A university in Finland plans to confer an honorary doctoral degree on Ethiopian ruler Hailemariam Desalegn in May. In doing so, Tampere University of Technology will have been an unwitting partner in a sophisticated public relations campaign to legitimize, glamourize, mythologize and romanticize a ruthless and brutal dictator and his regime.
Author’s Note: In my March 19, 2017 commentary, I indicated that I will be contacting the President and Board Chairman of the Tampere University of Technology to withdraw or rescind the offer of an honorary doctoral degree to Hailemariam Desalegn, the putative leader of the T-TPLF regime in Ethiopia. Below is a copy of the letter sent to the aforementioned individuals.
I know that members of the Ethiopian community in Finland have been actively engaged in advocacy to get Tampere University to withdraw its offer. I urge them to continue in their advocacy efforts by mobilizing a broader segment of Finnish society and human rights organizations. I specifically urge Ethiopians in Finland and their Finnish friends to use the print and electronic media, including radio and television and social media, to get the message out. I urge them to consider and use the evidence I have presented in this letter and raise the questions I have raised with Tampere University officials.
Section 12 of the Finnish Constitution guarantees, “Everyone has the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression entails the right to express, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other communications without prior prevention by anyone.” I urge Ethiopians in Finland to vigorously exercise their right to freedom of expression in making their views public concerning Desalegn’s invitation to receive an honorary degree.
March 22, 2017
Mika Hanula, Ph.D.
Tampere University of Technology
FI-33720 Tampere, FINLAND
Dear Dr. Hanula:
I am informed and believe that you have plans to confer an honorary doctoral degree upon Hailemariam Desalegn, the leader of the ruling regime in Ethiopia, on May 20, 2017.
I am writing to lodge an academic note of protest and to strongly urge you to rescind your offer of an honorary doctoral degree to Hailemariam Desalegn.
I have carefully reviewed the list of all individuals upon whom your university has conferred an honorary degree since 1982. Some 73 distinguished individuals have been privileged to receive such a degree from your institution. The vast majority of your honorary degree recipients have been university professors, researchers, scientists, academicians and business leaders.
Since 1982, you have awarded an honorary degree to only six political leaders including two mayors of the City of Tampere, Timo P. Nieminen (2012) and Jarmo Rantanen (1997); two prime ministers of Finland including Paavo Lipponen (2002) and Kalevi Sorsa(1987) and Ilkka Suominen, a Speaker of the Parliament of Finland.
Your University’s policy on honorary doctorates states, “Tampere University of Technology invites persons from Finland and abroad to accept honorary doctorates in recognition of excellence in fields represented at the University and other exceptional scientific, artistic or social merits.”
It is my understanding that Desalegn is the first and only foreign political leader upon whom you intend to confer an honorary doctoral degree in University’s history.
I am appalled and dismayed by your decision to award Hailemariam Desalegn the same honorary degree you have bestowed to the various illustrious and exceptional Finnish political leaders.
Your selection is both shocking and manifestly and conspicuously inconsistent with your stated policy and the universal principles of honorary degrees (honoris causa) recognizing an individual’s contributions to a specific field of human endeavor or highly meritorious service to the national or global community.
Although my knowledge of Finnish politics and political leaders is admittedly limited, I am informed and believe that all of Finnish leaders your University has recognized in the past with an honorary degree have demonstrated exemplary and highly meritorious service to Finnish democracy and society. I am informed and believe that all of them have a substantial and praiseworthy record of dedicated public service, high standards of personal and professional integrity, demonstrated adherence to constitutional principles and respect for the rule of law, documented practice of good governance, and exhibited respect for constitutional and human rights and commitment to transparency and accountability in government.
Hailemariam Desalegn could not be more different from the political leaders you have honored over the last four decades.
I submit the following evidence for your review and consideration as I exhort you to rescind and withdraw your offer of an honorary degree to Desalegn:
Desalegn is the head of a regime that controls 100 percent of the legislative seats in the Ethiopian “parliament”. In 2010, Desalegn’s regime won 99.6 percent of the legislative seats. The late Saddam Hussein is the only leader in the world to have claimed victory by 100 percent until Desalegn repeated the claim in 2015.
Since October 2016, Desalegn’s regime has ruled by martial law described as a “state of emergency” and suspended the Ethiopian “constitution”. Human Rights Watch has provided a complete legal analysis of that expansively arbitrary “state of emergency” declaration.
Since the declaration of the “state of emergency”, Desalegn’s regime has imprisoned, by its own admission, 11,000 persons.
In December 2016, Desalegn ordered the imprisonment of a major opposition leader, Dr. Merera Gudina, for attending a European Union-organized seminar and participating in discussions on the situation in Ethiopia.
Desalegn and his regime have “criminalized” journalism in Ethiopia through his “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation” and managed to decimate all peaceful democratic opposition in Ethiopia.
Desalegn’s regime has a well-documented record of committing murders and massacres. Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the first Bush Administration, declared: “I fail to understand why the Ethiopian regime feels it necessary to exercise such extreme control to the point of committing murder periodically against their own citizens.”
