by Worku Berihu
I’m initiated to raise the question after receiving an email message, which complains the appointment criterion of Bahir Dar University in key management positions. The email sender (alligator) complained that current President of Bahir Dar University and its Academic Vice President have been appointed just being members of the Awe/Awi ethnic group regardless of their qualifications. The sender also denounced the recent placement of Deputy Managing Director at Poly claiming the same criterion. The alligator disclosed his/her intention to collect a petition to the office of Prime Minister in protest. The forwarded mail message was sent in bulk for more than a 17 address list. The original message was sent in the name of Amele Abebe; I have got it forwarded by a third person. The full message is enclosed at the end of this article. Before composing this document in the response, I tried to make an inquiry to check the people in the list had actually received the mail. The answer is relatively yes, four people in address list I contacted confirmed the receipt of the message and forwarded to their respective contacts. One of them agreed with the alligator’s accusation and said, “they are hidden Agaws ripping in the name another ethnic” yet, another person acted contrarily by saying “it is fabrication or sickness” and the two others declined to comment.
The present article is in the response to the allegation. It is my personal comments based on available information. I will discuss the backgrounds of appointees, the sender’s possible reasons for characterization of the appointees as Agaws, Poly-Peda relationships, appointees’ qualification and their eligibility to the posts. Since their names are indicated in the alligator’s email message, I will not refer to their names again, but the posts of the appointment will be mentioned in reference to the respective appointees. Please find the email statement from the bottom page before reading this article.
Regional Social History and Appointees Ethnic Backgrounds: Facts versus Beliefs
The current President of the university is from East Gojjam, the north east of Debre Markos City and the Academic Vice President is from Marawi, Mecha, 30 Km away from Bahir Dar City to the west. The said Deputy Managing Director is from the semi-island Zege town, one of satellites of Bahir Dar, somewhat 7 Km to the north. Officially delineated the Awi area is 75 Km away from Bahir Dar to the south, immediate adjacent to Achefer Woreda. The Awi is one of Agaw ethnic groups. Up to date, officially designated the Agaw homeland under FDRE is Awi and Wag in the south and north respectively. North Gondar, Wogera to Qora-Alefa is contested by Kemants, another Agaw group, yet the Agaw people of Lasta Lalibela are still behind a barrier notwithstanding their decades of desire for interaction with their fellows.
The important question, what is reason to characterize the appointees as Awis/Agaws, rather than Amharas in line with the existing political arrangement? This question cannot be answered in certainty, nevertheless addressed in probabilistic scenarios. Thus, it can be assumable that the mail author might read literatures of Prof. Lapis, Prof. Mesifn, Prof. Muse, the one who renamed Gojjam to Felege Ghion and recently Fayyis Oromia’s publication, entitled In Abyssinization Process of Ethiopia Agaw-Midir Was Victimized Worse than Biyya Oromo, published on more than five websites following its first publication on (ayyaatuu.com).
