Tuesday, June 28, 2022
HomeOpinion“Abiy Ahmed—PhD?” A Reply to Professor Alex de Waal ( Minga Negash)

“Abiy Ahmed—PhD?” A Reply to Professor Alex de Waal ( Minga Negash)

Minga Negash (Photo : MSU )

Minga Negash

On May 4, 2022, Professor Alex de Waal, the Director of the World Peace Foundation’s  Program at Tufts University published in the foundation’s blog an article entitled “Abiy  Ahmed—Ph.D.?.” The Director tried to assess the “capacity to understand peacemaking,  based on [an individual’s] academic writing”. Professor de Waal questioned the capacity  of the supervisor of the Ph.D. thesis, the theoretical framework of the thesis, and  eventually the integrity and independence of the degree-granting institution. 

The thesis under discussion is entitled “Social Capital and its Role in Traditional Conflict  Resolution: The Case of Inter-religious Conflict in Jimma Zone of the Oromia Regional  State in Ethiopia”. The thesis was submitted by Abiy Ahmed Ali, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, in 2016, in fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Peace  and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University. 

The Director wrote a differently toned essay on an incomplete master’s degree thesis  project at Erasmus University (Rotterdam). The draft thesis was written by the late Prime  Minister of Ethiopia, but to the best of my information the work was not completed and the degree was not granted, posthumously (de Waal 2012, The theory and practice of  Meles Zenawi, African Affairs, 112/446, 148–155). The May 4, 2022 article raises a  number of issues that university administrators, funding agencies and educational  psychologists would have deal with (UNESCO 2020 Global Convention on the  Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education, Bloom 1956; Taxonomy of  Educational Objectives, Handbook: The Cognitive Domain. David McKay, New York; Meyer and Land 2005, Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Epistemological  considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning, High Education 49,  373–388).  

In March 2022, I was part of a team that organized a colloquium on Ethiopia’s proposed  national dialogue. There were 8 speakers. From the colloquium and the preparation I  gathered that ethnoreligious conflicts in Ethiopia and elsewhere are complex issues, it is  a branch of political science (see Professor Brendan O’Leary; United Nations) and require  “macro” and “multidisciplinary” approaches. While reading Professor de Waal’s article I  was curious about what the face of the World Peace Foundation Program at Tufts  University would say about national dialogues, in ethnoreligious conflict settings, as  resurgent ethnonationalism is also ravaging Europe, swinging votes in elections and  threatening global peace. Regarding Ethiopia, how armed ethnonationalist groups can be  brought on board, a missing thread in the 8 papers presented at the colloquium, is an important issue. In this respect, Professor de Waal concluded his essay with the following  sentence:-

Ethiopians might be forgiven for thinking that peace talks and national dialogue in their  country add up to no more being taken for a bumpy ride on the back of a motorbike around  a small town, with the rider giving a blessing, waving and moving on.”

Comparing Professor de Waal’s closing paragraph with the contributions made at the  colloquium reveals that Ethiopian scholars and professionals, at home and in the  diaspora, have indeed been ahead of him. I also observed a few anomalies in the first  few paragraphs of Professor de Waal’s piece. First, the title and body of the text do not  go together. He questioned the quality of the thesis and yet invited others to review it. The  outlet is the school’s/foundation’s blog and lacks independence. The website’s link to Abiy  Ahmed’s thesis is Tufts University and not the degree granting institution, Addis Ababa  University. The document is badly scanned/ photocopied, the pdf is convertible but some  of the pages are unreadable. The bibliography section is missing. In a 150-page long text,  Professor de Waal starts quoting the thesis on page 128 and questions the literature  review and theoretical framework of the thesis and, wrote a paragraph about data analysis  and plagiarism but did not report faults. He neither questioned the power of the data  analysis nor run the text through plagiarism software. He did not have issues with how  the social capital variables were measured/instrumentalized and tested. 