Under Desalegn’s regime, Ethiopia has been named the “fourth worst offender” of press rights in the world, and the second worst jailer of journalists in Africa for the past several years under the leadership of Desalegn.
Desalegn’s regime is currently spending nearly $2 million dollars to lobby, wine and dine American politicians while 5 million Ethiopians remain at high risk of death from famine.
Under Desalegn’s regime, Ethiopia has been rated 123 out of 125 worst fed countries in the world.
Under the regime of Desalegn and his predecessor, “Ethiopia has lost $11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009.” Global Financial Integrity concluded, “The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.”
Desalegn’s regime was ordered to pay $6.5 million for illegally selling unregistered bonds in the United States. Selling unregistered bonds in the U.S. is a crime under the “Securities Act of 1933”, sec. 20 (b)).
Desalegn’s regime operates an ethnic apartheid system called kilils (kililistans that are similar to apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans) in Ethiopia.
Desalegn and his regime have a long and infamous record of human rights violations as documented by Human Rights Watch in 2016, and in numerous other reports.
Desalegn’s regime practices torture and other forms of abuse against detainees and prisoners as documented in the January 2017 Human Rights Watch report.
In September 2016, security forces loyal to Desalegn’s regime gunned down prisoners as they fled a burning jail.
Desalegn and his regime have refused to investigate the killings of over 500 celebrants by security forces at the Irrecha Festival in October 2016 or any other massive human rights violations committed under his rule.
Desalegn’s regime “has refused entry to all UN special rapporteurs since 2007. Among the outstanding requests are from the special rapporteurs on torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly.”
Desalegn’s regime has used the power of eminent domain to displace urban residents and force them into homelessness and makeshift accommodations.
Desalegn’s regime is so corrupt that the World Bank issued a 417-page report, the only one of its kind, entitled “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”.
Desalegn’s regime has plunged Ethiopia into a bottomless ocean of debt. The African Development Bank in its “Country Strategy Paper for 2016-2020” reported that Ethiopia is drowning in debt. “Ethiopia’s external debt stock has soared fivefold, from USD 2.8 billion in 2008/09 to USD 19 billion in 2014/15, up from 12.1% of GDP in 2009/10 to 26.2% in 2014/15.
In the past week, Desalegn reported to his parliament that 100 million birr allocated for development had been lost to corruption and used for private purposes by local and ethnic leaders. Desalegn refused to either name the corruption suspects to “parliament” or discuss what actions, if any, he planned to take to bring the offenders to justice.
On March 9, 2017, “a mountain of trash” in Addis Ababa collapsed on a neighborhood resulting in tens of deaths. Such a tragedy occurred under Desalegn’s nose right in the capital city. The man who earned a graduate degree from Tampere in Sanitary Engineering did nothing to prevent the collapse of “trash mountain” even though he knew about the imminent danger since he took over power in 2012.
I could go on for many more pages documenting the high crimes, crimes against humanity, corruption and abuse of power of Desalegn and his regime. I should be glad to provide voluminous information and evidence if requested.
I wish to underscore my perplexity in trying to decipher the selection criteria you employed to award Desalegn an honorary doctorate. At the risk of sounding repetitive, your policy statement declares your institution confers honorary degrees upon those who have demonstrated “excellence in fields represented at the University and other exceptional scientific, artistic or social merits.”
I am certain that you are not awarding Desalegn an honorary degree for his academic or literary scholarship or his contributions to science and technology.
I am also certain that you did not select him by the same criteria and standards you have used to select the political leaders you have honored in the past.
I cannot imagine you selected him because he was just another alumnus of your university.
Therefore, I am at a complete loss trying to figure out how you selected Desalegn.
Perhaps you could explain the basis for your selection of Desalegn to receive an honorary degree to the millions of Ethiopians who are just as perplexed as I am.
On the other hand, if I am to understand that you are offering Desalegn, and implicitly his regime, for what he has done and not done during his term of political office, then I can only throw my hands in the air and shake my head in resignation.
I regret to say that you have made a travesty, a mockery, of the honorary degree institution of your University by offering it to Desalegn.
It is your privilege and prerogative to confer an honorary doctoral degree to an individual for exceptionally egregious conduct and actions resulting in the diminution and destruction of human rights, disregard and contempt for the rule of law and entrenchment of a police state in Ethiopia.
It is your privilege and prerogative to confer an honorary doctoral degree to a leader of a brutal and ruthless dictatorship that has been in power in Ethiopia for over 25 years.
Your exercise of that solemn privilege and prerogative speaks more about your institution than Hailemariam and his regime. You have publicly betrayed your values of “excellence and exceptional scientific, artistic or social merits” that you so nobly profess by awarding Desalegn an honorary degree.
Be assured that no one, but no one, has illusions about Desalegn and his regime, and his atrocious and flagrant record of human rights violations. Except perhaps, just one?
I wonder if you have thought about the implications of your decision to award an honorary degree for the people of Ethiopia.
Did you consider how Desalegn will distort, twist, slant, mold and shape his honorary degree from your institution in his state-controlled media?
