Prof Michael Gervers hosts "The Effects of War on Higher Education in Ethiopia" round table

On 22 November 2023 the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies (HCS) at the University of Toronto Scarborough sponsored a round table webinar entitled “The Effects of War on Higher Education in Ethiopia.” The objective of this round table, and now the video recording thereof, is to inform the University of Toronto community, Canadians, and scholars and the public elsewhere, of the destruction of Ethiopia’s contemporary system of higher education and its ancient cultural heritage. The devastation has come about as a consequence of the two-year-old war perpetrated by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments against the nearly 6-million inhabitants of the Tigray region in the country’s north. Following the start of the engagement on 4 November 2020, the Federal government closed Tigray’s four universities, interrupted all levels of education across the region, and cut the entire population off from banking and communication services. It also disconnected the electrical supply, destroyed the agricultural and industrial sectors, and prevented food provided by humanitarian agencies from entering the region. The universities have been ransacked and their removeable infrastructure looted. Civilians everywhere have been, and continue to be targeted, especially in extensive parts of Tigray currently occupied by the Eritrean army. There have been horrendous massacres and, on 13 September 2022, the Business Campus of Mekelle University was bombed in a government-sponsored drone attack intended further to intimidate simultaneously both the educational and civilian sectors. Meanwhile, the many Ethiopian universities outside Tigray, including Addis Ababa University (founded in the 1950s by Canadian Jesuits) contributed over USD $5 million towards the government’s war effort against Tigray.

The Ethiopian Minister of Education, H.E. Professor Berhanu Nega, and the president of Addis Ababa University, Professor Tassew Woldehanna were invited to participate in the round table, but did not respond to the invitation. Professor Menegesha Ayene, president of Wollo University, volunteered to participate, but did not attend.

Canada provides extensive humanitarian and development assistance to Ethiopia, and the University of Toronto has blanket Memoranda of Understanding with Addis Ababa and Mekelle Universities. The HCS-sponsored round table is designed to encourage the University of Toronto, Canadian academic institutions as a whole, and the Canadian government to take action towards arresting the on-going deprivation of Tigrayan civilians by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments, stopping the extra-judicial killings and preventing the continuation of the cultural genocide that is currently taking place in and around Tigray.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. Patrick Wight (moderator), Lecturer, International Development and African Studies, McGill University 
  • Dr. Hagos Abrha, Head of the Yared Center for Old Ethiopic Studies (Ge’ez language) at Mekelle University 
  • Mr. Goitom Tegegn Admasu, Head of the International Office at Mekelle University 
  • Professor Kindeya Gebrehiwot, Former President of Mekelle University with whom Provost Regehr signed a Memorandum of Understanding at Mekelle University in 2018 
  • Professor Mitiku Haile, Founding Father of Mekelle University
  • Emeritus Professor Jan Nyssen of the Department of Geography, University of Ghent
  • Professor Richard Reid, Faculty of History, University of Oxford
  • Professor Wolbert Smidt, Adjunct Professor in Ethnohistory at Mekelle University and a Senior Research Fellow at Jena University
  • Professor Alexie Tcheuyap, Associate Vice-President and Vice-Provost, International Student Experience, University of Toronto

A full recap of the event can be found via the videos below.

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Prof Michael Gervers also further discusses the war at Tigray in the below video

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