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Academic freedom in Ethiopia has greatly diminished in the wake of the ongoing military conflict between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which, in recent years, escalated into an outright and now slightly abated civil war. The war has had widespread impact on higher education, including the exacerbation of discriminatory threats and acts of violence against Tigrayan and Oromo scholars and students, the destruction of higher education facilities through the military occupation of university buildings, and the repression of freedoms of speech and assembly which have subsequently increased rates of self-censorship among academics. Consequently, as of 2023, Freedom House has categorized the state as “Not Free” to signal the deteriorating democratic conditions within Ethiopian higher education and the state at large.[1]


Ahmed’s ruling government and the TPLF have been engaged in conflict since Ahmed was first elected prime minister in 2018, displacing the TPLF from power after the party’s 28-year-long autocratic reign.[2] Ahmed ardently engaged in diplomatic efforts to restore peaceful relations with Eritrea, with whom Ethiopia had engaged in bitter military conflict for the last several decades. Outraged by the radical changes in policy, as well as their exclusion from governmental participation, the TPLF took up a prominent post in the Tigray Region where they developed a political coalition that directly opposed and frequently clashed with federal forces, eventually coalescing into the outbreak of a violent and debilitating civil war in 2020.[3]


While the Ethiopian federal government and the TPLF eventually reached a ceasefire agreement in November 2022, the war resulted in traumatic consequences for the state of Ethiopian higher education. Dr. Kiros Guesh, a former associate president of Aksum University, reported the war had been especially “devastating” for universities in the Tigray Region, when Ethiopian and Eritrean troops occupied Tigrayan cities in 2021.[4] During the occupation, government forces “damaged and pillaged” Aksum University along with several secondary schools, leaving civilians and students vulnerable to displacement, violence, and deprivation of basic needs.[5] Tigrayan academics who reside outside the Tigray Region have also faced physical threats as a result of governmental efforts that have fostered hatred towards and suspicion of Tigrayan civilians, scholars, and students, perpetuating discriminatory attitudes and practices that have led to Tigrayans being “detained without charges, put under house arrest, and barred from traveling outside the country” in certain circumstances.[6] In November 2021, for instance, Tigrayan Professor Meareg Amare, an instructor at Bahir Dar University, was murdered outside of his home after a hateful social media post circulated across Facebook, deriding Amare on the basis of his ethnicity and accusing him of perpetuating abuse.[7]


The Ethiopian government has also instrumentalized intimidation tactics designed to clamp down on dissent and critiques of the ruling party in an effort to control political narratives surrounding the war. While indiscriminate detentions have subsided since the end of several states of emergency enacted in 2015 and 2018, which included the arrests of Professor Bekele Gerba and Professor Merera Gudina, self-censorship “remains common” among academics to avoid punitive lash back from the government.[8] In May 2022, a government crackdown in the Amhara region intended to disarm a militia group resulted in the arrest of over 4,000 people, many of whom were journalists and activists apprehended without due process.[9]


Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) remains deeply concerned for the state of academic freedom in Ethiopia and for the scholars and students, who continue to remain vulnerable to violence, displacement, and censorship on the basis of their ethnicity and dissident political views. We call upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights and academic freedom to condemn the violence enacted by both the Ethiopian federal government and the TPLF who have committed war atrocities, jeopardized the livelihoods of Ethiopian citizens, and compromised the integrity and capacity of the state’s universities and colleges, particularly those within the Tigray Region. 


Please send appeals to the following:


Tesfaye Yilma Sabo

Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations

866 Second Avenue, 3rd Floor

New York, N.Y. 10017


Phone: (+1) 212 421-1830


H.E Ambassador Seleshi Bekele

Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

3506 International Drive, NW

Washington, D.C. 20008


Phone: (+1) (202) 364-1200


[1] Freedom House, “Ethiopia Report: 2023,” Freedom House. 2023.

[2] Declan Walsh, “From Nobel Hero to Driver of War, Ethiopia’s Leader Faces Voters,” The New York Times, June 2021.

[3] Center for Preventative Action, “Conflict in Ethiopia,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 2023.

[4] Kalikdan Mamo, “War is devastating universities, says Tigray HE leader,”  University World News. October 2022.

[5] Human Rights Watch, “Ethiopia: Tigray Schools Occupied, Looted,” Human Rights Watch, May 2021.

[6] Simon Marks and Abdi Latif Dahir, “As War Goes On in Ethiopia, Ethnic Harassment Is on the Rise,” The New York Times, December 2020.

[7] Tekendra Parmar, “A professor was murdered after a Facebook post branded him a traitor. Was Facebook complicit in his death?,” Business Insider, April 2023.

[8] Ethiopia Report: 2023,” Freedom House. 2023.

[9] “More than 4,000 arrested in Amhara as Ethiopia cracks down on militia,” The Guardian, May 2022.

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