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Vision Ethiopia Eighth Conference successfully completed

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The three-day long colloquium on the interface between culture, heritage, conflict resolution, democratic governance & national unity was successfully completed. The conference was held between June 12 and 14, 20191 in the City of Bahir Dar, at the Wisdom Hall of Bahir Dar University. It was organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and Bahir Dar University. Consistent with the mission of Vision Ethiopia, the conference became an independent forum for academics and professionals who shared their vision about Ethiopia. The eighth conference was qualitatively different and perhaps even better in that it involved medical professionals, social scientists, senior public servants and officials of the government of the day.

The conference was preceded by two calls for papers. Authors were provided with detailed guidelines and were requested to succinctly outline the policy implications of their manuscripts. There were forty-one submissions. Thirty-four papers were accepted and twenty-two availed themselves to present their works. In addition to the papers, four panel discussions were held. Fourteen distinguished academics and senior public servants that administer three federal level ministries participated. There were a total of 36 speakers at the colloquium. The presentations were formalistic and informed by the relevant theoretical and practice literature.

Over 14 of the 36 speakers came from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. There were also a few dedicated individuals who came from North America to attend the conference. The rest of the speakers were from the local universities and civil servants. More than half of the speakers dealt with the interfaces between


  • The colloquium coincided with another important meeting that involved both regional administrators and federal level government and ruling party officials. The period also coincided with school leaving examination, the unavailability of internet services throughout the country, and some news of campus unrests at the country’s universities.

culture, heritage, tourism, development, higher education quality, research and traditional medicine. Using photographic illustrations, a number of speakers highlighted the worrying state of heritage buildings, artifacts, museums (including the national museum in Addis Ababa), and religious relics. Neglect, lack of proper preservation and protection efforts, poor city and road construction planning, absence of control over illicit trade and corruption in the so-called sale and transfer of heritage assets (buildings), underinvestment in heritage preservation, lack of skill in curatorship and museum management were among the list of problems outlined by the speakers. The need for an integrated tourism policy and management was also highlighted.


At the start of the conference, Dr. Zewdu Emeru, Vice President of Bahir Dar University invited the Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Yohannes Zeleke, Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institute Washington D.C. where he in turn requested the President of the University, Dr. Frew Tegegne, to address the participants. The opening remarks outlining the purpose and timing of the eighth conference was delivered by Vision Ethiopia’s President, Professor Getachew Begashaw of Harper College, Chicago. The keynote speaker for the first day of the conference was the Hon W/O Busiena Alkadir, State Minister for Tourism, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The keynote speaker for the second day was the Hon Professor Afework Kassu, State Minister for Science and Higher Education. The conference was hosted by Bahir Dar University, which provided a conference hall, logistic services, audio-video, refreshments and lunch. The conference ended with the closing remarks of the Hon Ato Merha Tsedek, Special Advisor to the President of the Amhara Regional State. The poem that was eloquently read by a participant and the play by the performing arts troop of the National Theater, added additional flavors to the conference. At the end of the conference dinner was hosted for the Board Members of Vision Ethiopia. Dr. Mulunesh who represented the regional government, the Special Advisor to the regional President and the Mayor of the City of Bahir Dar attended the dinner.


The paper presentations and panel discussions began with the presentation of the senior civil servants of the Ministry Culture, Sports and Tourism. Dr. Tadele Fentaw (Expert, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and Former Vice President of Debre Berhan University) and Ato Seleshi Girma (Expert, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) presented detailed work (part of a PhD thesis project) that dealt with


policies, perspectives and constraints. Later, Dr. Mulugeta Fesseha (Director of Heritage Agency, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and Associate Professor at Addis Ababa University) presented a paper that indicated the importance of involving local communities in the development of tourism. Dr. Yohannes Zeleke, Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institute Washington DC moderated the session