On the basis of these literatures, I will discuss briefly some of arguments to examine bridging factors of the original identity of the appointees and the email author’s description. One year ago, Prof Lapiso disclosed the presence of 23 million Agaws in Ethiopia. Fayyis pointed out that the Abyssinians are in reality Cushetics (Oromos, Agaws & others) who denied or lost their Cushitic origin. According to Muse, the account, “Amare” is descriptive definition for acceptance of Christianity. Its literal meaning is the one who knows Christ. Muse’s definition is in coherence with Mesfin’s notion. Muslim community too use expression, Amare in synonymous to this context, apart from some politicians. In other words, the definition Amare (Amhara) is indicative to the religious faith rather than ethnicity. Cushits, especially Agaws converted to Christianity after long resistance labeled as Amare to bind with the new faith. As the same time, distortion of a history had to take place at every level to fit in the new account. The process is long and brutal, which continued for centuries. Many historians view Orthodox Christianity as open campaign against Agaw culture, language and identity, eventually successful, in exceptions of isolated areas. The crusade was widespread from north to south. In the 17th century, the influence of the new religion was notable in outer southern area, including remote locations such as Sekela and Bure. The habitants of these are actually Awi groups apart from Oromos and Gumuzes in southern (Kuch district), but lost the original dialect over time; their skin complexion, denomination and cultural practice bear typical belongingness to the same group (early literature is available on the issue), but today the community is believed to be live in the state of negation or lack of awareness. The name Sekela capita, Gish Abay in Agaw language is indicative to the backgrounds of the stated reality. Gish means in Agaw language dig out. According to legend and written Act, the phrase was introduced by St. Zeraburku, a prominent spiritual figure. Zeraburuk who was in the area for his religious duty was in row with Alemseged Eyasu, the feudal ruler of Gondar by rejecting the chief’s version of religion. Subsequently, the intolerant chief had to put him in jail. When Zeraburuk learned his imminent imprisonment, he concealed his books burying in the stream of Gish Abay (source of Blue Nile). Later, upon his release from a half decade of detention, Zeraburuk, ordered the stream to give him back his booklets saying “Gish Abay” (dig it out). According to the story, the books pulled out even without getting wetted and he collected his belongings. The act was considered as St. Zeraburuk’s amazing miraculous to prove his “holiness”. Some people say Zeraburuk was nickname given by his spiritual teacher and Zeraburuk was born in Mecha, vicinity of Bahir Dar. His mother tongue was presumably Agaw dialect, which was likely the communication language of the whole Mecha prior to Amharaziation. The name Mecha bears Agaw meaning, which described as multiple. Before, 1945 E.C, the southern shore of Lake Tana, including Mecha and its environs was part of Agaw-Midir Administrative District, and inhabitants were known as Agaws/Awis. In 1945 (e.c.), Emperor Hailesilassie, created Bahir Dar Administrative District, as a separate administrative entity.
From historical prospective, another Agaw area that relevant to the present discussion is Agaw-Gaffat homelands, South Gondar through East Gojjam. The present people of south eastern Gondar, part of South Wollo, East Gojjam and Hiland Damot, originally known as Agaw-Gaffats. The Gaffat people were creative and well known with variant handcraft skills, such as manual metal casting and leather works that could contribute to cottage industrial development in the country. In spite of their valuable capacity and contributions, their hand works were despised by ruling elites of ”Solomonic Dynasty”. Subsequently, the population was vulnerable to stigma, like intermarriage restriction, ineligibility to land ownership, government posts and subjection to verbal abuse. The Amharic words, qetiqach, faki and debenansa, are insult expressions as defined by the elites. The elite class was small, nevertheless it had influence because its ability to portrait itself with divine power. Stigma eventually, not only diminished the advancement of handcrafts, but also led to loss of culture language and caused bogus identity reconstruction, in order to disassociate from stigmatized social class, majority in number. Stigma was not limited in restriction of physical work, a majority of people who spoke non-state language, Gaffatgna generalized as the handcraft social class. As a result, people declined speaking their original language to avoid stigma and eventually led to entire language extinction.
The testimony of an elderly man, the grandfather of Mr. Tebiqew Bale, the owner of Papyrus Hotel groups confirmed the stated reality. Tebiqew passed away in 2010 at his 50s. His grandfather, Mr. Fekadu from East Este, South Gondar was likely the last human being to use Gaffat language. His uniqueness was discovered by Cooperative Development Campaign members in 1976 who were assigned in the area. The campaigners who identified the elderly man passed the information on to Derg officials who oversaw the whole process. It was reported that a Derg official traveled to East Este to get the first hand evidence. The Derg official supposedly posed the question to the elderly man to know whereabouts of other speakers of the language. The elderly man told the official he was only person alive who could speak this language. Morever, he stated that the language disappeared because of the people’s hesitation to use language due to associated stigma (ejiseri). He reportedly confirmed it was the original language of South Gondar, parts of South Wollo, East Gojjam and Higland Damot (Dega Damot). The testimony seems in coherence with James Bruce who noticed use of the Agaw dialect in East Gojjam in the early 17 70s. Mr. Fekadu added his children could understand the language, but didn’t speak. His children strongly advised him not talk Gaffat language, very close to Agawgna. However, he decided to use the language till the end of his life. The detail of the story is reportedly found in the national museum.
