Establishing the Ethio-Adwa Pan-African University: Some Suggestions Professor Desta, Asayehgn

June 6th, 2016 Print Print Email Email

The defeat of the Italian forces by Ethiopian patriots at the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, became a mountain of pride and inspiration to millions who cherish black heritage. Later, in 1914 and 1917in Jamaica and in the United States, Marcus Garvey, a well-known African nationalist, ignited his supporters against white racism by stressing emphatically the way the Ethiopian patriotic forces dismantled Italian aggression at the Battle of Adwa. Using phrases such as “Ethiopia thou land of our fathers,” Garvey further galvanized his followers to adopt his “Back to Africa Movement” slogans. To arouse passion against colonial aggression and racism, Benito Sylvian of Haiti, Joseph Vitalien of the West Indies, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, and W.E. B. Du Bois, all represented Ethiopia as a tower of independence , and the Battle of Adwa gave hope that European colonization could be resisted with dignity.

As a result, the Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa, symbolized the possibility of future emancipation and inspired known figures like NnamdiAzikiwe in Nigeria, Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya , and George Padmore in Trinidad, etc to use the bravery of Ethiopian forces manifested at the Battle of Adwa to create awareness and motivate their followers to fight and stand in solidarity against foreign domination. Japan artfully utilized Ethiopia’s strategy from the Battle of Adwa to fight against the invading Russia Army in 1904 (See For example, Levine, 2014; and Desta, 2014). The Battle of Adwa secured united Ethiopia’s stewardship for Africa’s future independence. As a result, it could be said that the modern era for Africa’s sovereignty started with victory at the Battle of Adwa.

After 120 years from the unprecedented triumph achieved against Italian aggression at the Battle of Adwa, today we see nothing but decay and ruins in the once vibrant town of Adwa (Kinfe, 1996). More specifically, except for a few posts mounted at base of Mount Soleda, with worn and torn flags remaining to commemorate the Battle, it is disturbing for students of African history to see the total absence of a museum, or a library, or even paved pathways to show visitors where the heroic Battle of Adwa was fought. Though a number of philanthropists have attempted to build new vocational schools and millions of birr were raised for the purpose of creating world-class secondary schools and a historical site, nothing significant has occurred to rebuild the town of Adwa.
Buried for a century and two decades, the importance of the Battle of Adwa that once gave hope to colonized people of the world, is in the process of being revitalized. A spark of life has been ignited. Following the guidance of African Heads of State and Governments of the African Union, it is quite tantalizing to notice that some African scholars are in the process of considering the establishment of a new tertiary Pan-African University in the town of Adwa.

There are five thematic institutes which were launched in 2011, and hosted by existing Universities of excellence across African’s five geographically demarcated regions. These address: 1) Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (Kenya in Eastern Africa); 2) Life and Earth Sciences, including Health and Agriculture (Nigerian Western Africa; 3) Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences, (Cameroon in Central Africa); 4) Water, Energy Sciences, and Climate Change (Algeria in Northern Africa); and 5) Space Sciences, (Southern Africa). The University’s Statute was adopted in 2013 to provide the “opportunity for advanced graduate and postgraduate research to high-performing African students.” Stated differently, comprehensive Master and PhD programs were established in the five thematic regions to prepare African scholars to use their education for the development of a prosperous, integrated and peaceful Africa (See, Pan-African University, 2016).

To bring about unity and uplift the people of African descent, the five above mentioned Pan-African Universities were instructed to reflect lofty standards in reflective teaching, development oriented research programs, and regional community service programs. Furthermore, the thematic institutes were expected to be furnished with “world-class equipment” that would incorporate “best practices and standards.” In addition, when the five thematic institutes were fully developed, it was planned that they would be linked to ten Satellite Centers with complementary thematic specializations, interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary programs. At full operational capacity, the PAU was expected to incorporate 50 centers of excellence under its five academic hubs that have been already established across Africa (Pan African University, 2016).

In the two consultative meetings that occurred in March and May 2016in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as made crystal clear by Berhe (May 2016), the Adwa Pan-African University was going to be launched around 2063 (?). However, since the five regional academic hubs were chosen at a competition organized by the African Union’s (AU) Pan-African University, it needs to be understood that the Adwa Pan-African University was chosen not to operate as a separate thematic institute, but instead, as a sub-unit of the ten Satellite Centers. Instead of duplicating the programs of the other centers, the Adwa Pan-African University would operate as part of the already established “complimentary thematic specialization.”