Allow me to share with you some insights:
Desalegn will use your honorary degree as a political diversion and distraction.
He will use video footage of the award ceremony on state-controlled television to tell the Ethiopian public that he was honored with a doctoral degree (conveniently omitting the fact that it is honorary) for his good governance and global leadership.
All state-controlled media will be singing Desalegn’s praise for weeks to come as urgent political and social issues are ignored in the media.
Desalegn’s predecessor cleverly used such symbolic events to gain political mileage.
In 2005, the Yara Foundation Board in Norway awarded its prize “recognizing Prime Minister Meles’ [for his] decisive steps towards increasing food production and reducing poverty in one of the poorest countries of the developing world. He has brought about political change in Ethiopia, and placed the rural poor first in the country’s development strategies.” 
The Board’s assertions justifying the award were simply not true.
In June 2005, the Guardian reported, “21 years on, fear of famine still stalks Ethiopia.” Yet Zenawi used the award to boast that “he received from the YARA Foundation for his outstanding contribution for enhancing green revolution is the outcome of the struggle of the Ethiopian farmers.”
Like his predecessor, Desalegn will no doubt use this opportunity to launch a self-aggrandizing public relations extravaganza exploiting the honorary degree to legitimize his ruthless dictatorship. The media cacophony of Desalegn’s panegyrics over his honorary degree will whitewash his state of emergency declaration. He will use it to divert attention from the ongoing human rights abuses of his “state of emergency” decree, the need for immediate and full restoration of constitutional governance.
Questions about his dictatorial rule will be drowned in a congratulatory media circus.
Stated simply, Desalegn will use the honorary degree you plan to give him as a PR prop in a video production of “Desalegn, the great leader” recognized by a world-class university.
I ask you if you have considered the fact that your institution will be a “movie prop”. Does it bother you that your university will be used as a propaganda prop to justify the regime of a ruthless dictator? Do you find it embarrassing in the slightest to honor a man who presides over the most repressive African regime, a regime that rules by martial law? Do you care at all?
Tampere University of Technology will have been an unwitting partner in a sophisticated public relations campaign to legitimize, democratize, glamourize, mythologize and romanticize a ruthless and brutal dictator and his regime.
To be perfectly candid, your decision to award Desalegn an honorary degree does not make moral or rational sense to me. Is it moral to honor an individual with a certified record of human rights atrocities? Is it rational to betray one’s cherished academic values with reckless abandon on the world stage?
I regret to inform you that by conferring an honorary degree on Desalegn, you will have disgraced and dishonored your university. You will be exposed to and invite public ridicule, contempt and infamy to your institution, and bring lasting shame upon your institution, students and faculty. You will also incur the eternal enmity of the people of Ethiopia.
I am glad to inform you that there is an honorable way out for you.
In July 2014, Azusa Pacific University in Southern California withdrew an honorary degree it had offered Desalegn after that university learned of his egregious human rights record. In explaining the withdrawal of the offer of an honorary degree, Azusa’s Director of External Relations stated, “I can confirm that the event has been canceled. The university evaluated current developments in Ethiopia including the latest U.S State Department Human Rights Report”. The 2016 version of that report released earlier this month concluded, “Security forces [in Ethiopia] used excessive force against protesters throughout the year, killing hundreds and injuring many more. The protests were mainly in Oromia and Amhara regions. At year’s end more than 10,000 persons were believed still to be detained.”
I hope you too will read the 2016 U.S State Department Human Rights Report and act out, not just profess in a policy statement, the true meaning of the courage of your convictions and values and do the right thing.
A special request
In the event that you decide to confer the honorary doctoral degree on Desalegn, I respectfully request that you do it without the necessity of his travel to Finland.
I am informed and believe that Desalegn’s trip to Finland to receive the honorary degree could cost Ethiopia in excess of $1.5 million taking into account the cost of jet fuel for a 20-hour round trip flight, preparation of jetliner for a VIP trip, meals and accommodations for Desalegn’s entourage, cost of jetliner crew and ground support, cost of maintenance and removal of jetliner from commercial service for the trip, among other costs.
I do not know if Tampere University is paying for all of the costs of logistical support to transport Desalegn. Regardless, my request is a simple one: If you must, mail or otherwise arrange to have the honorary degree delivered to Desalegn in Addis Ababa and save the hundreds of thousands (possibly exceeding $1 million) to help Ethiopian famine victims. Every penny counts when it comes to saving the lives of starving Ethiopians!
I trust you will seriously consider the facts and evidence I have presented in this letter and do the right thing.
I have attached a copy of my recent commentary (available at almariam.com) regarding the tragic deaths from the collapse of the “trash mountain” in Addis
I hope you will pay me the academic courtesy of a reply. I should be glad to receive a reasonable explanation for your decision to confer an honorary degree on Hailemariam Desalegn, but I will settle for a plausible one.
Alemayehu (Al) Mariam, Ph.D., J.D., Esq.
Professor & Attorney at Law
C.c. Tero Ojanperä, Ph.D., Board Chairman, Tampere University of Technology Foundation