March 04, 2008

Student Movement: the Vanguard for Democracy in Ethiopia (By Hadaro Arele)

Student Movement: the Vanguard for Democracy in Ethiopia

By Hadaro Arele

February 2008

Student activism is a worldwide phenomenon. Students make up one of the most progressive and dynamic forces of society. Students have continuously played the catalytic role for social transformation and progress throughout the world. They have been indispensable and at the forefront in addressing global peace, liberty, equality and freedom at different periods in recent years. Almost in every country, students have fought against exploitation, racial discrimination, repression, dehumanization, fascism, colonialism and xenophobia.

The current student activism in Ethiopia is the continuation of the student movement of the 1960s. Unlike the older students, who used Marxism as a political philosophy, the new generation of students seem to use Liberal philosophy thereby amplifying their participation in the unfinished project for freedom and democracy. Their demands are for democracy and human rights. They rail against the rampant arbitrary arrests, detentions, tortures and killings committed against the people by the minority-led regime.

Unlike the student movements in the 1960s, the current movement is better in galvanizing the youth and other segments of the society to rise against the suppressive Woyyane regime. Such mobilization of student, however, is not achieved without heavy sacrifices. The regime committed many untold crimes against activists as well as innocents in the general student body. The storming of university campuses, collages and high schools in Ethiopia over the past 17 years is quite similar to the crushing of the University of Prague by Nazi Germany in 1938 -- in what was then Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). The difference was that the Ethiopian government alleged that oppositions groups committed the menace, while the Germans used nobody as scapegoat. Civil society and community leaders testified for years that the oppositions groups’ involvements in such activities are non-existent. The government only uses oppositions as a pretext to detain its critics and intimidate the public into silence.

Despite the hefty price paid by few university students for a number of years, the student movement has achieved something much more significant in recent years. The student movements have mobilized the youth in the county, which have previously been relatively apathetic towards demanding their rights. Although university and college students, especially Oromo students, are at the forefront of the struggle, high school students in Oromia have taken to the streets in support of university students. However, compared to the natural solidarity of students in other parts of the world, it is vexing to find Ethiopian students not in sympathy towards their fellow Oromo students during their demand for democratic rights. Oromo students, among other things, opposed the suppression and subjugation of peasants and the mass and arbitrary arrests, killings, torture and disappearance of Oromos. As a result, many students were arrested, tortured, a few executed, and many others dismissed from school. Non-Oromo students hardly recognized that the ultimate cause of such suffering was a lack of democratic government until 2005 election fraud. I am not claiming that there is no cooperation but the cooperation for the same goal was not vigilant and commanding. I argue that still it is not too late for cooperation in promoting democracy for the people of Ethiopia. The struggle does not hit its target unless students of all ethnic groups work in solidarity. Although thus far the numbers of students arrested, tortured and executed or dismissed are disproportionately Oromo, other Ethiopian students who demanded similar questions have also been persecuted.

The experience of American students who were united in opposing the US war against Vietnam in the 1960s could serve as an example for the Ethiopian students. The American students surpassed their internal differences when they chanted in solidarity to oppose US government in the war in Vietnam. Similarly, Ethiopian students must unite to end the individual and collective sufferings perpetuated by the minority-led tyrant Ethiopian regime and to replace it with a democratic multinational government.

Finally, I would like to sum up by repeating the slogan of the Latin American revolutionaries, La Luta Continua.

The writer can be reached at

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