As said by Salmi, “Achieving the ambitious goals of launching a new, high quality, university is easier said than done” (Salmi, 2010). Thus, as expected, if the physical infrastructure of the Adwa Pan-African is expected to be impressive with state-of-the-art facilities, the current consultants in Addis Ababa need to establish a sub-committee to investigate the source of funds necessary to build the physical aspect of the Adwa Pan-African University. After establishing the buildings however, the necessary operational budget to run this sub-thematic center could emerge from the host nation (Ethiopia), the African Union, and other international aid donors. A case in point is, the leading thematic supporter of the Yaounde II, Pan-African University (PAU), Soa, Cameroon, was funded by the Swedish Government. The initial seed money of $5 million was however donated by the World Bank. The Kenyan Pan-African University was funded by the Chinese Government. While Germany supported the Pan University in Algeria, India and Japan were the leading thematic partners with the Pan-African University in Nigeria (Pan-African University, 2016). It needs to born in mind at this juncture that given a large portion of the funding of the Adwa Pan-African University is likely to originate from international resources, over the years these linkages might create dependency not only on the funds but might also run the risk of academic and pedagogic dependence from outside sources (Woods, et al, 2012).

As stated before, since a large portion of the operational funds originate from international donors, it could be difficult to challenge the citadel of Eurocentric paradigms and western “scientific epistemologies of knowledge” (Nabudere, 2003). However, as suggested by Salami (2010), the promoters of a new university should refrain from launching into the architectural design of their institution until they have established not only a clear definition of the vision and mission of the new institutions but have also determined some of the specific content of teaching and research. At the very least, However, “… the academic staff should be given the opportunity to influence the design of the pedagogical and research spaces of the new institution.”

As a center for higher education, however, the Adwa Pan-African University needs to respect and be prepared to face the some key tenets. These are: 1) as a tertiary level educational center, the Adwa Pan-African University needs to be guided by the principles of academic freedom, autonomy, accountability and international partnerships; 2) as the hub of a global pool, the Adwa Pan-African University needs to contribute constructively to the emancipation and reactivation of the indigenous knowledge of Africa, reflecting innovative ways of researching and teaching African History and Strategy, and 3) marshaling its capacity-building ventures.

Concerning its name, it should be made clear that without having any established university in site, it is challenging for the town of Adwa to be chosen to serve as one of the sub centers of the five Pan-African Universities. This happens because the Battle of Adwa represents a beacon for independence and self-actualization. It was in 1896, at the Battle of Adwa that the Italians colonialists were annihilated by the Ethiopian patriotic forces. Since, the Battle of Adwa encourages and inspires millions who cherish the black heritage. Therefore, the designers of the Adwa Pan-African University need to respond to the historic challenge to correct the historical distortion and theft of African heritage that has occurred over the years. Its architects need to provide a deeply thought-out, well-conceived vision and mission, in their attempt to design a well-articulated strategy that achieves the objectives of the University (Nabudere, 2003). Undertaking through the triple agenda of deconstruction, reconstruction, and regeneration (See for instance, Odora, 2002), the Pan-African University located in Adwa needs to be named Ethio-Adwa Pan-African University because the University was carefully chosen to be located in the town of Adwa. It was at the Battle of Adwa that Ethiopia’s united patriotic force guaranteed that Ethiopia was the only African country that resisted European colonization. So, to polish, flourish, reshape and cherish the history of the Battle of Adwa, Ethio-Adwa should be used as a prefix to the name the Pan-African University that will be established in the town of Adwa.

In conclusion, launching a new thematic Pan-African University at Adwa, is long overdue. However, today is better than never if the center is tailored to ensure full alignment with the historical context of the battle of Adwa, and demonstrates Ethiopian pride in its characteristic of bravery. Among other things, the curriculum (See Table 1) needs to ensure that students achieve a balanced view of military history by designing alternative strategies and tactics. Since Ethiopia has already achieved a competitive advantage in these areas, focusing on these courses must not duplicate courses or specializations of the other thematic centers. However, the pedagogy addressed by the Ethio-Adwa Pan-African University needs to be dynamic. That is, the Ethio-Adwa Pan University center needs to go beyond dealing with Ethio-centric studies of the past, but has to move to the present, and transform its courses for the future. This is the way that learning and research at the Ethio-Adwa Pan-African University will reach out to a wider student body.

I hope these suggestions will facilitate further discussion on the project. It is worthwhile to congratulate the movers and shakers of this noble idea. Mapping the road going forward will be challenging. Nonetheless, if the designers stay committed to the mission of the Pan-African University, there is no doubt they will be able to achieve their intended purposes, including tactics to make adjustments along the way.

