June 8, 2012
An Open Letter to President Peter MacKinnon,
University of Saskatchewan
“The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute
destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.”
(Comment highlighting Ethiopia made by Global Financial Integrity on December 5, 2011 preceding the release of their study on Illicit
Financial Outflows from Developing Countries Over the Decade Ending in 2009i)
Dear President MacKinnnon,
On June 10-15, an Ethiopian delegation of top-level officials from Hawassa University (HU), located in Ethiopia’s Southern
Regional State, will arrive in Saskatoon to further their long-standing collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan (U of
S) in the advancement of sustainable agricultural development, land management, human nutrition, community health and
food security in Ethiopia, all with a strong emphasis on education. This relationship dates back to 1997, when the U of S and
HU first partnered in a project in sustainable land management, and continues today with several worthy projects.ii
As a proud alumni of the University of Saskatchewan and a long-time former resident of Saskatoon, I would like to highly
commend the University of Saskatchewan for their laudable efforts in reaching out beyond the borders of our great province
and nation to meaningfully address the long-standing issues in Ethiopia of chronic food insecurity, malnutrition, lack of
agricultural development and inadequate health care. This relationship between a major Ethiopian university in an
agricultural region and the U of S is a natural one due to the U of S’s strong agricultural programs and expertise in this
“bread-basket” of Canada that can be shared with a country and region globally known for its image of hunger and suffering
despite its fertile land and ample resources.
As the Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), a non-violent, non-political, grassroots
social justice movement representing the diverse people of Ethiopia, I come to you first and foremost as human being who
believes that the future well being of our global society rests in the hands of those among us who can put “humanity before
ethnicity,” or any other distinctions that divide and dehumanize other human beings from ourselves; inspiring us to care
about these “others;” not only because of the intrinsic God-given value of each life, but also because “none of us will be free
until all are free.” These are the underlying principles of the SMNE.
The SMNE is committed to bringing truth, justice, freedom, equality, reconciliation, accountability, respect for human and
civil rights and economic prosperity to the people of Ethiopia and beyond. The SMNE has branches in Canada, the United
States and the United Kingdom with chapters in Ottawa, Washington D.C., Melbourne, London, Geneva, Oslo, Stockholm,
Tokyo, Brussels and other cities and countries throughout the world, including Ethiopia. You can find us through our
website at: www.solidaritymovement.org.
Let me be clear, I do support the noble goals of these projects and partnership and believe the U of S is a great university
that upholds the highest standards and practice in carrying out these projects; yet because partnering with “the Ethiopia of
today” is not always what it seems to be, there may be some unknown added risks you should know about. As an Ethiopian
insider and as someone who maintains many relationships with the academic community of the U of S, I have a vested
interest in contributing to a successful outcome; therefore, I would like to voice some cautions, hoping to help shape current
and future projects in a manner that better ensures success on the ground.
As you hope to lift local communities of Ethiopians out of dire poverty and hunger through sustainable agricultural
development and know-how, it is essential that you hear from a variety of perspectives so that your many efforts are not
limited, sabotaged or exploited for the benefit of a few.
Hawassa University, its board, its administration, its academic staff and its regional government, are all under the complete
authority of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), whose leader, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi,
represents the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). Members of the TPLF, representing an ethnic-based minority
making up 7% of the population, controls and dominates nearly every aspect of every sector of Ethiopian society including
all aspects of the government from the central government to the regional governments to the local districts and village
governments. This is a well known fact.
The chairman of the Board of the HU, Mr. Shiferaw Shigute, is also the Regional President of Southern Regional State, the
equivalent of being our current Premier Mr. Brad Wall of Saskatchewan. All of his and his regional government’s actions are
tightly controlled by the federal government of Ethiopia. As a result, he and others are only free to discuss and disclose the
approved party-line information, statistics, facts and perspectives, all of which must present a rosy picture of the Ethiopian
government and its accomplishments. This means he will not be free to share the desperate needs of the people of the
region and reports alleging urgent need for food aid in the region as the numbers of children and others needing therapeutic
feeding have nearly doubled since 2011.