In 2004, I also met a man with knowledgeable social history about East Gojjam and we had a random dialogue as illustrated below. During my visit Bahir Dar (I think) on the 21st of March afternoon I was heading for downtown from Felege Hiot Hospital with friend of mine Ato Fentahun Kebede for an appointment. As we arrived in the front of Tewodros Stadio, Fentahun insisted on stopping by a tejji house, upper class drink in this part of the country. Just I said okay in contrary to my internal will which was in hurry. We turned to the right on the next immediate block and entered into the liquor house with white paint and surrounded by garden trees. There were some people tejji customers among them one tall man, handsome, with brown light skin whom stood up and greeted us with warm smile. He introduced his name as Worku Mersha. Then, we exchanged handshake before taking seat. In fact he appeared the close friend of Fentahun they started conversation. In the mean time, he was glancing at me; I did the same because his facial seemed familiar to me. Then, Worku and me entered into the following conversation in Amharic:
Me: Did I know you? Your facial seems familiar
Worku Mersha: You might know me. My early career was schooling, then, I served in management positions of education administrative districts. I worked as a district supervisor in different areas in Gojjam, however, my longest service is noticeable in Metekel District almost for two decays, initially as Supervisor, later as District Executive Manager, from Haile Silassie through Derg. Now I’m the retired man, sort of idle (he flashed his snow looking teeth in smile).
Me: How older you
Worku Mersha: Well, I’m getting older
Me: I don’t see gray hair, your physical looks 50s. Anyway, did you try to private jobs, with your rich experiences I believe you can be an asset to them.
Worku Mersha: I didn’t that one; I favor writing, but it is hard to find a publisher, which publishes on its own expense.
Me: Do you mean you have something to publish?
Worku Mersha: Yes, I have research manuscript conducted on the people of East Gojjam to assess its Agaw roots.
Me: Are you promoting ethnic politics; what initiate you to conduct this research?
Worku Mersha: No, no, nothing to do the ethnic politics, search for truth is basic humanity; this is what I’m doing. What happened is when I was working in Metekel I learned to some extent Agaw language. After familiarity with the language I noticed a number of places designated in the Agaw language, East Gojjam, especially in Mota and Bichana areas. This is something, which inspired me for the study.
Me: What do you say about your finding?
Worku Mersha: My finding indicates beyond doubt, the people of East Gojjam are originally Agaws.
Me: Sometime, I would like to read your finding, now I get to go good luck.
Regardless of Worku Mersha’s attachment to East Gojjam, he is native of Daga Damot (Hiland Damot). I asked Fentahun if he knew anything about the said manuscript, he said, yes, he was supposedly working on the matter since 80s. After the above conversation, I have never contacted or met Mr. Worku Mersha again. In other words, I didn’t make any effort actually to read his manuscript. Only, I noticed about his work when I was composing this document. I tried to reach him, but unfortunately I was told that he passed away before 4-years.
Although the need for further study is unquestionable, on the basis of the existing viable indicators, including conditions discussed above, it is safe to conclude the inhabitants of listed areas were original Agaws (Agaw-Gaffats). The people of these areas have little knowledge about their roots. In some localities, definition of Gaffat is currently used for identification of place, or particularly to those ejiseries for the same reason rather than the name of the whole population. This narrow definition is misleading, antagonistic to the reality, which attempts to conceal inclusiveness of the Gaffat meaning to the whole population of the regions.
The review of social historical backgrounds is important to assess linkage between the alligator’s identity description and factual natural identity of the respective appointees. These areas discussed above are homelands of the appointees and the inhabitants are originally Agaws. On the basis of assumption that the appointees are the original natives of these regions, there is undeniable substantiality from the email author’s point of characterization, the appointees’ physical identity of Agawness. It is justifiable to generalize that alligator’s description is within reality regard to the original identity issue. Thus on the basis of the arguments, the appointees can be further linked to a specific category within Agaw linage according to their social biological proximity. Accordingly, the appointees of Vice President & Managing Director within the Awi group, whereas the appointee of President is affiliated to Agaw-Gaffats, rather than Awis as claimed by the email author. Thanks to new technology, identity generalization in this regard is verifiable via DNA tests.
