campus hate crimes with full foreknowledge of the occurrence of such incidents? Is the lack of action and intervention by university officials evidence of official tolerance, complicity, indifference and/or gross incompetence in the investigation and prevention of the occurrence of campus hate crimes? The evidence further shows that in the aftermath of the hate crime, university officials took no decisive action or implemented no preventive measures to ensure the safety of other students who could be targets of ethnic harassment on campus from a potential flare up of violence.

Sixth, why did AAU officials publicly announce, without a full and independent fact finding investigation, that the “conflict was instigated by students who found derogatory statements posted on the wall”? Why haven’t AAU officials empaneled an internal and/or outside independent investigation to thoroughly examine  the causes and participants in the hate crime and make recommendations to prevent such incidents in the future? Why have university officials left this incident entirely to the police?  Could it be that university officials turn a blind eye to campus hate crimes because they are directed to do so?

Seventh, why are the victims of this hate crime also the targets of arrest and detention by police?

In short, the totality of the circumstantial evidence on the hate crime committed on the AAU campus does not point an accusatory finger at students. The evidence points an accusatory finger at an invisible hand. To identify and apprehend the perpetrators of this hate crime, one must look not only for the invisible fingers that wrote the graffiti and derogatory statements on library and dormitory walls but also the hands that beat up the students to a pulp and ceaselessly bellow blasts of  hot air to spread and ignite ethnic strife, fear, hate and loathing among university students.

Be that as it may, it is now time, high time, the right time…

A Time to Heal, A Time to Embrace and a Time to Reconcile

It is written that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” There is a time to weep, a time to mourn, a time to cast away stones. There is a time to build up and a time to speak up. Then there is a time to embrace, a time for peace and a time to heal. There is a time to reconcile.

This is the time — the right time — for Ethiopia’s young people to heal in the schools, universities, the work places, the neighborhoods and in the streets. This is the time — the right time — for Ethiopia’s young people to embrace each other in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood; to hold hands and celebrate their diversity and honor their common ancestry and history.

This is the right time for all of Ethiopia’s young people  to break the cycle of ethnic hatred and violence; the right time to end the futile tradition of grievance and victimhood; the right time to abandon the culture of fear, hatred and loathing.

This is the right time for Ethiopia’s youth to lock fingers and join hands to heal the open wounds of fear, loathing and antagonism in their hearts, minds and souls. This the right time to stop seeing fellow students as enemies and adversaries. It is the right time to make peace and embrace each other as brothers, sisters and partners. This is the time for Ethiopia’s  best and brightest to work together for a better future, to dream of  alternative futures built on a solid foundation of the rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy. As Nelson Mandela taught, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”  It is time to make those we perceive to be enemies our partners.

This is the right time to unite against hate and hate crimes on and off campus. It is the right time to purge hatred from our minds and hearts; the right time to break the chains of fear that shackle and cripple young minds and hearts. It is time for Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to liberate themselves from the burdens of the past.

This is the right time for all of Ethiopia’s young people  to bury the hatchet, to declare once and for all, “No! We refuse to hate each other because we belong to one ethnic group or another. No! we refuse to hate each other  because we worship the same God by a different name or live in different corners of the land. No! We WILL NOT be manipulated or puppet-mastered to hate each other. We will not hate because we are civilized humans. We will not behave like predatory beasts who prey.”

This is also the right time not to do the wrong thing. This is the wrong time to engage in finger-pointing, teeth-gnashing, bellyaching or revenge planning. This is the wrong time to demonize and scapegoat one group of students as predatory beasts and disempower another group as helpless and hopeless prey. Both groups of students are the prey of those who write words of hate on library and dorm room walls.

A Word or Two from One Hippo to Many Cheetahs

Many young Cheetahs may find it amusing to listen to a member of the Hippo Generation. After all, we Hippos are known for being “intellectually astigmatic”, “lacking in vision”  and “not caring if the whole country collapses around us as long as our pond is secure.”  But I respectfully ask the youth to lend me your ears and hear me out.

Be courageous!

Be the first generation of Ethiopians to unchain yourselves and the rest of us from the burdens of the past.

Be the first generation to put an end to historic hatreds and resentments, sow the seeds of understanding and tolerance and open a new chapter of truth and reconciliation in Ethiopia’s history.