In a stunning departure from normal, the Ethiopian government-controlled and typically self-censoring online news site,
“Addis Fortune,” published an article on May 27, 2012 titled, “Revolutionary Democracy Starves,” written by an anonymous
writer, which accuses the Meles regime of “basking in the glory of the World Economic Forum and the G8 meetings, while
at the same time trying to deny and suppress the critical needs of drought-stricken farmers in Southern Regional State whose
children are starving to death.”iii This is the same state governed by your esteemed guest, Mr. Shigute.
The writer also asks: So, why did the Revolutionary Democrats in the South [Shigute administration] allow children in their
own region to fall into preventable starvation? It boggles the mind. Shortage of resources does not come into it. There was
plenty of carryover food stock from the 2011 drought that was available when the problem started in January. It neither is
ignorance, as local officials are certainly very aware of the crisis and have been trying to generate a response, as have some aid
agencies. So, it must be politics.
Clearly, the Revolutionary Democrats do not want any bad news to undermine their charge into middle-income status. The
language has to not only be positive but it has to be over-the-top enthusiastic, with targets met or exceeded and no clouds on
the horizon. Under these conditions, which regional official would want to be the one admitting that there is a crisis in their
The Southern officials have a reputation of causing costly political embarrassment to their comrades with high malnutrition
in previous droughts in 2006 and 2008, both in the highly sensitive post-2005 election period. It seems that when problems
are mentioned from the South, officials risk their necks and federal Revolutionary Democrats talk darkly of mismanagement,
bad cultural practices, and food aid dependency. iv
The current Ethiopian regime, which has been the subject of numerous investigations by groups like Human Rights Watch,
Genocide Watch, Amnesty International, the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Development, the Committee for the
Protection of Journalists, Reporters without Borders, Survival International, International Rivers, Cultural Survival, the
Oakland Institute/SMNEv and others have documented repression of freedom, serial human rights abuses, blatant bias
towards the regime’s own ethnic group and region, favoritism towards regime supporters, the absence of or political use of
the rule of law, fraudulent elections, the criminalization of dissent including the misuse of an anti-terrorism law to target
voices of freedom,vi the repression of civil society, the use of detention and torture to punish opposition figures, the lack of
transparency, government control of information, the misuse of foreign aid to shore up political power or to punish nonparty
members,vii the loss of $11.3 billion in illicit capital flight from 2000 to 2009, most from corruption, bribery and
money-laundering,viii and widespread land-grabbing that has already displaced over 70,000 rural small farmers in the
Gambella region of Ethiopia; all done without consulting the people, compensating them for their losses or providing
adequate services or sources of alternative livelihoods according to a recent Human Rights Watch study.ix For your
information, Gambella is the region where my family and my own ethnic group, the Anuak, has lived for many generations;
settling on both sides of the river dividing Ethiopia and South Sudan.
The 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index among 110 countries in the world places Ethiopia at the very bottom for freedom and
108th overall.x Despite the acclaimed economic growth, extreme levels of food inflation—29.2% in May, down from 36.7% in
April—have further undermined the ability of already poor Ethiopians to afford the cost of food at these prices.
Other international indexes show Ethiopia near to the bottom on many different scales such as access to the Internet—one of
the lowest rates in the world at 0.5% with the government being the only provider and controlling access, monitoring use and
blocking websites such as ours. Now they have installed a system to block access to the Tor network, which allows users to
access blocked websites. Mobile cell phone use is 5%; 20 times less than the leading African countries and lower than war
torn Somalia. Again, the government is the only provider. There is no independent media with the regime controlling the
only radio and television stations. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi even admitted that they were trying to jam independent
stations being broadcast from other countries.
A new law as of May 24, 2012 makes illegal the use of VoIP hardware or software, like Skype.xiViolations are punishable by
15 years in prison; however, it is likely that HU/U of S project partners’ violation of this law will be overlooked or otherwise
“exempted” as long as both parties refrain from any criticism of government practices. Another part of the law makes
publishers of newspapers, magazines and other print liable for what they print.xii This law now advises them to refuse to
publish anything that might be construed to be “illegal,” which has come to mean anything in opposition to the
TPLF/EPRDF regime. This law is a clear violation of the Ethiopian Constitution that assures freedom of expression.
