A security breach occurred at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education and the National high school leaving examination is now postponed after leaks of the answers for the English language test were published online. Self-proclaimed rights activists claimed responsibility for the leak. They put forward the disruption of schools in some parts of Oromia this year, following the “master plan” riots, as an excuse. They apparently found the sabotage of student’s examination across Ethiopia and the rest of Oromia as legitimate cause.

It is true that students in several part of Oromia state missed classes from days in some areas to a couple of months in others, especially in West and South Shoa zones of Oromia. Disruptions of various magnitude also occurred in Konso areas of Southern state and Qimant areas of the Amhara state. This, unfortunately, is a common phenomenon as flooding, droughts and conflicts always disrupted schools, especially in Ethiopian Somali state and Southern Omo areas of Southern peoples state. The ministry of education however always preferred to conduct the examinations at the same day across the country. What happened this year is no different.

Several recommendations has been forwarded to address the troubles of the students in heavily affected areas of Oromia (not the entire state). One recommendation was to not conduct the tests in those affected areas. That in my opinion would be equivalent to a punishment as it robs a year from the students. That I assume was also the consideration of the ministry. If that was to happen, one can easily imagine the government being accused of punishing “Oromo students” for the protests.

Photo - Tana High School, Bahirdar [Credit - Chora, Inc.]
Photo – Tana High School, Bahirdar. 2010 [Credit: Chora, Inc.]

Another recommendation was to delay the examination for months. There is nothing wrong to ask students across Ethiopia to sacrifice a couple of months for their fellow citizens in those affected zones. The domino effect that such an unprecedented delay would create on the schedules of the universities can also be managed. However, the precedent set will force the ministry and the government to do the same for other states that face disruptions in the coming years. That’s not a hypothetical point but something that’s almost certain to happen, as I tried to show above. I assume the ministry and the government chose to not set such a precedent that will become an annual feature to haunt the examinations.

Despite this considerations the ministry made an exception and allowed more than a dozen woredas (districts) to take the examinations in July. That practically robs any excuses for the saboteurs. The irony lies in the fact that most of those “activists” asking for the delay of the examinations are those that are vowing and actively promoting the riots to continue.

The Cost and the Blame

A student’s preparation for examination is psychological as much as technical coverage of the content. Such disruptions affect the mental state of the students and the additional time adds little into preparation. With the nearing of the sowing season in the rural areas, the schedule mishap adversely affects students who will join the family farming activities in June. Hence, the biggest losers of this sabotage are students across Ethiopia. The other cost is the huge expenses laid to waste due to the sabotage.

The “activists” who organized the sabotage and their cheerleaders who attempt to defend such an irresponsible act with flimsy arguments also take a chunk of the blame. Even when they know the students in affected woredas has gotten an extension, they still preferred to sabotage the examination students from the rest of Oromia and the country has been preparing for. That cements the majority opinion that these self-proclaimed activists are only interested in attracting attention at any cost.

The blame also lies with the ministry who got itself infiltrated by saboteurs and made a security mishap in one of the biggest national undertakings. That calls for an enquiry and accountability of responsible officials.

Going forward, it is incumbent upon all of us to condemn such attacks on the public and not defend them as if the attack was against government, which while not always legitimate but somewhat understandable. This act, however, is wildly irresponsible and has no basis of legitimacy.


Fetsum Berhane is an Ethiopian resident, economist researcher and a blogger on HornAffairs.

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