Not Stones, Policy Tools

Sep 21 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele

In 1974, Hailesellasie’s government tried to introduce some changes in the educational system. Dubbed the Education Sector Review, it was meant to revolutionise education in the country. Instead, it ended up ushering in a revolution.

Of course, it was not the only or even the proximate cause for the revolution. But it sure is a good illustration of the impatience of the revolutionaries of the time, mainly university students and teachers. The call for change was everywhere. I think no one, including the Emperor, failed to see the need for change. The difference was about what kind of change and how fast. That was the million-dollar question.

Indeed, Hailesellasie was a reformer. He built a civil service from scratch and his legacy in introducing modern education to the country is still intact and uncontested. In fact, it can be argued that it is because it is one area that is closest to his heart that when he was being battered by all sides for change, he tried to bring sweeping change to the educational sector. That was his portfolio, an area he knows best. Besides, it was an area that would be the least controversial, he must have thought. Who would stand in the face of change to the educational system? Surely not students and teachers!

How wrong he was. When a young population is smitten with the romance of revolution, there is nothing that is not controversial. As the old revolutionary song says “beabyot gize yelem tikaze,” roughly translated, “there is no time for sentiment during a revolution.”

There was no time for sentiment or debate. There were hardly any policy discussions or alternative suggestions. Even in the campus of the then Hailesellasie University, where there was relative academic freedom, the intellectuals of the time were too busy throwing stones and plotting the overthrow of the government that nobody seems to have stopped to ask what happens the day after the fall of the government.

Forty-five years later, there is still the same debate about yet another educational reform package. Some of the changes that he was roundly criticised for then do not look that bad now. Come to think of it, I wonder how many of those that were out front vehemently opposing the policy then really knew what it was about? How many would have had a deeper understanding of the policy than what they have heard through the grapevine? I wonder how many of those young people, now grey-haired gentlemen and ladies, having miraculously survived the carnage and chaos that was unleashed, look back in regret and wish they were a little bit more patient; a little more understanding about the complexities of governance; the difficulties of introducing change in an old polity.

There has been a lot of talk of change and reform packages in present day Ethiopia. The educational reform package and the Homegrown Economic Reform Agenda to mention just a few among the many. It is encouraging to see a few public intellectuals and concerned citizens trying to engage in a well-informed policy debate. Some are even trying to suggest alternative policy prescriptions. But they are depressingly few.

The majority of the noise, especially in the political arena, is cynical mudslinging and name calling. Most of the discourse is devoid of any reason or logic. The opposition is driven by hatred and anger, not intellectual rigour. There is a rabid call for change and revolution. There is even a call for the resignation of the Prime Minister over every little offence. Once again, here is what nobody is talking about. What happens the day after?

The last thing this country needs now more than ever is another revolution. Change is needed. But when it comes, for a change, this time, it should come through the ballot box.

For that to happen, politicians have to stop throwing stones and start sharpening their policy tools.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 21,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1012]

Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.

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