Another repressive law, the Charities and Societies Proclamationxiii, which was passed in 2010, has essentially closed down
most every independent civic organization in Ethiopia. At the last tally this included over 2,600 organizations. This law
restricts civic organizations that receive more than 10% of their support from foreign sources from promoting human rights,
women’s rights, children’s rights, rights for the disabled and efforts to bring religious or ethnic groups together for conflict
resolution. Once again, the law carries harsh criminal penalties for violators. It is used for political purposes and has
paralyzed civil society. In its place, look-alike pseudo-institutions have sprung up, all created and controlled by the
government, oftentimes appearing legitimate to outsiders.
Religious institutions, both Christian and Muslim, have also been taken over, divided and weakened by the TPLF/ERPDF
regime. The regime has played a heavy role in ensuring the appointment of their own “party-friendly” church leaders,
causing the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to form a church in exile. Religious buildings and sacred sites have been destroyed
or are scheduled for destruction, including an ancient fourth century Christian monastery and eighteen churches in the
birthplace of African Christianity in northern Ethiopia, all to make way for a government-owned sugar plantation.
Christians, Muslims and Jews have always been able to live peaceably in Ethiopia, unlike in some other places in the world
and are now taking steps to stand together in support of the religious rights and freedoms of all Ethiopians from government
interference in Ethiopia. Ethiopian Muslims, who accuse the government of forcing on them leaders holding to a more
extremist foreign-imported doctrine, have been peacefully protesting within the compounds of their mosques for nearly six
weeks. Government security forces shot and killed more than seventeen peaceful protestors, including a six-year-old child.
Ethnic identity has also been used as a regime tactic to divide Ethiopians from each other. This practice recently backfired
when the regime, under the regional leadership of Mr. Shiferaw Shigute, deported 70,000 Ethiopians of Amhara ethnicity
out of Gura Ferda in the Southern Regional State, reminiscent of Jews who were targeted in Germany based wholly on their
ethnicity. Mr. Shigute himself signed a letter that gave local security forces the power to expel, kick out, throw out - force to
leave or move out ethnic Amharas from Gura Ferda. Similar letter were sent to schools notifying them with fixing dates of
which the children will be kicked out of school and leave the area. You find the scanned copy of a letter with Mr. Shigute’s
signature and the log of the Southern Regional State at this link http://www.zehabesha.com/?p=5340. The letter is written in
Amharic, Ethiopian national language. These people had to leave homes and farms they had occupied, some for more than
twenty-five years. Both VOA and German radio have covered this story. VOA has actually interviewed the displaced people,
Mr. Shigute himself and other regional government officials on this issue.
When the TPLF/EPRDF was criticized, Mr. Shigute justified the actions. He allegedly stated in public, “We did not displace
anybody. We are just telling them [the Amhara] that they should go back to where they came from, which is the Amhara
region.” Prime Minister Meles Zenawi reiterated the identical argument in front of the Ethiopian Parliament.
This irrational policy not only violates the Ethiopian Constitution; but also violates international laws against the forced
deportation of people as stated in the Rome Statute, which pertains to the International Criminal Court. According to the
Rome Statute, Article 7, section 2 (d) prohibiting the “deportation, displacement or forcible transfer of population” from an
area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law is a violation. This move by the
regime has served as a rallying cry to Ethiopians across ethnic lines due to the shared belief that all citizens of a nation should
be allowed freedom of movement within the country.
Mr. Shigute’s administration will soon displace 50,000 indigenous people from the Omo Valley to make way for a
government-owned sugar plantation, which will be situated near to a water-source, the newly constructed, but not yet
functional, Gibe III Dam. This dam is expected to displace nearly 500,000 of some of the most marginalized people in all of
Ethiopia whose lives will be in immediate jeopardy when the dam is in use. xiv The European Union and the World Bank
refused to fund the project based on the human toll; however, the TPLF/EPRDF found other sources and are proceeding
with their plans. This dam is also located in Southern Regional State where Mr. Shigute is president.
The lack of academic freedom is another problem and most students and faculty at the U of S would be shocked at the
restrictions as well as the disparity of opportunity based on politics and ethnicity. The 2011 U.S. State Department’s Report
on Human Rights in Ethiopia that was released yesterday, June 7, 2012, indicts the government for its suppression of
Access to education, scholarships, jobs, teaching positions, government contracts, business opportunities and other perks are
nearly totally dominated by the party’s own ethnic group and most avid party members, regime cronies and their families.