Next came the panel discussion on triangular partnership. Given that foreign aid has not been successful in building capacity in developing countries, the panelists in this segment focused on the Ethiopian diaspora. “Triangular partnership” in the medical discipline was the focus of the conversation. Leading specialists in neurology, cancer research and pain management and epidemiology spoke at the colloquium. The discussion was moderated by the Hon Professor Afework Kassu, State Minister for Science and Higher Education. Dr. Enawgaw Mehari (University of Kentucky), Professor Salahadin Abdi (Research Professor, Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas, Houston) and Professor Yemane Berhane (epidemiologist, formerly Addis Ababa University and now at Addis Continental Institute of Public Health) presented papers that dealt with triangular partnership and its successes. It was felt that the model can be replicated in other disciplines.


The panel on the interface between culture, traditional medicine and modern medicine was composed of Dr. Almaz Afera (Vice President of Debre Berhan University), Dr. Assefa Negewo (Former President of Wollo University), Dr. Asfaw Debella (Lead Researcher, Ethiopian Public Health Institute, Ministry of Health), Ato Asmare Talie (Debre Markos University) and Professor Fetene Gebrewold (Department of Health Sciences & Social Work, Western Illinois University). The moderator for this panel was Dr. Enawgaw Mehari, Senior Neurology Consultant at King’s Daughters Medical Specialties, Kentucky and Adjunct Clinical Faculty at University of UK, University of Pike Ville, and Addis Ababa University. The message was that research on Ethiopia’s traditional medicine is poor, and appear to have been ignored. The intellectual property rights (patent protection) for traditional healers was another sticky point.


The quality of teaching, learning and research in Ethiopia’s higher education institutions was another area of conversation. Global trends in the deregulation of the higher education sector, importing foreign degrees without quality assurance


standards, alleged fraud and corruption in academia, and massification were subjects of discussion. Despite the increase in the number of universities, Ethiopia’s institutions of higher learning did not feature favorably in international ranking systems. Graduate competency and unemployment levels were additional concerns. Intellectual integrity, work ethics, poor salaries, neglect of duties, campus unrest and the lack of internationalization, were noted. Professor Minga Negash (Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of the Witwatersrand) moderated the panel discussion. It was also noted that the country is spending a substantial percentage of its annual budget in higher education. The panel was composed of Dr. Yemataw Wonde (Director of Quality Assurance at Gondar University), Dr. Abebe Deres (Coordinator, Quality Assurance, Faculty of Social Sciences, Bahir Dar University), Dr. Tsedeke Abate (Former Director General of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research), and Engineer Araya Fisseha (Director General, Ethiopian National Accreditation Organization). Consensus emerged that Ethiopia’s universities need to be concerned at their international standing, and researchers were advised to avoid predatory journals. It was also emphasized that the curricula need to take account of the country’s particular situation (e.g., land and water scarcity, climate change, population density, food self-sufficiency, population demographics, land productivity, etc.). Dr. Tsedeke supported his presentation with a statistical output, and pleaded for policy breakthrough in revolutionizing Ethiopia’s agriculture.


Speakers underscored that deregulation and massification of higher education need to be supported by proper supervision, differentiation of universities and stumping out fly by night institutions. It was also noted that universities need to be engaged in both knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination, and prioritize their spending accordingly. The opening of new masters and doctoral (often duplicative) programs without sufficient preparation and differentiation, was also a concern. Even though degree per capita remains low in Ethiopia, it was felt that multiple issues, including twining of programs, need to be considered. Balancing quantity and quality appear to have become a serious challenge for the sector. The conclusion of the panel was largely in line with the State Minister’s keynote address where he announced the reasons for the creation of the new ministry, the existence of a number of cooperation agreements, including with Vision Ethiopia, and the establishment of the statutory Advisory Council for Science and Higher

Education. The charge for the newly established Ministry is to oversee the 45 or so state funded universities offering 883 programs, 174 universities and some 1547 colleges and polytechnics serving close to one million students.


