Letter from Ethiopia - March 17, 2003

Tizibt Mezgebu

Dear Readers:

With the onset of the 50 days of fasting of the Ethiopian Orthodox church just a week or so ago, our life here in Addis Ababa and elsewhere in the country seem to be cruising on a slow-motion filled with the long days of Megabit. We celebrate the birth of new lives as we, at the same time, mourn losses - untimely ones as well as those of old ripe ages. With lots of help from the outside world, we also seem to be doing just OK with regard to the famine situation.  Perhaps, it looks like our prayers are answered even before we have completed 1/5th of the fasting season. Too early to say that we are out of the woods yet until the rains come, but nonetheless we are comforted to see even small improvements. 

About two weeks ago, I was traveling to Debre Zeit on a work related trip and I happened to sit next to an older gentleman who is teaching at a college in Debre Zeit. While I consider only a trip to Nazret and further to places like Assela and Shashemene as a real trip away from the hassle bustle of Addis Ababa, the trip to Debre Zeit - if taken by a bus - could serve the same purpose. On this particular morning, the weather was almost perfect with some overcast skies and less dust in the air reminding one how Addis Ababa looked like long time ago. At any rate, when I returned home to Addis Ababa from my trip the same day, I thought the conversation I had with this gentleman could serve as inspiration for my today's letter. The gentleman who introduced himself was actually from abroad on a contract and told me that he teaches at a college called "Defense University" in Debre Zeit. Even though I hadn't heard about the college before, it was very fascinating to hear from the gentleman that the country had such an institution that seemed to have all the equipment and instructors needed to train people in modern military and civilian technology. I was actually almost convinced that very few people, especially in Addis Ababa, knew about this university. With colleges that go by names like Beza, Africa, Royal, Microlink, HilCoe, Unity, United, Eden, etc opening up everyday in Addis, I had given up keeping counts long time ago. It was only when my husband commented - later that evening- that 'Defense University' is not News adding that it is much like the "Civil Service" College of EPRDF that I was able to realize why the old expatriate had commented that almost all instructors at that university were foreigners. 

The fact that each incoming regime in Ethiopia trains its own people/cadres in its own institution is not new and EPRDF will not be the last one to do so. One just needs to be reminded of "Yekatit 66" political school of Colonel Mengistu. What was interesting to me then and now as well is not the fact that such institutions exist but that each incoming government treats them as 'ye-silet lij' while treating the Addis Ababa University and other institutions with scorn and neglect. I assume you, my readers, know what had happened at the university only 3-4 months ago when Ato Tefera Walwa forced the resignation of the previous administrators. Not even a semester has passed since then, and almost on a continuous basis we hear rumors of some of the remaining well-qualified professors contemplating to leave the university for better opportunities and respect outside the country. This is where I take an issue with EPRDF putting all its resources and blessing to its 'silet lijoch' the 'civil service' college where it trains its cadres that rule over its 'Bantu' kilils and the 'Defense University'. When do leaders realize that not everything that the preceding government built is bad and has to be dismantled? The university is still leaking its wounds and like a cat with nine souls is still functioning. In many ways, it is like the country itself - a survivor!

So, apart from this what else is worrying us and demanding our attention? From what we see on the TV, it looks like Badme - that barren land....the land that took the lives of 80,000 of our people from both sides only 3 years ago - may be keeping Mr. Meles awake at night. When the Commission's report came, Ato Mesfin the foreign minister had told us that we had won Badme. But now it looks like when the people with the stakes and pegs come down to Irob, Badme may be left on the other side or may be split. Mr. Meles may care less where Badme is or will be but the wrath of his own Tigrean party may be upon him once again and he is busy trying to postpone judgment day as far as he can.  For us in Addis, the date that we look forward to as of know is Fasika - a real Fasika where most people will have enough food to celebrate the end of 50 days of fasting! It has been only 10 days so far!!


Beselam qoyu.

Tizibt Mezgebu (Saris, Addis Ababa)

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