As Ethiopia is going through the most difficult internal conflicts in years, scholars from Ethiopia and Austria collaboratively work towards building institutional capacities for peace.
Starting in 2017, an international project team, consisting of scholars from Haramaya University, Ethiopia and the University of Innsbruck, Austria have been working in a joint Austrian Development Cooperation funded APPEAR project aiming at strengthening Peace and Development Studies as a nascent academic discipline in Eastern Ethiopia. After Norbert Koppensteiner had handed over the role as Austrian project coordinator to Adham Hamed in spring, Juliana Krohn joined the project team as new Austrian Co-Coordinator in summer 2020.
As it had not been possible to accomplish some of the central project aims during the initial project period due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, both colleagues engaged in intensified online communication with their Ethiopian partners around the projects principle coordinator Dr. Gutema Imana Keno as well as with the APPEAR Office in Vienna, which granted the partners with a six months no-cost extension due to the unforeseen circumstances.
The chosen strategy to mitigate the effects of the global pandemic was built on two pillars: Virtual meetings and in-person meetings of essential academic staff members. Regular virtual meetings proofed to be helpful for deepening a relationship of trust, as well as for accomplishing some of the main project aims. These meetings included project management, working on joint publications, preparing a PhD Curriculum in Peace and Development Studies as well as a concept for a future Institute for Peace and Development Studies. Moreover, Hilina Ashenafi and Ayana Beyene successfully defended their PhD proposals in an online format in front of an international committee – an important milestone for the two PhD scholarship holders.
Despite the creatively developed formats for online communication, the partners realized that a joint final project meeting would be crucial not only for achieving the central project aims but particularly also for working on sustainability perspectives. These include a variety of measures, which centrally aim at exploring potentials for establishing a broader network with colleagues, both within Ethiopia and the broader international contexts.
Visit to Ethiopia
After a careful preparation in view of the global pandemic, the Austrian project team travelled to Addis Ababa at the beginning of November. During a weeklong mandatory quarantine, the partners had a dense agenda, conducting daily online workshops, project management and sustainability meetings. This was followed by a constructive exchange with Austrian Ambassador Roland Hauser, Deputy Head of Mission Julia Weichenberger and Head of the Austrian Development Cooperation Office Ethiopia Stefan Hlavac. Issues discussed included the potentials of cooperation in higher education for peace and conflict transformation work in Ethiopia and the broader Horn of Africa region.
As the UIBK team travelled on to Haramaya University, the political situation in the Northern-Ethiopian Tigray region had escalated towards military confrontation, raising concerns about the potential for further destabilization of the whole country and a spill-over into the larger Horn of Africa region. As the hostilities were regionally contained, the project team, following the advice of the ADA Office in Addis Ababa, decided to continue their visit, while focusing on essential project activities. During a tightened schedule, Haramaya University and University of Innsbruck partners conducted a series of final project meetings. Crucially, they participated in a national review workshop on a fully revised PhD Curriculum in Peace and Development Studies, as well as on the establishment of a future Institute in Peace and Development Studies.
In addition, the project coordinators informed Haramaya University President Dr. Jemal Yousuf Hassen about the outcomes of the project, who in turn assured Dr. Gutema Imana Keno of the university`s full support and strong commitment towards the further institutionalization of Peace and Development Studies. The University of Innsbruck’s project team welcomed this commitment, stressing that besides developing a unique profile in peace studies, finding an academic niche and cooperation with local, national, and international partners, the strong support of both local communities and the university leadership are crucial for the success and sustainability of institutional capacity building processes.
To further work on sustainability strategies, Adham Hamed and Juliana Krohn also travelled to Jimma University in Western Ethiopia. Following the invitation of President Dr. Jemal Abafita and Dr. Ameyu Godesso, they facilitated a two-day workshop on capacity building and curriculum development in Peace and Conflict Studies. The workshop was attended by colleagues, Heads of Department, Deans and faculty from seven different disciplines. The meeting culminated in a final statement, approved by all participants unanimously, in which an initial institutional profile for Peace Studies at Jimma is outlined. Furthermore, the partners welcomed the successful grant of an Erasmus+ KA107 mobility fund, which will facilitate future exchange between both universities on both student and faculty levels.
As military confrontation in Northern Ethiopia had led to further national polarization, all colleagues stressed the importance of exploring possibilities for engaging in dialogue, also at universities, to explore alternative courses of action. Joint efforts of universities from different parts of Ethiopia, the broader Horn of Africa region, as well as from international partner institutions, could all contribute to a comprehensive effort of peace work and mediation.