The number of papers presented were close to 22. Professor Seid Hassan (Murray State University, Kentucky) and Professor Getachew Metaferia (Morgan State University, Maryland) did the review work. The selection of abstracts and manuscripts objectively would have been difficult without their work. The first paper was presented by Professor Worku Aberra (Chair, Department of Economics, Dawson College, Canada). His paper was entitled the economic dimensions of cultural policy in Ethiopia. Professor Minga Negash (Metropolitan State University of Denver & University of the Witwatersrand; co-authors Dr. Tesfaye Lemma, Towson University; and Dr. Lulseged Ayalew, University of North Carolina) presented a research pointer about the feasibility of using a modified integrated reporting for establishing accountability and a system of reporting in institutions that control, use and own heritage assets (public goods). Researchers were encouraged to use newer theories in explaining culture, institutions and heritage assets. Dr. Ashenfi Gossaye, Housing Expert at the City of Seattle chaired this segment of the conference. Ato Shegalem Fekadu (Department of History and Heritage Management, University of Gondar) and Ato Getenet Gedefew (Debre Tabor University) presented papers about the worrying state of heritage buildings at Fasil Ghebbi and Baths, and Bahir Dar Giorgis and Alata Bridge. Many agreed that these were samples of the status of heritage assets in various parts of the country. Ato Beshawred Ayele (Former Hospitality Consultant and President of American Business Enterprises Inc.) moderated the session.


With regard to the interface between culture and governance, there were two part presentations. There were six papers. The first set of papers were presented by Ato Geletaw Zeleke (Author and commentator, Boston, Mass) where he proposed a “dual federalism” system while Ato Dibaba Tesfaye (Department of Law, Governance & International Relation, London Metropolitan University) presented a paper entitled “The role of social capital in nation building: A sociological approach”. His remarks about the intellectual integrity of academics working for Ethiopian universities caught the attention of many. He argued that Ethiopian universities are controlled by politicians, and were/ are far removed from documenting/speaking the truth. The paper by Professor Getachew Begashaw,

(Department of Economics, Harper College, Chicago) used international benchmarks, such as the World Bank’s voice and accountability index for evaluating the state of governance and accountability in Ethiopia. His paper identified several deficits in the current constitution. It was entitled “Good governance with checks and balances for Ethiopian national unity”. The session was moderated by Professor Getachew Metaferia, Professor of Political Science at Morgan State University.


The second set of papers dealt with the governance of Addis Ababa, ethnic territories and minority rights, and corruption. The size and shape of the capital city and its governance caught the attention of many as it is a contemporary rallying point for both civil rights activists and regional nationalists. Dr. Ashenafi Gossaye, formerly Assistant Professor at Addis Ababa University and now housing expert at the City of Seattle in state of Washington, reviewed the international experience of federal government seats, and indicated that the current constitution back-tracked from the Transitional Charter of 1991. He reminded the audience how the city was used to appease/penalize certain groups. The constitution, he argued, deprives the rights of the residents (citizens) of Addis Ababa. He outlined the various policy options and elevating the City of Addis Ababa to a City State status might be a preferred avenue for resolving the current tension. He questioned the alleged demographic change and the appointment of Mayors through political fiat, apparently by successive Prime Ministers. The “special interest” provision also needs to be reexamined, he argued. The spirit of “special interest” is different from the spirit of cooperation and creation of interlinked metropolis, Dr. Ashenafi underscored. Dr. Ashenafi’s presentation did not deal with the economic outcomes and tensions that resulted from land speculation, increased urbanization, pollution, and the dispossession of the poor from ancestral and disturbing the dead as a result of the desecration of burial sites.


Dr. Sonja John (Assistant Professor of Political Science and Coordinator of the PhD Program, Bahir Dar University) raised another sensitive issue: the issue of minorities and ethnic territories. Using Wolkait as case study, she examined the complexity of the problem. Minority rights and territorial reorganization questions are igniting conflicts and displacing millions of Ethiopians in various parts of the country. Dr. John’s presentation was appreciated by the audience in that she attempted to play the role of public intellectual by trying to present her key


messages in the Amharic language. She echoed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s statements and identified that the EPRDF government has violated several provisions of its own constitution. Her research methodology was interviews of the affected people from the region. She questioned whether there is a political will to resolve the problem peacefully. During the question and answer session, a question was raised as to whether allegations of depopulation and demography change can be resolved by forgiveness (apparently without establishing truth though a judicial enquiry), and some kind of restorative justice.