The scope of this rejoinder is limited to the substantive academic issues raised by  Professor de Waal. The spirit of the rejoinder is promoting enhanced conversation among  the American and Ethiopian learned communities, and nothing more. Professor de Waal  argued that the heart of the thesis, the theoretical framework, is weak because the work  has a sociological, an Islamic and Pentecostalist conception of peace, that the  dissertation took just 26 months from start to finish (in a part-time study), and there was  14 months gap between the date of the proposal defense and the date of the submission  of the thesis. Professor de Waal alluded that Addis Ababa University has bowed to  political pressure.  

Regarding the theoretical framework, what counts as theory is discipline specific. In his  seminal work entitled “Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies” Bruno  Latour 1999 provides the link between the mind (how we understand a phenomenon),  society (politics, morality, ethics, institutions), and God (theology), and argues that theory  is accepted when the mob thinks it is right at a given point in time. Neither philosophy of  science (Heidegger, Popper, Kuhn) nor contemporary journal editors and reviewers question that new knowledge and innovative methodology (technology) change the way  we think or our way of life, including the way we understand and practice peace and war. Whether peace comes from self (soul and God) or communal is a worn-out topic as a  careful reading of Max Weber’s works reveals the religious basis (Protestant, Calvinist, Catholic) of his sociological thesis of government (see Michell Dean 2010  Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society). Eurocentric understanding of  Africa has been a dismal failure, obliging many contemporary African scholars to  reconceptualize the knowledge generation process (see Achele Mbembe 2001 on the post colony; Samir Amin 2010 reprint Eurocentrism; and obliging some universities to  introduce courses that “decolonize” the mind of Africans; Muchie, Gammeltoft and  Lundval eds. 2005 Putting Africa First). In short old problems can be reconceptualized/  reimagined or “reinvented” and examined through new lenses.

In another book “Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory” Bruno Latour 2007 urges the reconceptualization of problems and methods of  linking humans and nonhumans. In yet another work on established professions, entitled  “Lords of the Dance: Professionals as Institutional Agents”, Richard Scott 2010 shows  how institutional agents like Professor de Waal have “leading roles in the creation and  tending of institutions.. attempt to create general cultural-cognitive frameworks; others to  devise normative prescriptions to guide behavior, and still others to exercise coercive  authority” (See also Dezalay & Garth, 2016. ‘Lords of the dance’ as double agents: Elite  actors in and around the legal field. Journal of Professions and Organization, 3, 188– 206).  

Furthermore, social and organizational studies often borrow theories from other  disciplines/fields and hence some theories are traveling and illuminate across the silos  and turfs of specific disciplines and, are successful in explaining a phenomenon. In other  research settings, one is tempted to try pluralism, apparently at the risk of losing depth,  and fusing/blending of theories may also be successful so long as there are no  epistemological and/or ontological inconsistencies (Fauconnier & Turner, 2003, The Way  We Think: Conceptual Blending And The Mind’s Hidden Complexities). Each theory is  also competing for paradigms. Indeed, the choice of a theory may also determine the  methodology and vice versa. These method theories and the need for the assemblage of  knowledge (from sociology, religion, psychology, law, political science, military science,  economics, etc.) to understand ethnoreligious conflicts contextually, appear to have  escaped the director of a center that purports to serve world peace.  

Regarding the length of the period, universities in the top league permit the granting of a  doctoral degree in two years (full time). This time frame is of course an exception,  especially if the research starts on the date of registration and the program also requires  the student to enroll in predoctoral courses. In universities like Wits senate rules have  started to require that a Ph.D. student must publish in peer-reviewed/accredited journals  (in addition to the thesis) before the degree is granted. The time for a full-time Ph.D. in  the social sciences and business vary considerably. Extensions are granted subject to  evidence of progress. The litmus test for the traditional European Doctorate/British Ph.D.  is the quality and originality of the work and whether there is “enough coherent work” in  the text to warrant the granting of the terminal degree.  

