Bililign Mandefro’s education strategy through the Back-door
By Mootii Baarboo (PhD), October 10, 2018
For those who did not know who Mr Mandefro was, it is only right to say a word or two about this chameleon Dergist. Bililign was notoriously as known tail wagging dog after Mengistu Hailemariam. If you look at any of his speeches during his time as a minister of education, you will notice how Billilign worshiped the dictator. Bililign was a very dangerous nefxenya whose main goal of living was to belittle Oromo at best and to destroy them at worst. In comparison with the butcher Negussie Fanta, the Dergue governor of Wollega, Bililign was more dangerous. I will describe in future the atrocities this individual committed against the Oromo in 1980’s, but for today I wanted to bring to the fore how the Dergue remnants are trying to do the same thing as Bililign and his Co.
To begin, it is worth to cite an episode a Nefxenya education strategy concocted by Bililign, the education Minister. The episode took place in Nekemte in 1985. This was the time when you would be tagged with the phrase ‘narrow nationalist’ for using Oromo in normal conversation. It was a time when your promotion or demotion in work or social life depended more or less on your ability to speak Amharic. It was also a time when Amharic ‘suffered’ because people who were not good at it did their best to use it even if it was broken and ‘useless’.
Our distinguished education minister, Mr. Bililign Mandefro, was on tour in Wollega and had to stop at Nekemte Teacher Training Institute (TTI). Part of his stop here was to observe classes and to speak to the TTI community. After his observation of a few classes, Bililign summed up what he found at a dinner party held for him in the main hall at night.
In his authoritative speech, he shouted, “Comrades, what we have observed today showed that our quality of education has deteriorated immensely. The reason for this, as we have observed in the classes, is that the teachers are not competent enough to teach in English, the medium of instruction.” The Minister continued, “The solution for this is to replace English with Amharic as a medium of instruction from Grade One to the university. And we will do this soon!”
Most of the teacher trainees in the hall were Oromo although the majority of the teachers were not. However, we were all dumbfounded at the declaration. The director of the TTI and a couple of Oromo teachers at the time were shocked and felt angry even though there was little we could do at that time. We were clear that this was the nefxenya’s strategy to kill of Oromo language and identity. They had all the political power, and why not?
Against all the adversaries, there are brave Oromo people who do not shy from confronting head on their enemies. A recent example was the Oromo boy who risked his life when he grabbed a microphone and cried “Down, Down, Down Woyane!” infront thousands of Oromo people celebrating Irreechaa at Bishooftu in 2016. In 1985, the brave person to confront Bililign was none other than Lamma Arity, head of teacher education at the ministry of education, who was part of Bililign’s entourage. Lamma requested for a permission to ask and asked, “Comrade Minister, I agree that the quality of our education has recently deteriorated.” He took a deep breath and continued, “But, Minister, I don’t think changing the medium of instruction from English to Amharic is the best solution because there are lots of teachers in Ethiopia for whom Amharic is also a second language as English is.” Bililign was obviously unhappy to hear such a comment from his subordinates.
Now, the education road map, concocted by selective individuals at the Addis Ababa University is nothing other than the work of nefxenyas to revive what they have always been craving about. I don’t think they would ever stop doing this. But time and reality is with always with Oromo. Who would have thought in 1985 Oromo would be a written and official language in Oromia in five years? I am confident, no force can take away the right of nations and nationalities in Ethiopia to use their languages formally or informally. The way ahead is for Oromo to be an official federal language in Ethiopia. If ‘Ethiopia is an addiction’ or timbo to Lamma Magarsa, then, for that to be real, she has to be wrapped with Afaan Oromo.