Ethiopian university removal of Tigray degrees may bring international sanctions

26th of November 2021 Professor Tassew Woldehanna, the President for the AAU, announces unprecedented actions against Ethnic Tigray degree holders

The announcement of Addis Ababa University that retroactive removal of academic degrees conferred on ethnic Tigrayans for not supporting the government of Abiy Ahmed may have severe repercussions not contemplated by the authors of this rash measure. Historically this type of action has been most associated with authoritarian regimes seeking to silence intellectual discourse which dissents from the despotic party line. When brought up in democracies on the other hand it has been rejected. International accrediting agencies for institutions of higher learning, funders of research, and potential universities offering advanced academic training for Ethiopians could place sanctions against this academic betrayal.

In the prelude to the World War II conflict Nazi Germany created a false Jewish strawman leading to the genocide of more than 6 million. In the midst of going from legalized discrimination to overt murder came the removal of all academic degrees from Jews in Germany and the occupied territories including Poland. 

In the United States students at Harvard University last year brought up the possibility of removing degrees from supporters of Donald Trump as punishment for his policies with which they vehemently disagreed. Long discussions where held and ultimately these type of sanction was deemed inappropriate as an attack on freedom of speech. 

The academic world of which I am a part is a world wide commitment to learning and teaching for the betterment of all mankind. Even between countries who are sometimes adversarial such as  China and the United States cooperate and share scientific discourse as well as research. I myself have looked at Iranian medical publications on treatment of tuberculosis of the spine as helpful for what to do in Tigray even though I do not agree with many policies of the Iranian government. The academic achievement of someone is a separate issue then their political affiliation. The beauty of academics is that those of different views can find common ground on which to collaborate.

I fear that the international academic community might feel compelled perhaps justifiable so to sanction active faculty of Addis Ababa University for their betrayal of the academic norms of procedure. This could include barring participation in international meetings, research funding from international sources, decertification of Addis Ababa University from international accreditation, and sanctions on assets of university leaders.

The continued efforts to isolate Ethiopia from the international community being self imposed will only lead to further loss of many milestones previously attained in development and human dignity.


Author: Professor Tony Magana

Professor Tony Magana is Head of the Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences at Mekelle University in Mekelle, Ethiopia. He directs a neurosurgery residency and training program as well as neuroscience research.

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