More than what’s reported: violence in Ethiopian education

Ethiopia library

Education experiences violence in many aspects globally. Emnet Assefa takes us through some of the violence, and the culture behind it, that Ethiopia higher education institutions face.

A lot more than an “Attack”

It’s clear for anyone to see the relationship between education and development, especially in the developing world. Education in developing countries suffers a great deal even though the methods and extent differ from one side of the world to the other. In any given society, education has everything to do with society and its day to day life.

A couple of months ago, a report that explored the challenges that education faces in some areas of the world. In this large annual report “education under attack 2013”, Ethiopia was among the countries highlighted. The report explored a number of conflicts, military and political attacks that schools, universities, students and teachers faced until 2011.

Ethiopia was ranked 173rd in United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) human development index in 2012, with adult literacy rate 39 per cent in 2010, gross primary education enrolment 102 per cent in 2011 as well as a gross secondary education enrolment ratio of 36 and 5.5 gross tertiary education enrolment ratio in 2011. Over the past few years, the country has increased investment in opening up new universities throughout the country in an effort to move up the ladder in access of education.

According to the  ‘Education Under Attack’ report 2014, those who are part of the education process have been targets of military and physical attacks. These attacks were caused by military groups and government security forces as well as others. The report explicitly discusses cases that have been reported from 2008 until 2013. Ethnic based differences, usage of schools and higher institutions for military and political purposes, extensive force used by government security forces on students were among the cases that have been covered by the report.

However, in reality there is much more to it.


Endalkachew is a former university lecturer in one of Ethiopia’s universities; he suggests there is more factors which suggest education is under attack.

“Education is under attack when it is not getting the proper attention that it should get in aspects such as policies, economy and political decision.”

Lack of attention on these issues have affected the quality of education in the country, mainly in higher education institutions which directly have affected the production of man power for the work force that the country needs.

According to Endalkachew, universities are expected to produce a quota of students annually which puts further pressure on universities, teachers and students. In order to achieve the target number of graduates, the quality of education is compromised. In the process, many students graduate without the necessary professional skills, knowledge and level of professionalism. According to him “they don’t come out as enough of professionals as they should have.”


The ‘Education under Attack’ report  discusses the attacks that students and member of higher education institutions face due to ethnic and political differences in the country. Ethiopia like many other African nations is a country with a population that is comprised of a number of diverse ethnic groups. Higher education institutions are places where ethnic differences are reflected on. The report discusses a number of conflicts that have been witnessed in these higher institutions. Depending on the location of the universities, several students, teachers and other education facilitators have been victims of these conflicts.

“Ethnic issues are issues that you never discuss about in higher education institutions especially as a teacher” says Endalkachew, discussing the sensitivity of the issue. He mentions an incident where a fellow lecturer who was a victim of abuse by students  lost his job because of “an example he gave in a class room”.

Agegnehu, 23 is a recent graduate from an Ethiopian university, He agrees with Endalkachew when it comes to the sensitivity of ethnic discussions among university students. He talks about problems that students face due to “attitude of ethnic centred teachers”. Because the subject is closed for discussion, students who face academic problems due to these attitudes have a hard time finding solutions.

The absence of a standard conflict resolution mechanism in solving ethnic based conflicts in higher education institutions is mostly presented as problem leading to the use of too much force by security on students, teachers and other members of higher education communities. The ‘Education Under Attack’ report explicitly discusses the detainment, killing and abuse of students and teachers by security forces is explicitly discussed on the report.

Human rights

“Education to some extent is a human right for me, it’s an exercise of freedom of expression” says Endalkachew, mentioning that students are not allowed to express their opinions; teachers do not have the freedom of exercising their academic freedom regardless of their political opinions. “Some lecturers and students are seen as taking advantage of their political affiliation as a way to exercise too much power in their activities both as students and teachers.”

Agegehu says, “The authority teachers are given deny students from speaking their minds”. Female students face this to a greater extent. Endalkachew mentions incidents where female students are asked to have sexual relationships with their lecturers in order to get good grades.

The report has brought significant insight of the situation, yet any one can go through the report and witness an ethnic bias within it. It’s important to see the contribution of informants and the locations where the reports have been collected in order to understand why the report looks the way it does.

Despite this, a number of facts have been brought to public attention about education; a subject that many consider safe. Yet there is more that education suffers from. In Ethiopian cases, many incidents have been witnessed but not many of them have been discussed among the public; most of these incidents were observed in higher education institutions.

By Emnet Assefa

Picture credit: Keith Nockels

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