Be the first generation to close the wounds of hatred that have festered for generations and declare to future generations that they will not be prisoners of the mistakes and blunders of the past generations.

Be the first generation to accept the fact that we are all equal members of the human race and will not race to the bottom to affirm our ethnicity over our common humanity.

Be the first generation to make a peace offering to each other; to bury the hatchet once and for all; to use your fingers not to pull triggers and write hateful graffiti but stretch out your fingers to shake hands, to hold hands and to lend hands.

Be the first generation to affirm the divinity in our religious diversity.

Be the first generation to say No! to insidious ethnic, religious and gender divisions.

Be the first generation to cover the walls of the libraries, dorm rooms and even toilets with graffiti of  reconciliation, understanding, harmony and love.

Be the first generation to declare that you, the proud Cheetahs, are the captains of your country’s destiny and not the tired, corrupt, scheming, unprincipled and self-serving Hippos.

Be the first generation to be all you can be and to think what you will.

Be the first generation to win the war declared on our human dignity and common humanity, on our civility, morality, cordiality, integrity, and national unity by winning the struggle for the hearts and minds of your fellow youths.

Be the first generation to end the bitterness of yesterday and restore it with the sweetness of reconciliation today and tomorrow.

The Moment of Truth Has Arrived: Can the Cheetahs Save Themselves and Us? 

The moment of truth for Ethiopia’s best and brightest has arrived!

Can Ethiopia’s best and brightest Cheetahs rescue themselves from the burden of the past and the legacy of ethnic prejudice and religious bigotry?

Can these Cheetahs save the cynical, wretched and laggard Hippos from themselves?

Can they teach us to create ethnic harmony out of ethnic strife, understanding out of intolerance? Can they transform sectarian discord into spiritual concord for themselves and the people of Ethiopia?

Can the Cheetahs rescue our humanity from clutches of ethnic and sectarian inhumanity and bestiality?

Can Ethiopia’s Cheetah teach us the art of reconciliation? Can they enlighten us on the science of reconciliation?  Can they show us the path to reconciliation? Can they speak to us in words of reconciliation?

Can Ethiopia’s best and brightest come together as one Youth Force and make 2013 the Year of Ethiopian Cheetahs? Come together and bury the hatchet of ethnic strife and beat the swords of sectarianism into  ploughshares and harvest a plenitude of reconciliation?

Yes, indeed they can!

When I “proclaimed” 2013 as the Year of Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation last week, I promised to reach, teach and preach to Ethiopia’s youth. Little did I think about the possibility of Cheetahs reaching, teaching and preaching to  me and my fellow Hippos. (That is why we Hippos are astigmatic (have distorted view) and myopic (near-sighted and narrow-minded; natural hazards of being a Hippo). Little did I think of a teachable moment coming for Cheetah’s and Hippos so soon.

So Ethiopia’s Cheetahs  and Hippos face an enormous challenge. The challenge for the Cheetah’s is they must now teach the Hippos the art of reconciliation. The challenge for the Hippos is that they must learn the art of reconciliation from the Cheetahs.

The Cheetahs now have a chance to play a historic role: Teach by example.

So I call upon the young men who were involved in the incident at Addis Ababa University and their friends and all of the other students to transform this ugly moment of conflict and strife on their campus into a beautiful moment of reconciliation. I ask them to reach out to each other and ask forgiveness. It takes great courage to say something as simple as, “I am sorry.”

I call on them to come together on their own —  one-on-one, in small and large groups — and discuss their  differences. Try to feel each other’s pain and anguish. Be sensitive to each other’s fears and never scorn each other’s tears.

I ask them to talk to each other with open minds, open hearts and open spirits. I ask them to listen to each other’s concerns, fears, hopes and despair. I ask them to walk a mile in the shoes of their fellow students. If their fellow students do not have shoes, I ask them to walk a mile bare feet and feel the sharp-edged rocks. I believe if  they walk hand in hand for a mile, with shoes or bare feet, they will have reasons to smile.

I ask Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to make 2013 the Year of Reconciliation and Peace.

Let January 2, 2013 be remembered in all history as the day Ethiopia’s university students  buried the hatchets of ethnic division, religious sectarianism and gender inequality.  Let the ugly incident at AAU serve as a teachable moment for the nation.

