Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ethiopia: The Assault on Academic Freedom Continued

Alemayehu Fentaw
I had been teaching law at the Law Faculty of Jimma University for two years and half until I was given a scholarship and a study leave from Jimma University, Ethiopia to pursue my Advanced MA in Peace and Conflict Resolution at the European University for Peace Studies in Austria. However, Jimma University has grossly failed to discharge its obligations from the moment I set foot in Europe, as it refused to pay out my salary to my family, albeit, I on my part, have discharged my duties. I have returned everything that belongs to the University and have also submitted student grades. The Academic Vice President of Jimma University, however, refused to sign on my clearance sheets, though all the rest officials of the University have signed on them on the alleged ground that there are complaints as regards the grades he submitted by few Law III students. This all happens after I left home and on different occasions I received an e-mail from the then Vice Dean and Dean of the Faculty requesting me to send them the student papers on which I cannot lay hand, as I was already in Europe. I directed them to where they may find exam papers at my home in Addis Ababa. The papers could not be found as my family had already moved from Jimma to Addis Ababa following my departure. I was not given a chance to check my roaster and correct mistakes, if any, unlike the tradition. They did not send me a list of students whose grades have not been reported or whatever their case may be.

In the mean time, my wife went to Jimma to demand payment of my salary to her. The Academic Vice President did not only tell her that she is not going to get any salary, but also that he is going to get cancelled my scholarship. Having exhausted the University administrative hierarchy, my wife filed her complaint with the Ethiopian Institution of Ombudsman, since Jimma University failed to pay her my salary for no reason without any administrative or judicial decision for about five months. Although the University was demanded by telephone to submit a formal explanation, or decision, as to why it withheld my salary, it did not do so. In the mean time, the University Administration , particularly its Academic Vice President indulged himself in the act of intimidating the Faculty Dean and other instructors to make them pass a decision against me and my scholarship. As he more often than not encountered strong resistance and criticism from the Faculty, he resorted to the wanton use of his authority to blackmail the Dean, Barrister Shipi M. Gowok. He asked him to fire me in absentia and cancel my scholarship if he wants to have letters of support to be written for his planned official travel to the USA, for the Jessup Moot Court Competition and to the University of Pretoria. Consequently, the Dean submitted his letter of resignation to the University President and left Ethiopia for good. The Vice President found it easier to dictate his whims to the newly-appointed all-too-young and naive Dean and his newly constituted members of the Academic Commission. In the mean time, the Ethiopian Institution of Ombudsman sent to the University Administration a formal letter demanding any decision on my case within fifteen days, as I also made an online complaint using the website of the Institution. Although, it has already been more than 8 months since my salary has been withheld by JU without any administrative and judicial decision , the University Administration finally sent its decision on my case to the Ethiopian Institution of Ombudsman. As I was told by my wife, the University has decided to dismiss me from my job and has also written a letter to the Ministry of Education requesting it to deny me any future teaching opportunities at any Ethiopian institution of higher learning.

Although the Ethiopian Institution of Ombudsman sent me an e-mail acknowledging receipt of my wife's complaint, it has refused to forward a copy of the decision to me nor to my wife.

In order to grasp the crux of the matter, it is important to look at what The government owned Ethiopian Airlines did to me. Before, I left home, Ethiopian Airlines refused to take me on board after I went through all the check-in process on the alleged ground that I need to have a transit visa to enter Germany, though the Austrian and German embassies in Addis Ababa confirmed to me that the visa issued to me by the Austrian embassy is a valid visa (Schengen Type D) and I need not any transit visa. Even if I talked to the flight supervisors, they insisted on my getting another visa to Germany. The German embassy refused frequently to grant me a transit visa saying that the type of visa I already have is sufficient to warrant me entry into Germany. Finally, after they received a support letter from my Austrian school and after I explained my situation the embassy granted me the transit visa. Even after I went to Ethiopian Airlines after both visas I had to pass through harassment before I flew. As you may know, the Airlines is owned and operated by the Ethiopian government. When I wonder why this all is happening to me, it is because, as was surmised to me by a few well-intentioned staff members of the Airlines and other friends of mine, it is because of my critical attitude towards the government and more particularly because of the interview that The Reporter, an Amharic Weekly, made with me a few weeks prior to my flight. The Interview was taken as seditious and inciting the Army to topple the government down by force. The decision is nothing but an attempt to silence political dissidence as well as an outrageous violation of academic freedom pure and simple.

Please find attached herewith (1) a support letter written for me by the Academic Vice President before the Reporter Interview, (2) the contract I have concluded with Jimma University obliging me to serve the University for two more years upon completion of my graduate studies or to repay the costs in full, (3) The Reporter Interview with me.


Alemayehu Fentaw

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