2019-2020 has been the most challenging academic year for many university students across the country. As well as the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, more than 35,000 students had to flee their campuses from twenty-two public universities for fear of ethnic clashes. These universities were forced to close their doors at least temporarily. According to official reports, more than 12 students were killed, and hundreds of others wounded due to politically charged ethnic tension. An atmosphere of anxiety, fear and insecurity were the day to day life of university students causing psychological, physical, and material damages.
“I grew-up in a diverse community composed of people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds who taught me tolerance, respect and to love all people without prejudice. I joined Haromaya University in 2016 and I thought my stay with the university would further enrich the values I grew with or at least practice them with no imposition’ recalled said Ayalew Kebru*, a student from Haromaya University. Haromaya University is located in the Oromia region some 510 kilometres east of Addis Ababa and was established as a public university in the early 1950s.
“I decided to learn Afan Oromo, the most popular language in the locality” Ayalew said, adding, “I made some close friends from Oromo students. Ethnic tension prevailed in my sophomore year. Later, students started attacking each other. One evening, I noticed unusual behavior from a student whom I trust, and he became aggressive. I could not escape the attack. Being attacked by the people I consider family for a reason of not speaking the same language eroded my trust and destroyed all the good values I developed over the years. I asked myself, who am I? The violence continued for days. I had no close friend I could trust. I stopped trusting in others outside of my ethnic group and limited my interaction to only students from my ethnic group. I even advised students of my original locality not to go to a university outside our region.
In 2020, Ayalew joined the peace dialogue sessions organized by the University’s Peace Club that served as a platform for constructive dialogue processes, sharing and receiving positive life experiences at public university campuses.
The Peace Clubs formed at different Public Universities by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and Ministry of Peace with financial and technical support from UNDP’s Governance and Democratic Participation Programme was a critical intervention to avert such violence. These clubs gradually evolving into Peace Incubation Centers which aim at serving university communities to enjoy sustained peace through continuous peace dialogues and bringing students together to appreciate the value of peace and harmony.
Ayalew said, “The genuine information we shared in the dialogue group helped me activate my experience; regain my previous respect and values for others. In the dialogue group, I got lovely friends and students who were totally different from the ones I knew before. These students changed my attitude towards students from other ethnic groups. The dialogue process helped me leave behind all sad experiences.”
More than forty-five peace clubs in eighteen universities teaching students in various campuses were formed with more than sixty-five thousand students from all ethnic and religious backgrounds becoming members. It is a long way to go but the Peace Clubs will contribute to gradually bring these universities back to pre-violence normal life.
These are such important and formative years that mean learning about the values of peaceful co-existence and that dialogue is better than violence are important life lessons.
The Ministry of Peace is one of the eleven key implementation partners of UNDP Ethiopia’s five-year multi donor Governance and Democratic Participation Program with financial support from Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Norway.
*Name of the student has been changed to protect his identity