The worst human crisis one can commit is fear of his actual self; mask his true identity with something else and then act hypocritically and reactively. The current definition of identity in this document may be contrary to the appointees’ respective personal profiles, beliefs, self-concepts, versions of their identity definitions. It is opportunity only for those with power of curiosity as the case of philosopher Erikson who was able to discover his real identity at his middle age after years of wrapping with an artificial mask, otherwise it can be source of psychological discrepancy and denial.
Nevertheless, beliefs and facts are not necessarily identical phenomena; they may exist in state of incoherence at the same time and space. Indeed, their relation can be in disparity, as a belief fails alter or change facts, unlike the other way around. We humans believed for centuries, the rotation of the sun around the earth and flatness of the planet. Our belief has never changed the shape of the earth. As scientific knowledge has grown, the hemisphere of the earth has been proven. We believed for centuries, Minilk-I brought the Ark of Covenant to Ethiopia, but Graham Hancock’s 10-years research has disproven its validity; our centuries of belief never changed the reality. Let me add another illustration, in 2009, I read a statement from ethioforum.org, regard to Lidatu Ayalew, as he demonstrated political wrestling in the post Ethiopian Election 2005 circumstance, which reads, like this, “Agew libu zetgn sementun debeko andun achawetegn.” Allow me to interpret literally this stereotypical expression, established belief, which has no power on the actual organ of the individual. Mr. Lidatu has a single heart as any of human beings, in reality his heart will not be split into nine as the result of perception. I think the belief is cognitive thought existing incoherence with the physical reality in this specific context. The point is belief has no power to change independent facts that exist beyond influence of our emotion and we must be open-minded to interact with such phenomena.
Possibly Real Factors for Appointment
As illustrated above, the social historical analysis of the region and the appointees backgrounds have already answered hypothetically/actually one important question, whether the appointees are Agaws or not. In that aspect, the email author’s definition, the appointees Agawness is relatively within tolerable reality. In the discussion below, we will assess the appointees’ personal merits and experiences that qualify them in the present position contrary to the alligator’s claim, the placement criterion is Agawness. Based on information available from anonymous sources, I will discuss also the university’ diverse condition and new training direction, which likely made them best candidate for the posts.
Establishment of Bahir Dar University was realized on unification of two independent institutes, Teacher Training College of Peda and Polytechnic of Poly. The two colleges merged in 1999 as a single university, symbolically nevertheless practically. As real move was made in 2005, to bring about into effect already declared merge; yet it fueled resistance from Poly faculties, who feared the loss of administrative autonomy for Peda. Interestingly, Peda’s attitude for merge was contrary to Poly’s community. In order to break down the Poly’s stiff resistance, the Peda created front with Amhara Regional Education Bureau and some officials of Ministry of Education. Eventually, the merge came into actual effect and the university management was taken over by politicians from Education Bureau assignees in collaboration with some Peda staff. As confrontation continued Poly lost its senior faculties, including Dr. Tafese W. Senbat, Dr. Semi Tolla of Mechanical and Dr. Mesfin Belachew, currently Deputy Commissioner of national IT.
In 2008, some of Education Bureau officials, known as Yosef’s cliques, returned to their base or relinquished power due to growing resistance from both campuses and alleged corruption. However, the top management position remained in the hands of Peda regardless of their competency probably due to their proximity to politics. The Poly continued its dissatisfaction with the university administrative apparatus, claiming governing “deficiencies” and biases as listed below:
1) Lack of administrative autonomy
2) Lack of proper representation at the university top management and Senate in proportionate to budget of the engineering faculty, as allocated by the federal government.