Reportedly, students at colleges and universities are graded by ethnicity and loyalty to the party when in school; actually
receiving a grade from A to D depending on these qualifications. Those who are of the right ethnicity and who are loyal will
receive an “A” which will ensure them of the best government positions when they graduate whereas a brilliant student from
the wrong ethnicity and political view will likely receive a grade of “D” which means they have little chance of later finding a
job. Teachers and administrators must also tow the party line. Many of these students and professionals give up on Ethiopia
and attempt to leave the country, often encountering life-threatening situations as they hope to find asylum in free and
democratic countries like Canada.
Mr. Shigute is also in a precarious position following a public hearing to evaluate his performance, held on February 13-19,
2012. The evaluation was one of many held by federal government officials for the purpose of grading the performance of
the regional president as well as all regional government officials. During the open hearing, it was revealed that Mr. Shigute, a
major shareholder of the Sidamo Coffee Exporter Association, was allegedly involved in corruption amounting to millions of
birr. In his presence, it was decided by the TPLF/EPRDF party that he had to step down and be charged accordingly.
According to sources, present at the hearing, he retorted, “I am not alone in this matter. The Prime Minister’s wife, Mrs.
Azeb Mesfin, is also involved in this. We did everything together and used the money together. If I have to be held
accountable, she has to be too and if I have to pay back the money, she also has to do the same.” Having said this he left the
meeting place while the meeting was still going on. When the news broke to the Prime Minister in Addis Ababa, Meles
reversed the decision. Allegedly, senior officials of the region were disappointed and said that the PM did it just to save his
The president of Hawassa University Dr. Yosef Mamo, has also been accused of corruption in the region. Even though both
cases appear to have been dropped, the implications of these charges should be of concern to the U of S, Canadian
International Development Agency (CIDA), International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Association of
Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and Canadian taxpayers who have generously provided funds for these
projects. Due diligence is critical in order to make sure funds for these projects are not misused.
Working with an academic institution like HU, which is subject to the control of the TPLF/EPRDF, is a challenge;
particularly if the U of S is expected to turn a blind eye to questionable and opaque practices. What I am hoping is that the
U of S will carefully build into every project the necessary safeguards, checks and balances, guiding values, moral
expectations and accountability, which is as important in the transformation of Ethiopia into a successful and healthy nation,
as is the transfer of practical knowledge, material support and good will.
Truth, academic freedom, freedom of expression and the respect for the basic dignity and rights of all people do not exist in
Ethiopia. The U of S, the people of Saskatchewan and the government of Canada can all help create an environment most
conducive to success by unflinchingly addressing these issues as essential elements of success and partnership. When the U
of S signs a letter of intent, it should have moral and ethical standards for the administration of any grants and partnerships
and expectations that partners would follow the same.
We hope the U of S, the government of Canada, CIDA, IDRC and AUCC will all re-examine their policies towards
Ethiopia, a country led by an increasingly authoritarian regime, so that we do not allow our cherished Canadian values to be
compromised abroad where we have the opportunity to play an important and pivotal role in influencing our partners to
adopt higher standards that can make them prosper.
As an Ethiopian-Canadian who has lived over half my life in Saskatchewan, I have been greatly edified by the great people
who live out the very values, principles and practices we hope will become the foundation of a New Ethiopia. Please know
that your moral and ethical standards are essential parts to making these partnerships most effective and inclusive. Please be
strong and steadfast in helping Ethiopians to transform their country. Without truth, justice and freedom, the best and most
noble efforts may never reach their goals.
Thank you for what you are doing! I am confident that the U of S will continue to be a shining example to people near and
far as this great university has been contributing to the betterment of our humanity for the last hundred years.
Executive Director of the SMNE
2-315 Frank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 0X1
Cc: Designated Recipients
The Honourable Beverley J. Oda, Minister of International Cooperation
David M. Malone, President of International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
Paul Davidson, President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC)
Lawrence Martz, Dean, College of Graduate Studies & Research at the U of S,
Tom Wishart, International,
Karen Chad, VP-Research,
Brett Fairbairn, VP-Academic & Provost,
Deans & Executive Directors:
Robert Buckingham, Director, School of Public Health,
Michael Atkinson, Director, School of Public Policy,
Ernie Barber, Dean, College of Engineering,
Mary Buhr, Dean, College of Agriculture,
Bill Albritton, Dean, College of Medicine,
David Hill, Dean, College of Pharmacy & Nutrition,