Table 1: Pan-African Universities’ Plan for a Prosperous & Integrated Africa

Ethio-Adwa Pan-African University (Proposed) Juja, Kenya Ibadan, Nigeria Soa, Cameroon Tlemcen Algeria South Africa
Military History Basic Sciences Life Sciences Governance Water Space Sciences
Strategy and tactics Agriculture Earth science Humanities Energy Sciences
Technology Health Social Sciences Climate change
Innovation Agriculture
Abraham, Kinfe, (January-March , 1996). “A Monument to African Heroism” Selamta: Ethiopian Airlines Quarterly Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 1.

Berhe, D. (May 2016). Adwa Pan-African University.Aigaforum. Retrieved May 19, 2016.

Desta, A. (2014). The Battle of Adwa, African Victory in the Age of Empire: A Reflection.

Levine, D.“ Ethio Politics: The Battle of Adwa as a Historic Event .” . Cited, 25 March, 2014.


Nabudere, D. (2003). “Towards the Establishment of a Pan-African University: A Strategic Concept Paper.” African Association of Political Science.Vol. 8.No. 1.

Odora, H.C.A (2002). Indigenous Knowledge and the Integration of Knowledge Systems: Towards an Articulation. Claremont : South Africa, New African Books.

Salmi, J. (2010).“ Ten Common Errors When Building a New World-Class University.”

Sunday, S. (2016).“ How University of Ibadan Won PAU’s Hub for West Africa” University of Ibadan.

Woods, D. Chaine, P. Padayachee, A. and Olsson, Asa (2012).“Programme on Innovation, Higher Education and Research for development, Background Document” Case Study on the Pan-African University.

  1. ዘረ-ያዕቖብ ወ.ግ.ዓ.ም-ፅዮንThe Eth.
    | #1

    “the Adwa Pan-African University was going to be launched around 2063 (?).”

    እንተዘይሞይትክንስ ጥዕና ኣሎክን! እስከዚያን ጊዜ ድረስ ስንት ጊዜ የወሳኝ ባለስልጣኖች መከረባበት ይኖር ይሆን?

    “However,…………….” ለዚያውም ደግሞ……………!

  2. Ougebo
    | #2

    Pan- Africanism is a vision for uniting Africans for a common development and prosperity in the continent. Hence the woyanne professor Desta Asayehgn and a Tigrayan nationalist and follower of the TPLF, is not the right person write or talk about pan-Africanism. The ideals and visions of Pan-Africanism contradict with the ideology of the TPLF which is based on the apatheid model. Desta Asayeghn and his TPLF even do not accept the equality of Ethiopians as the `Golden people` speech of their late ethnic chief Meles Zenaw has demonstrated Thus, the golden people are in control of the whole economic and political power in Ethiopia.

  3. Dawi
    | #3

    Adwa is another Ethiopian renaissance mantra as GERD is today; so I don’t see any problem endorsing Ethio-Adwa Pan-African University as explained by the Prof. above. This should be welcomed by all in my opinion however, the controversy around the architect of the battle of Adwa needs to be clear of misunderstandings.

    Having said that, this issue reminds me of the discussions elsewhere regarding the view forwarded by the very articulate intellectual Dr.Tsegaye Ararssa (not a historian)but, who recently has become a sensation for giving an in depth analysis of the current Ethiopian situation. The controversy is the reported claim about Menelik saying, “I am not a Negro at all: I am a Caucasian.”

    As quoted by Tedla Woldyohannes, Tsegaye wrote – “To claim that Emperor Menelik II fought a black war is a distortion of history. It’s an insult to any self-respecting black person…”. I have to say that I was a little surprised to read that.

    It sounds kind of silly for Dr. Tsegaye to say such a thing but, as Tedla pointed out on his piece, “ you know any Ethiopian who ever claimed that he/she is a Caucasian, literally claiming to belong to the white race?” I say unlikely however, a consensus need to prevail among all Ethiopians on this controversy sooner than later so that we all move forward together.

  4. Dawi
    | #4


    Dr. Tsegaye on Adwa: If that makes me an Oromo secessionist, so be it, although it will be an insult to my secessionist compatriots.

    [[..Adwa legitimized the Italian colonization of Eritrea. My critics today blame the TPLF led government in Ethiopia for ceding Eritrea too easily. Menelik did it first. The TPLF are very good students of empire. They followed in his footsteps....]]

