By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Ministry of Education or Ministry of Loan Sharking?
Ethiopia’s “Ministry of Education”, (or more appropriately, the Ministry of Loan Sharking) has adopted a “new scheme” (new scam) of official extortion to professionally incapacitate young Ethiopian college graduates. According to a report by Addis Fortune, “Students graduating in the year 2008-2009 from all governmental higher learning institutions have been prohibited from collecting their academic credentials including the student copy until they find jobs which enable them to refund the cost sharing expenses utilized at the universities.” The ministry’s public relations officer, Derese Kitila, explained: “Students pledged to pay back the expenses for any of the services they consumed either in the form of cash or recourses. However this has never been effective from the way it had been projected. But with this new scheme the government might be able to raise back those expenses and handle human resources going abroad.”
The “new scheme” does not apply equally to all graduates: “Since the country has human labour deficits in the sectors of education and health, the new directives will not affect students from education faculty, medical, pharmacy and other health related schools.” Under the “directive”, any university graduate in the non-preferred disciplines would be virtually unemployable because, according to Adey Abraham, human resource manager for the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) International Service, “employers will also face difficulty in the selection process of potential employees from among the new graduates since they have no access to any students’ grade reports to measure the talents of candidates. If the breakdown is not available it is hardly useful to find the right person for the right position.”
Payday Loan Sharking
The “new scheme” from the “Ministry of Education” is what is commonly known in the criminal underworld as “payday loan sharking.” It is a simple trick: The loan shark (almost always a member of the criminal underworld) extends an unsecured high interest loan to low wage employees facing extreme economic hardship for repayment on payday. The basic idea is to create an ongoing relationship between the loan shark and the needy borrower so that the borrower is permanently trapped in a vicious loan cycle. The re-payments will drag on for years as the borrower makes payments on payday only to have very little money left to cover his ongoing expenses. The borrower is extended more loans as he digs deeper in debt without the realistic ability to ever pay back the loan. The loan shark eventually “owns” the needy borrower.
What the “Ministry of Education” is doing through its “directive” and its “new scheme” (scam) is a variation on the classic underworld payday loan sharking. Hapless, helpless, choiceless and disadvantaged students who seek higher education are snagged into the “new scheme” and forced to sign an adhesion contract (a contract in which one side has all the bargaining power and uses it to write the contract primarily to his or her advantage) and give up their rights to their personal academic records until they find a job. When the graduates find employment, the official loan sharks will be right there to obtain a monthly payday wage assignment or garnishment from the new employer. Like the criminal loan sharks who secure repayment by intimidation and violence, the ministry holds for ransom the graduates’ “academic credentials” to extort repayment. The preposterous notion that this scam will “enable the graduates to refund the cost sharing expenses utilized at the universities” is as convincing as the underworld crime boss’ defense of his loan sharking operation as a micro-financing program for poor borrowers.
Discrimination Among University Graduates is Illegal
The “directive” and the official “new scheme” are patently discriminatory and in violation of Article 25 of the dictators’ constitution which provides: “All persons shall be equal before the law and shall be entitled to equal protection of the law without any discrimination whatsoever. All persons shall be entitled to equal and adequate guarantees without distinction of any kind…” The meaning of this sweeping article is self-evident. The clause “All persons shall be equal before the law and shall be entitled to equal protection of the law without any discrimination whatsoever” means officials CAN NOT ENGAGE IN ANY DISCRIMINATION WHATSOEVER! There is no exception for discrimination against “persons” based on the “the country’s human labour deficits in the sectors of education and health,” affiliation with the ruling dictatorship, ethnicity, wealth, profession, religion or any other classification. Thus, if “all persons are equal before the law” and must be treated “without any discrimination whatsoever”, how is it that “educators, doctors, pharmacists and other health” care providers are given complete preferential treatment by an official “directive”, which by its very purpose professionally incapacitates, imposes extreme hardships and arbitrarily penalizes graduates in the non-preferred disciplines? Where in the equal protection clause of Article 25 are “educators, doctors, pharmacists and other health” care providers”, “EPDRF” party loyalists and political hacks made more equal than engineers, lawyers, accountants, architects, chemists or economists? But in the Orwellian Animal Farm that Ethiopia has become, “All animals are created equal, but some animals are created more equal than others.”
The fact of the matter is that the official discrimination will work extreme hardship and inconvenience on graduates in the non-preferred disciplines as they seek employment. Adey Abraham’s statement confirms this fact: “Employers will also face difficulty in the selection process of potential employees from among the new graduates since they have no access to any students’ grade reports to measure the talents of candidates…” Simply stated, before these graduates can be hired by an employer, they have to take their offers of employment to the ministry and get authorization for the release of their “academic credentials”. Given the well known and rampant bureaucratic caprice and corruption of the dictatorship’s so-called ministries, it is reasonable to infer that the education ministry could impose any condition whatsoever for the release of the academic records for payday wage assignments. The prospective graduate employee would have no choice but to agree to any terms and conditions imposed by the ministry to obtain the academic records so that s/he could get the job, not unlike what the street loan shark will do to squeeze the deeply indebted borrower for repayment terms.
There is another thing that is completely nuts — just downright crazy — about the “new scheme” which “will not affect students from education faculty, medical, pharmacy and other health related schools.” These graduates can simply pick up their official academic credentials and disappear without a trace, or even leave the country permanently. How does this “directive” save on “human labour deficits” in these critical service areas? On second thought, the “directive” makes perfect sense and is in line with official policy as it has been authoritatively stated: “Ethiopia does not need medical doctors.” Obviously, today in Ethiopia not only is there no need for doctors but also educators and other health professionals. Such is the opera buffa (comic opera) of dictatorship!
The official “directive” also violates the graduates’ constitutional right to “freedom of movement” under Article 32: “Every Ethiopian or any other person lawfully within Ethiopia shall have the freedom to freely move and establish his residence within Ethiopia as well as to travel abroad.” Graduates who wish to travel within the country or abroad in search of employment will effectively be prevented from doing so because their “academic credentials” certifying their educational performance and achievements to prospective employers are held hostage by the ministry. Since these graduates will not be able to prove their university education, they are inevitably limited geographically in their job search. Could a ministry abrogate by a half-baked and ill-conceived “directive” a citizen’s constitutional “freedom to freely move and establish his residence within Ethiopia as well as to travel abroad?”
The indisputable fact of the matter is that young educated Ethiopians do not want to leave their country. They would rather stay and serve their people. They want to go abroad because their human rights are not respected and their professionalism is subordinated to nepotism, cronyism and favoritism. If the rule of law reigned, not only will educated Ethiopians stay in their country, hundreds of thousands of others who live and work abroad will stampede back to their homeland just for the privilege of serving their people. Educated Ethiopians leave their country because they see no hope and no future living under a tyrannical dictatorship. If you want them to stay, support them, embrace them, respect them and assure them that Ethiopia’s future sits secure in the palms of their strong and able hands. Let their creative powers develop freely so that they can freely develop their country. As President Obama said, “We’ve learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized.”
Pact With the Devil
In the classic German legend, Dr. Faust agreed to surrender his body and soul to the Devil after twenty-four years in exchange for the Devil’s promise to give him all knowledge and wisdom. Dr. Faust signed the agreement in his own blood. Faust got all the knowledge and wisdom in the universe as he wanted. In the end, the Devil got Dr. Faust’s soul and body. The obvious but hard lesson for Ethiopia’s youth is: “When you make a pact with the Devil who plays a zero sum game, you always lose, and he will own your soul and body!” As to the “new scheme”, it is an old scam from the criminal underworld.
The writer, Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. For comments, he can be reached at email@example.com