Take up the challenge to talk and listen to your fellow students and sow the seeds of understanding, tolerance and harmony.

I ask Ethiopia’s Cheetah Generation to lead the Hippo Generation. Do not follow us, for we know not where we are going. We are the Hippo Generation, the lost generation.

If you don’t accept the challenge and do what is right and right what is wrong, then you would have proved to the world that Ethiopia’s Cheetahs are only Hippos in training.

To everything there is a season, a time. This is the time for Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to heal and to reconcile.

Ethiopia’s Cheetahs! What time is it?

Ethiopia’s Cheetahs united can never be defeated!


Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: 

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:


Ethiopia: Education Unbanned!

Distance Learning in Ethiopia Un-Banned?

Last week, it was quietly announced that the official wholesale ban on distance learning educational programs in Ethiopia has been lifted. In August 2010, the ban was imposed out of the blue “because of quality concerns”. According to one report[1], following six-weeks of “negotiations” between education officials and distance learning service providers a settlement was reached in which providers reportedly agreed to create a curriculum that places more emphasis on science and technology and establish a trade association to oversee quality assurance. Education officials are expected to undertake stricter supervision and monitoring of distance learning institutions. The training of teachers and health care workers, and apparently legal education, will be reserved exclusively for public higher education institutions under the political control of the regime.

Doing the Right Thing

When I wrote my commentary “Ethiopia: Indoctri-Nation” this past September[2], I argued that the wholesale ban of private distance learning programs by “directive”, or more accurately by bureaucratic fiat, was a flagrant violation of the governing law known as the “Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009” [‘Proclamation’] and the constitutional property rights of the providers. I demonstrated that the responsible regulatory agency known as the “Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency” (HERQA) could only “revoke accreditation” of private distance learning institutions which fails to meet “minimum standards” on a case-by-case basis following a fact-finding and appeals process. It does not have the legal authority to impose a wholesale ban.

The reasons reported publicly for the “negotiated agreement” lifting the ban are not convincing in light of the provisions of the Proclamation. HERQA has broad regulatory authority to “ensure the minimum curricula quality standards”. It does not need to “negotiate” its own legal authority to demand accountability and observance of standards from substandard providers; it could simply commence de-accreditation procedures against them. Instead of imposing a wholesale ban, the prudent and sensible thing for HERQA would have been to notify distance learning stakeholders of deficiencies, consulted with them on remedies and instituted stricter accountability and quality control measures with increased oversight and monitoring. Those who fail to cure deficiencies within a reasonable time could be set for a “de-accreditation” hearing. Inexplicably, HERQA officials and the political bosses in charge of education acted rashly and arbitrarily in August; now they have been forced to turn back the clock because the total ban has proven to be impractical and irrational to implement and has made the ruling regime in Ethiopia the laughing stock of higher education throughout the world.

As I have demonstrated in my commentary referenced above, the blanket ban on distance learning was wrong because it imposed collective punishment on all members of a group without an opportunity to be heard and a fair determination of the facts. The ban also unfairly smeared all distance program providers in the country as sub-standard, and maligned the leaders of these institutions as scammers in light of comments by officials which insinuated that the “purpose [of the providers] was to collect money” and not provide legitimate educational services. It is impossible to imagine that all distance learning providers in the country are so deficient in quality that they needed to be shut down at once. If that were true, it would be a sad commentary on those officials responsible for education in the country for allowing such institutions to function as they have for so many years. Imposing the ban in August was wrong; righting that wrong by lifting the ban now (assuming that it is actually lifted and is not merely a public relations gimmick) is a testament to education itself: “All humans make mistakes, but only the wise ones learn from them.”

Lessons Learned

Educational bureaucrats and their political bosses in Ethiopia could learn a few lessons from the blanket ban fiasco. First, it is important for them to incorporate the principle of the rule of law in their official actions. Simply stated, they could act only to the extent that they have constitutional and statutory authority. They cannot act arbitrarily or abuse their power because they occupy a political position. The ban was manifestly the result of lack of knowledge or willful ignorance of the applicable law by officials in charge of educational policy-making and implementation. Had these officials familiarized themselves with their governing Proclamation, it would have been self-evident to them that they have to follow the prescribed de-accreditations procedures and could not impose a total ban. They need to institutionalize and practice the principle of the rule of law as part of their bureaucratic culture which will help them perform their duties with high degree of accountability, transparency and efficiency.