    [[..If Ethiopians were so united at Adwa, why was it that they couldn’t stand together in Maychew? Why did our huge, albeit disorganized, army went in disarray just before the real fight started? Why was there an inward war (for example with the Rayya) just before confronting the Italians? Why did some of the members of the royal family of the northern core betray Ethiopia and join their next of kin in Eritrea (who, then, were under the Italian colony)? Why did we have a large number of people, from within the Abyssinian core, that became collaborators of the Italians as banda?..]]

    [[..Yes, I challenge the state-nationalist orthodoxy because it is entirely a pack of ideologically motivated, racist, bigoted, phobic lie. And I will do so, if I can, rather proudly. But no, what I want to see now is a more honest, a more accurate, a more comprehensive appraisal that would aid the project of redeeming that moment. I am for an alternative interpretation, yes. I am for many, varied, differentiated, plural interpretations. I am for the social-historical meaning of Adwa. If that makes me an Oromo secessionist, so be it, although it will be an insult to my secessionist compatriots...]]

  5. kumneger
    | #5

    Ethiopia has universities that are not as viable as secondary schools with acceptable standards. The regime simply focuses on the number of graduates that it produces every year. The establishment of a pan-African university at Adwa is nothing short of political gains. Is it going to offer free scholarships to African students? Who is going to cover the cost? What is the focus of the curriculum?

    On the other hand, historians are divided as to why Menilik abandoned Eritrea after gallantly defeating the Italian invaders. Those who side with the Emperor have it that He could no longer fight with his peasant army with outdated rifles and spears and swords. Blaming his retreat is as good as accepting defeat. He should be commended for his wisdom not to continue the war with the Italians beyond Mereb.

  6. Kaleab
    | #6

    Tsegaye Ararsa is an Oromo nationalist and shares a lot with the Tigray nationakists like `Dawi`. According the writer and journalist Tesfaye Gebreab (Gadaa), who sees himself as the expert on the mentality and pyyscology of the Oromo nationalists, the difference between the two ethno-nationalist groups is mainly the following.
    The Oromo nationalists lack self confidence as the result of the oppressive Amhara rule they have had to bear. The Tigray nationalists who control the ecomomic and political power are more self confident and have the feeling of superiority (Golden people). The Gadaa advises and encourages the oromo nationalists specially the youth to develop self confidence and courage.

  7. ዘረ-ያዕቖብ ወ.ግ.ዓ.ም-ፅዮንThe Eth.
    | #7

    “Adwa is another Ethiopian renaissance mantra as GERD is today;”

    የራስን ዜጋ ከኩራዝ እንኳን ሳያላቁቁ, ውሃን አቅቦ “ለነጁቢቲ ኮረንቲ ለመሸጥ” የሚደረገውን መሽፈድፈድ, ለኮሎኒያሊስቶች ባርያነት እንዳንዳረግ ካደረግነው የአሸናፊ ሆኖ መውጣት ጋራ ለማነፃፀር መነሳት, ድንቢጥን ከዝሆን ጋራ እንደማወዳደር ይቆጠራል:: ምንም እንኳን አሸናፊ ሆነን ወጥተን እያለን, በመጨረሻው ግን ግዛቶቻችንን ላሸነፍናቸው ሃይሎች በመሸጥ ባፍጢማችን ብንደፋም, ባደረግነው ታላቁ የአውሮፓ ኮሎኒያሊስቶችን ከምድራችን ማባረር ተግባር, ለጠቅላላ, በተለይም ለምድሪቱ ጥቁር ህዝቦችና ባጠቃላይ ነፃነታቸውን ወዳጆች ለሆኑ የምድሪቱ ልጆች ሁሉ ታላቅ አርአያ ሆነናል, አለሙም ይሄንን ታላቅነታችንን አውቆልናል::

    “after gallantly defeating the Italian invaders……………….

    He could no longer fight with his peasant army with outdated rifles and spears and swords.” ራሱን በራሱ የሚጋጭ “አስተሳሰብና” አባባል!

    “gallantly defeating” ሲደረግ በአቶሚክ ቦምብ ነበር እንዴ!? ይሄው የpeasant armyው እማ አልነበር እንዴ 20 ዓመታት ሙሉ በራስ አሉላ መሪነት የተከላከለው እና ያሸነፈውም!! ከማሸነፍ በኋላም ምኒልክ ጓዳ ውስጥ ብቻውን ከሶላቶዎች ጋራ ተዘግቶ ኤርትራን ይፈነጩበትና በኋላም ሙሶሎኒም ከዚያ ተንደርድሮ በመምጣት በጢስ መርዝ ይፈጀን ዘንዳ ሲፈርምላቸው, ጠቅላላ የምኒልክ ቤተ ሰብም ቢሆን ውጭ ደጃፍ ላይ ሆኖ ተቃውሞውን አሰምቶና ጣልያንን ከባህር ማዶ ማባረር እንደሚቻል አምኖበት አልነበረም እንዴ!