3) Inaccessibility to resources, such as automobile services purchased in the faculty budget; staff members appear to be critical on inaccessibility to automobile services for mentor, student internship supervision in industries
4) Poor quality material purchase and extra delay in a purchasing process
5) Lack of transparency, bureaucracy, administrative deficiency and militancy conduct contrary to academic personality
6) Inconsistency of legislation with the engineering reform programs
While confrontation was intact, the engineering reform program started by Ministry of Capacity in collaboration with German experts. The program was orchestrated by Mr. Tefera Walwa, Minister then, who perhaps pushed hard for the engineering reform. The program won the support of Poly Academic staff in a short period of time in contrast to the university management position, which was pushing the alternative program, BPR. In summer of 2009, the process was about to begin. Consequently, German Prof. Gerald Higelin whom offered the position of Scientific Director traveled to the university to present his strategic plan. The university management, which was not enthusiastic to the engineering reform program, expressed open opposition in the same session. Hypocritically, the management team stated its favor of BPR not the engineering program, which grants significant autonomy for Poly. Whereas, the regional government favored the engineering reform and pledged its continuous support. The university’s top management militancy behavior eventually angered the Poly staff whom eager to practicality of the reform and acquisition of a new status, IOT/IOTEX for their Engineering Faculty. The move further jeopardized the volatile situation and Poly staff collected a petition against the university management in the same summer, according to my source. At this point, the Minister of Education and the University Board had to make choices between two conflicting interests, progressive versus intransigent. Consequently, the concerned body supposedly in a tough position either to scrape planned IOT/IOTEX at the Poly losing the privilege of the new status or go ahead with the program. After bit of hesitation, at the end of the year, the program came into effect officially with revised curriculum under the German Scientific Director.
Then, it is necessary to set up a new university management team that possibly committed to the new training direction, engineering reform program. It is also imperative to not include the elements of the previous ineffective management team, called old guard in key management posts. The newly, top management team members relatively meet the outlined justification. These situations are in favor of them, for better candidacy for the vacancies in addition to personal merits and professional qualifications. Their merits and experiences are also in better standing in comparison to their competitors. Let me briefly summarize their personal experiences obtained from different sources:
The Appointee of President: He is scientist in Physics, running research and PhD program; served as head of graduate program at the university, worked as Academic & Research Vice President for a brief period before his placement in the presidential position; his personal merit includes openness and positive thinking; he is presumably the first President to occupy the position without membership in the ruling party.
The appointee of Academic Vice President: Socially active, reform minded; worked as head of the university’s research coordinator; for his faculty, Environmental Science & Agriculture, he developed the Program called Land Management, in which currently operational; positive thinker and assertive; except there was some critics for his activism as a BPR committee chief.
The appointee of Deputy Managing Director: Since he joined the university/Engineering Faculty, currently IOT, he served as Income Generation Coordinator; then Technology Transfer Officer before his placement in the present post; highly motivated and energetic to execute his duty.
As stated above, the appointees believed to be assigned in the respective posts on the basis of personal competency, skills and experiences, not on the criterion of Awi identity as the alligator put it. If the alligator claim was true, he/she could provide hard evidence and challenge if any discrimination was incurred. Another point that needs to be underlined is their being Agaw would not disqualify them from candidacy for the posts on the competitive basis.
The respective reader may want to know any progress at the university following their appointment. Since they are in their respective posts for a year or less, it is premature to judge any progress. Ongoing efforts appeared to be promising; more attention looks paid to the engineering reform program. A structure designed to upgrade IOT/IOTEX administrative autonomy said be submitted to Supervisory Board, which oversees, both IOT/IOTEX, but without outcome up to date. An official administrative structure is presumably vital for sustainability of the engineering program quantitatively and qualitatively. IOTs of Mekele and Addis Ababa, which replicated the program from Bahi Dar reportedly in better positions as a result of granted full autonomy for decision and execution. It is hard to tell German IOT/IOTEX Scientific Directors and Managing Director have required competency for their posts or not because of absence of the official administrative structure with accountability. In most cases the directors said to be systematically discriminated conducting university wide meetings in the local language despite, English is the working language and excluded from vital decision making processes. If IOT/IOTEX programs to be sustained effectively and to achieve desired outcomes, the Supervisory Board must be reformed radically; it was reported that most of current Supervisory Board members and University Board members lack basic technical knowledge for revision and decision on the engineering program.
