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Report from Ethiopia 2018

The Africa Study Visit (ASV) is an MA module which takes students to an African country once a year. Recent visits have been to Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Ghana. It is an almost unique opportunity to study and apply learning of politics, security and development on the ground. It is, in addition, guided fieldwork and begins to bridge the difficult gap between MA studies and either PhD or work-related research.

As can be seen below from two of the students who went on the February 2018 ASV to Ethiopia, we had quite a remarkable trip and witnessed what may turn out to be highly momentous events in the history of Ethiopia. I shall leave our students, Lydia Kröger and Cinthia Gonçalez da Silva, to explain.

Dr David Harris, ASV Module Leader


Africa Study Visit to Ethiopia by Lydia Kröger, Rotary Peace Fellow

We spent two weeks in this fascinating country. Seven other students from around the world but all from the Peace and International Development Studies Department of the University of Bradford, two academic and logistic organizers and myself traveled to Ethiopia as part of the module “African Study Visit”. Fourteen days, mostly spent in the East African country’s capital Addis Ababa, a relaxed and green metropolis of 4 million, and the southern city of Hawassa, were dominated by studying the country’s politics, security and development in depth. We had between two and four meetings per day, with government officials such as the Minister of Higher Education and from the Anti-Corruption and Ethics Commission and the Electoral Board, with international organizations and agencies such as UNDP, UNECA, DFID and the EU, with developmental organs such as the Ethiopian Investment Commission or Africa’s largest industrial park, and with civil society and opposition representatives.

Lots of people posing for photo from africa visit
Selfie of africa visit team

Ethiopia leaves me fascinated by its history and politics that seem so unique in a continent dominated by colonial legacies, bad leadership and a vicious cycle of population growth and underdevelopment. Ethiopia was never colonized, its emperor Haile Selassie successfully managed to keep the Italians out and laid the foundations for what would later be considered one of Africa’s stronger states. Today, Ethiopia is ruled by the EPRDF, a coalition party representing several of the country’s more than 80 ethnic groups which has made strong efforts to lift Ethiopia out of poverty. I can see it – in the uncountable construction sites in Addis, in the quality of the roads both in and outside the capital, in the number of children enrolled in schools or the number of universities which has risen up to 45 in the last 15 years.

“This government has a clear vision for development” is what we keep hearing in our meetings. And international agencies like that. So much that they support the government with about 3.5 billion USD in aid every year. And accept to obey the rules the Ethiopian regime lays out – not the other way around as it normally functions with international aid. The stability of the Horn’s most important player, migration (especially from Eritrea and Somalia), and the threat that the terrorist group Al Shabaab means to Europe and the US, as well as the perceived strength of the EPRDF government, enable these upside-down power relations. But how strong is this government really? Seven days after we arrived in Addis, Ethiopia’s prime minister resigned and the following day a State of Emergency was declared. So, all is not well in Ethiopia?

The incumbent government, the EPRDF, has erected an almost authoritarian regime which won 100% of parliament seats in the last elections, which allows for no political dissent, which imprisons journalists, human rights defenders and the opposition and which forcefully displaces hundreds of thousands of the country’s large pastoralist community to sell their cattle’s grazing lands to multi-national corporations. The development the government uses to legitimize its authoritarian rule hasn’t caught up with the 100 million people, many of whom are young and unemployed. It will be interesting to see how the EPRDF will try to tackle the country’s many issues and who will take over the position of the prime minister next. I am going back to England full of new impressions and experiences which I will incorporate into the module’s assignment. Mine will be about development and democracy in Ethiopia.


Living History - From Brazil to Ethiopia, by Cinthia Gonçalez da Silva, Rotary Peace Fellow

This February, I had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia as a student enrolled in the Africa Study Visit module, which is part of my master's program at the University of Bradford. Accompanied by seven other students, I stayed in Addis Ababa for two weeks, leaving only the weekend for a visit to the city of Hawassa. 

The organization of the trip was under the responsibility of Dr David Harris and Dr Sarah Njeri, and included pre-departure academic preparation, as well as an agenda of visits to government offices, NGOs, CSOs, international organizations, and the Hawassa Industrial Park. As the students enrolled had different interests in that country (e.g. security, development, politics, gender, etc.), the program was able to accommodate a very diverse range of activities, from meetings with the European Union and the United Nations Development Program, to talks with local organizations and representatives of the political opposition in the country.

However, the highlight moment of the trip, for me, was undoubtedly the opportunity to live a historic moment in Ethiopia: on February 15, while we were meeting at the headquarters of a local non-governmental organization engaged in security matters, we learned of the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn…

The episode, according to local and international press, resulted both from a number of popular demonstrations and a process of democratic opening (previously planned by the EPRDF, whose leadership has been in crisis since the death of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi). It was the first time in Ethiopia's history that a Prime Minister resigned. Unfortunately, we would not be in the country long enough to follow the subsequent chapters of this event, except for the first days of a State of Emergency (the second in less than two years in Ethiopia) decreed for six months – according to the government, to guarantee a non-violent succession. 

As a student of Political Violence and Terrorism, and a professional in ​​public security (I am a civil policewoman in Brazil), it was a golden opportunity to be able to observe closely the paradoxes lived by this country in comparison to my homeland. Despite being an admittedly poor country, with questionable democratic openness and a history of internal and international conflicts that persist in time, police continued to patrol the streets of Addis Ababa unarmed in the State of Emergency. Only public buildings were heavily protected. Meanwhile, I was precariously using my telephone connected to Ethiopia's monopolized state internet service (between one blackout and another, daily), and I read that Brazil decreed, for the first time after its democratic opening, a Federal Intervention (why not say, “military intervention”?) in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

As we have heard from some interviewees, Ethiopia could be considered a “police state”, "semi-authoritarian" in the general classification, with a history of violence. Even in the current government, problems with political opposition are often confused with "terrorist acts" due to intentionally broad legislation, not to mention the conflicts in almost every country with which it borders (with threats such as Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda knocking at the gates)... all this makes Ethiopia a peculiar state in security matters, and the establishment of a State of Emergency is not something unthinkable in this context. In fact, the issue of stability in this country must be recognized (and studied) internationally.

May we be strong, in both cases, so that peace prevails.