The third paper on culture and governance was jointly authored by Professor Seid Hassan of Murray State University (Kentucky) and Professor Getachew Metaferia of Morgan State University (Maryland). Professor Getachew presented the work. Using purposeful sampling and an interview method, the authors compared the state of corruption in Ethiopia under its three post war governments. They highlighted the institutional nature of contemporary corruption. Political power and business interests were found to be interwoven. The lack of separation between party and government on one hand and politics and business on the other hand, the control of the regional militia by politicians were found to be obstacles for the actualization of the promises of the ruling party. Speaker after speaker noted that corruption is linked with the form of governance. Speakers identified the weakness of the federal government’s institutions in maintaining law and order, the existence of power struggles within the ruling party, corruption, money laundering, and illicit trade (including in weapons). However, unlike some western analysts, no speaker anticipated the disintegration of the country because of the newly constituted power blocks.


The last set of papers dealt with the indigenous writing system and musical instruments of the Ethiopian Orthodox Twehido Church (EOTC). Dr. Aberra Molla (Denver Colorado, Inventor and Patent Holder for Computerizing Ethiopic Writing System) spoke about the ability of the Ethiopic alphabet to write many Ethiopian and African languages. He used the forum to announce the donation of the software to government departments and public schools and universities, provided they get the memory stick for a token amount. Ato Yetmgeta Alemneh, an Art Historian, presented a paper entitled “Historical overview of the symbolism of the musical instruments of the EOTC and its relationship with other Orthodox Churches”. Ato Melaku Desta (Debre Markos University) attributed the lack of adherence to iron and folic acid supplementation by pregnant women to culture. Ato Gubaye Assaye (Bahir Dar University and Haramaya University) presented a paper about blood feud and its settlement in the Amhara Region. Dr. Desalegn Mekuria (Debre Markos University) examined the relationship between the people of Gojam and Wellega while Ato Yohannes Mersha (Bahir Dar University) used one of the regional government departments to outline the “gender mainstreaming” challenges in the region. Ato Beshawred Ayele (Formerly Hospitality Consultant and President of the America Business Enterprises Inc. Washington D.C) moderated the sessions.


The three-day long colloquium was also enriched by several questions and answers. Senior academics recommended ways and means of improving the works that were presented. The conference ended with vote of thanks, concluding remarks and tokens of appreciation to the Board Members of Vision Ethiopia. The successful conference would not have been possible without the support of many individuals and institutions. From the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Honorable Dr. Hirut Kassaw, the Honorable Busiena Alkadir, Dr. Tadele Fentaw, Ato Sileshi Girma and Dr. Mulugeta Fesseha deserve much appreciation. From the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, support and presence of the Honorable Professor Hirut Wolde Mariam and Hon. Professor Afework Kasu were instrumental. From the Ministry of Health, Dr. Asfaw Debella has made a notable contribution. Our special vote of thanks goes to Dr. Enawgaw Mehari of University of Kentucky for putting together the panel discussions on triangular partnership and traditional medicine. The team at Bahir Dar University, especially Dr, Frew Tegegne and Dr. Zewdu Emeru, respectively President and Vice President, have indebted us. The excellent hospitality and personal attention given to the speakers and those of us who travelled from afar will remain with us. Thank you and we look forward to future cooperation. The performing arts troop of the National Theater from Addis Ababa used the power of the Arts to demonstrate the state of affairs in the country, and was very much in line with the themes of the colloquium. Finally, to those who were not able to attend, consistent with our past practice, the videos of the entire conference will be uploaded to in due time. Please stay tuned.