    ሁለት ነገሮች ፍፃሜ ማግኘት አለባቸው:
    ለባርነት በመሸጣቸው “ዘላለማቸውን” ሲዝናኑብንና ሲፈነጩብን የነበሩትን “ኤርትራውያንን” በኢሳያስ በኩል አድርገን አስፈላጊውን ቴራፒ እንዲለጋሳቸውና ኢትዮጵያን እንዲናፍቁ እንዳበቃናቸው ሁሉ, አንኮበሮችንም ሶላቶዎች በአሁኑ ጊዜ መረብ ዘንዳ እንደሌሉና በዚያን ጊዜም ከስላቶዎች ጋራ በመተባበር የዋሉትን የክህደትና የአገር መሸጥ ጉዳይ አሳፋሪ መሆኑን የሚገነዘቡበትን የሚታረሙበትን የቴራፒ መንገድ መፈለግና ምድረ ፅዮንን ካለምንም ገደብ ከአጥናፍ እስከ አጥናፏ ይወዷት ዘንዳ የሚያበቃውን መንገድ መሻት አለብን::

  8. Dawi
    | #8

    For Menelik who said “I am not a Negro”, also said, “I am black and you are black”, ” let us unite to hunt our common enemy”. Isn’t that intriguing?? It is indeed!

    Ossie Davis, the playwright-actor, searched his soul and came up with the following passionately eloquent statement:

    I am a Negro. I am clean, black and I smile a lot. Whenever I want something–to get a job in motion pictures, for instance, or on television or to get a play produced on Broadway, whenever I need a political favor–I go to white folks. White folks have money. I do not. White folks have power. I do not. All of my needs — financial, artistic, social my need for freedom — I must depend on white folks to supply. That is what is meant by being a Negro.

    Malcolm X used to be a Negro, but he stopped. He no loner depended on white folks to supply his needs — psychologically or sociologically — to give him money or lead his fight for freedom or to protect him from his enemies or to tell him what to do. Malcolm X did not hate white folks, nor did he love them. Most of all, he did not need to tell them who he was. Above all, he was determined to make it on his own. That was why Malcolm was no longer a Negro. Malcolm was a man, a black man! A black man means not to accept the system as Negroes do but to fight hell out of the system as Malcolm did. It can be dangerous. Malcolm was killed for it. Nevertheless, I like Malcolm much better than I like myself.

    Jeff Pearce in Prevail wrote the following on Menelik the man:

    [[..Menelik was an intriguing personality in Ethiopian history. A man with a high forehead, thick lips...he new politics a patchwork quilt of different cultural groups and languages, nothing unified better than a war to defend the homeland. "I am black and you are black" he told Muslim Dervishes. " let us unite to hunt our common enemy"...]]


  9. Dawi
    | #9

    ዘረ-ያዕቖብ said:

    [[.. “ኤርትራውያንን” በኢሳያስ በኩል አድርገን አስፈላጊውን ቴራፒ እንዲለጋሳቸውና ኢትዮጵያን እንዲናፍቁ እንዳበቃናቸው ሁሉ....]]

    “ኢትዮጵያን እንዲናፍቁ” – That will only has to be when they remember the good old times living with you, thinking only of the times they were having fun.

    On the other hand, remember, they got sober for a reason. At some point in the past, listening to your type of (Adwa) Amara/Tigre chauvinists empty bravado with abject poverty and a chronic habit of begging for food was no longer fun. In fact, it probably created a lot of harm to their colonial bruised health to the point of making them “ዘላለማቸውን” ሲዝናኑብንና ሲፈነጩብን የነበሩትን “ on their own kith and kin.

    That led to “independence”, ruining their personal life, professional life, financial situation and even saddled them to legal issues beyond UN sanctions today to a point of being charged of a possible crime against humanity, for our friend Isayas may end up appearing at a world court. :)

    Yes, it’s normal to miss (እንዲናፍቁ) your friends. But putting yourself back into the old environment can put you in a relapse; maybe they should wait until Ethiopia reach a middle income country; in the mean time create a healthier relationship with the richer Arab neighbors like UAE and Saudi Arabia to prevent a relapse by working on new & “possibly” healthier environments that promote sobriety.

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