The second lesson to be learned is that to avoid the type of mindless and irrational policymaking, the political bosses in charge of education should establish a standardized notice-and-comment process before proposed regulations are implemented. By publicly announcing a proposed rule change in advance, impacted institutions, groups, communities and members of the general public would be given an opportunity to provide input and share their views on their special circumstances. They could also provide policymakers data and analysis to help in the formulation of policies that are balanced, efficacious and likely to be implemented successfully. Such a process avoids hasty consideration of issues, premature and uninformed judgments, embarrassing decisions and obviates the need for the futile pursuit of impractical policies as evidenced in this ban.
To be sure, if the education officials had followed a notice-and-comment process, not only would distance learning service providers, teachers, students and their parents and others have had the opportunity to contribute positively to the policy process, the officials themselves could have spared themselves public embarrassment, avoided wasting time negotiating something the needed no negotiation and quite possibly avoid legal challenges to the ban. A notice-and-comment process also promotes accountability, transparency and public engagement in the policy process consistent with the prescription in Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution (Functions and Accountability of Government) which provides: “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public.” What better way to practically implement Article 12 than instituting an open notice-and-comment process?

A third lesson to be learned is that in higher education it is vital to maintain ongoing consultations with the stakeholders. Higher education is not the military high command where random and arbitrary orders are given to be followed unquestioningly. Having served in a leadership position in higher education strategic planning and implementation and overseen the development of a specialized distance learning program, I know it is counter-productive to even consider imposing bureaucratic control on curriculum, faculty, staff, students and administrators. Systematic and ongoing consultations with stakeholders are essential for a successful distance learning program design, planning, implementation, evaluation, maintenance and improvement. Quality concerns in distance learning are not limited to “ensuring minimum standards” as it seems to be the concern of educational officials in Ethiopia; there is the whole other area of student achievement and learning outcomes which can be tackled only by identifying student needs, problems and barriers students encounter in obtaining educational services. Without a comprehensive approach, the efforts to ensure minimum standards in the long run will amount to nothing more than window dressing.

The need for ongoing consultations with stakeholders needs emphasis. When HERQA suddenly announced the ban, distance learning providers, teachers and students at these institutions were shocked to find out that such a catastrophic policy had been made without even the courtesy of notice, let alone consultations with them as stakeholders. Molla Tsegaye, president of Admas University College, expressed shock and dismay when he learned about the ban: “We did not expect this. As stakeholders in the sector, we should have been consulted before all this.” Consultation is a process in which the concerned parties confer to share views, exchange ideas and give advice. Negotiation is a process in which the parties have issues which they seek to settle in a formal agreement. Both the providers and the educational bureaucrats and their political bosses are presumably on the same side. They are both manifestly interested and committed to educational quality and student learning. Consultations, not negotiations, are more appropriate and efficacious to increase program quality and student achievement. If Ethiopia’s distance education providers are collectively failing in providing quality instruction, they should be presented with the data of sub-par performance and engaged as stakeholders to develop guidelines for best practices.

The fourth lesson to be learned is the need to de-politicize education. Education bureaucrats and their political bosses should respect principles of academic freedom in higher education and let students, faculty members, scholars and researchers have the freedom to teach, learn or communicate ideas without being targeted for repression, job loss and other retribution. Higher educational institutions, and schools in general, should not be places of indoctrination for the ruling party’s true believers. The legal, teaching and health professions should not be the exclusive domain of public institutions that are funded and completely controlled by the regime and its top leaders. Academic merit and freedom, and excellence in instructional quality should be the governing principles for higher education in Ethiopia, not party membership, party loyalty or party influence.