The immediate, imminent challenge to the IOT/IOTEX campus is sanitation. My source reported that wastes generated from latrines and food houses, food leftover hazards are at a critical stage. The existing safety thanks, sewer system are bottlenecked, too full, bursting and flowing into open fields. The north of the campus is full of stench smell. It requires urgent measure before break up of devastating epidemics on the campus. Some faculties have solutions to the problem. They say there is a prepared project to process the waste for fuel distillation eventually to replace firewood with it. It only requires some budget allocation and some sort of agreement with the project authors and executors. They concluded the waste material is the economic opportunity rather health threat if handled properly.
The allegation that the appointment criterion at Bahir Dar University is based on Agaw, Awi identity is out the reality, it is sort of naive fantasy otherwise perhaps character assassination to create mistrust among staff members, or premediated action to use as pretext to legitimize discrimination in the university system. The appointees are biologically or/and historical Awis/Agaws is not far from the reality in the context of the above discussion. However, their ethnic identity has nothing to do with the appointment qualification. The appointment of the President, Academic Vice President and Deputy Managing Director is based on qualification and personal merits. The alligator’s statement is most likely driven from desperate power needs in the university and frustration. The appointees are doing their best for the interests of the university. However, expected change in the IOT/IOT-TEX cannot be sustained without the reforming Supervisory Board, which is run by the majority of the old guards whom allergic to good governance and science and engineering domination. The same reform is desperately need for the university Board and Senate otherwise it is wastage of funds for nothing; appointing Germans in the positions of Scientific Directors and Managing Director will not guarantee even minimum success without important reform in the university higher apparatus.
The following is the mail message solicited by the alligator:
TO: You + 16 More17 recipients
CC: recipientsYou More
FROM: Amele Abebe
Monday, October 17, 2011 1:17 AM
I read the strategic plan of our university .I have a question I think the plan is prepared to trick us. How come a university organized in ethnic group mention Equality and Promote diversity as core values?
Allow me to give you amusing example , we did a lot for the success of the university some of us gave entire life for the university , but the prize is place people from the very small Awe ethnic group where the president and his vice belongs to in office whatever their experience and educational level fit for the position or not
Count people from this group and see how much of them have office in all departments, sections of Peda, Agriculture faculty and recently engineering faculty . Forgive me those superb people from Agriculture College even though you belong to Awe group you are persuasive enough to be a leader and proud resources of our university .But the reason that displace you from your previous work place is happen here so you must lead this movement.
For instance: Ask your friends about the Performance, service year and educational level of Frew of Agriculture (VP,BDU ,the malevolence & opportunistic-Even Dr.Baylie [President] take care of this man ) & Belayneh Tefera of poly (Administrative director of the Engineering faculty, I learn from poly staff that he is very funny puppet of Frew ). The only reason that bring this chaps to position is because they are Agew`s . Dr.Bayle the current status of our university is because of this impotent people, I know you were not such narrow minded man please come to your natural thinking and return BDU specially poly to its previous standard. Rememeber what happened to you during the Frew era that abuse BPR when he collect enough money and discourage those innocent people from peda & poly ( the current directors are come to the position because the true potent guys were disappointed by the way frew use that opportunity to attack the true revolutionaries of this country and government)
Does the strategic plan target the augmentation of the university or build the little empire in a way no one expose their unlawful activities such as corruption? Let `s stands to expose this crime and bring our adored university to its former reputation
We will rotate a petition to be signed by all staff and send to H.E Prime Minster Meles Zenawi as the region and board members are all organized in such destructive way ……How educated people organized such narrowly?
Nothing is crime than assigning impotent people like Frew and Belayneh to lead us ( No one know who lead the house of Belayneh forget about leading poly…. Just ask people and you will hear terrible comments about his management history & performance)
We hope rationale colleagues from Awe ethnic group will join us,
The purpose is fighting injustice, discrimination, corruption and building empire to execute a hidden agenda not to spread hostility.
God Bless You All