The fifth and most important lesson for the political bosses that orchestrated this fiasco is to publicly come out and say, “We made a mistake. We messed up. We acted rashly and without forethought when we imposed a wholesale ban! We will consult stakeholders in the future and solicit input from the public to ensure a transparent process; and we will act only to the extent that we have authority under the law.” There is nothing more important for the public than to have officials taking ownership of their mistakes. No reasonable person would disagree with efforts aimed at weeding out diploma mills and fly-by-night operations. No one would protest efforts aimed at protecting the public from educational fraud. The solution to these problem is not to throw out the baby with the bath water by imposing a total ban on distance learning, but to remove the rotten apples from the barrel. With the un-banning of distance learning, stakeholders, bureaucrats and their political bosses could begin a new chapter and go beyond setting “minimum standards” to setting a “gold standard” of best practices in distance learning not only for Ethiopia but also the African continent.

Reflections of an Education “Neo-Liberal”

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess my own predilections and preferences in higher education having spent much of my professional life in the university environment. I proudly advocate a laissez faire approach to higher education. That makes me an educational “neoliberal” (a word often used pejoratively by some benighted dogmatists, which I simply define as one who believes in a totally free marketplace of ideas undefiled by bureaucratic and regulatory vulgarity) who upholds the individual’s right to choose his/her own educational program and professional career. Well, get a load of this: “Hell, Yeah! I am an Educational Neo-Liberal and Damn Proud it!” As a “neo-liberal”, I believe in freedom of inquiry and thought. I am always willing to entertain new ideas with inquisitiveness and fascination, not fear and anxiety.

There are those destined to the dustbin of history who have argued that “the neo-liberal paradigm is a dead end, is incapable of bringing about the African renaissance, and that a fundamental shift in paradigm is required to bring about the African renaissance.” I say the only paradigm shift self-serving, pretentious, narcissistic and megalomaniacal dictators could bring is to march the “Dark Continent” backwards to the Dark Ages. It was the Renaissance European universities that led the scientific revolution and became the incubators of new ideas in science, literature, philosophy, art, politics, science and religion. Closing institutions of higher learning and banning fields of scientific and philosophical inquiry were the hallmarks of the Dark Ages, not the Renaissance.

My belief is that government regulation of education rarely results in quality improvement or student achievement. The maze of bureaucratic rules and regulations imposed by governments often stifle creativity, learning and the expansion of knowledge. Africa’s “renaissance” or rebirth is in the hands of its young people yearning to breathe free and struggling to exert their creative impulses to lift the continent out of poverty and dictatorship. There can be no renaissance when an official orthodoxy is forced upon citizens and the state mindlessly meddles in the marketplace of ideas and knowledge with a heavy hand. Suffice it to say that I believe in a free marketplace of ideas (universities) where students, teachers, researchers and scholars do not have to seek knowledge under the long shadow of official censors or look over their shoulders for the thought police lurking behind every bush on campus. As to the cultural role played by private higher educational institutions, could anyone doubt the enormous contributions of private universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins and dozens more in America’s “renaissance”?

In the marketplace of ideas and knowledge, I say keep government out. Let individuals decide what they want and need. If students feel a private distance education program meets their needs, it should be their choice and not the decision of faceless, nameless and capricious bureaucrats. It is all about freedom of choice. In a free society, every citizen can choose his/her educational destiny. If one chooses to become an educator, a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, a chemist or train to join any other profession, it is their right to pursue it particularly when they are paying for it out of their own pockets. Only totalitarian states mandate what each citizen will learn and become.

The whole idea of state monopoly in teacher education, health and the law is deeply offensive to anyone who believes in freedom of learning and education. In my September commentary referenced above, I noted: “State-certified teachers who are ruling party members could be used to play a decisive role in legitimizing the regime and in indoctrinating the youth in the regime’s ideology.” Human Rights Watch two weeks ago supported my observation with evidence that the ruling regime in Ethiopia had misused state educational facilities for political purposes and engaged in systematic political indoctrination of students and repression of teachers. [3]

As a lawyer and educator, I am particularly concerned about state monopoly over legal education. By monopolizing the law discipline, the ruling regime manifestly intends to regulate the admission of law students and the training of lawyers and judges who will administer “justice” in the country. Such a monopoly will produce not lawyers and legal professionals who are committed to the Constitution, the rule of law, principles of universal justice and ethical standards, but robotic legal cadres committed to the ruling regime and its policies. In other words, justice will be administered by party hacks, hirelings, flunkies and lackeys with ultimate loyalty to the dictator-in-chief. I am a proud “neoliberal” in education because I believe “education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army”; better yet, the best defense against an army of ignoramuses.