Regarding the exit process, thesis examiners are carefully appointed and come from local  and international universities. Registrars check whether due process has been followed.  Examiners write detailed reports and tick various boxes in prescribed forms. Contribution  to new knowledge (creation) is desirable but not required even in top-ranking universities.  Commoditization of higher education, corporatization of universities, massification,  liberalization, and degree imports have had implications for the quality of higher education and research in Africa, and Ethiopia is not an exception. Professor de Waal would have  done a good job had he reviewed dissertations in his field for example from diverse  universities and identified the strengths/weaknesses in respect of their contribution to the  theory and practice of peace in an African setting. He would have done a favor to himself  and his funders by publishing it in a decent journal.

Finally, what one learns from Professor de Waal’s article is little other than awakening  Addis Ababa University to check whether its systems and processes have failed, and the  push backs it must do in any actual or perceived political pressures. On the larger scale  of peace and war, Ethiopians are unlikely to be deceived as the Professor de Waal  asserted. In fact, they may not be interested in the esoteric thesis of the ruling group that  increases the hubris, but in reintroducing sanity and providing the opportunity for  immersing dialogues, to reverse the abysmal failure of their governments and more  importantly, to stop the blood lettings.


1 Minga Negash is a Professor of Accounting at MSU Denver and a Visiting Professor at the University of the  Witwatersrand, South Africa. The views expressed in this commentary do not represent the views of the  institutions that he is associated with. 

Editor’s note : article was first shared on P2P forum on May 16, 2022

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7 COMMENTS

  1. All those so called Ph.Ds, and Doctors in the PP are graduate of Degree mill collages gained during holding government positions. They never attend schools or universities during their school age.
    Straggling to throw out few English words where all the audience are Amharic speaking is a pretense to show that they are educated and capable of speaking English.
    That is why the country is messed up because inept people with gun are holding power without merits.

  2. “Abiy Ahmed—PhD?”

    In my humble opinion, admirable writers of the highest quality would be better off concentrating on the UNITY of the ANCIENT BLACK AFRICAN COUNTRY in the WORLD: ETHIOPIA. YES. ETHIOPIA.
    Anything else would then follow in tranquility and SOLID ETHIOPIA & NOT — NOT — NEVER in fragmented shredded pieces of lands that ancient colonial forces would love to see for their own ancient desire. By the way, they do that via disintegrating the honest and innocent Black Africans. By the way, I almost forgot: do you remember how the smart colonial forces got together — in broad day light — to divide the Continent of Black Africa into pieces????? Do We Remember That???

  3. Thank you very much, my long time friend and colleague, Prof Minga Negash and Borkena for this great rebuttal of shody and cheap shot of Alex de Waal. I am not pro or anti PM Abiy Ahmed Ali. Alex de Waal is arguing from the corner of the TPLF, devoted to his terrorist friends, and not from the corner of epistemology. He is not concerned with the quality of research output but to downgrade the intellectual capability of the PM that outsmarted, ousted from power and defeated his terrorist friends at the battlefield. How did Alex de Waal became a Professor with such kind of analysis?

  4. Alex de Waal is an old and very intimate friend of TPLF, rumors aside, if you are Ethiopian, watch his message to Ethiopia late last year when he thought TPLF was coming to Addis again. That message was or could’ve been very embarrassing for any normal person but not to him. His hatred to the very being of Ethiopia was so bone-chilling you would think only Gobbles of the third Reich would be talking like that out of hatred for any other race than his own. Our ancestors were not moved at all when some ‘professors’ like Alex de Waal argued for slavery of black people in the past. They just ignored them and fought back the best they could and that is why the whole black diaspora of this world has a deep relation to the Ethiopian colors.

    The plan was to ruin the whole education system in Ethiopia by choosing quantity over quality for propaganda purposes while the children of TPLF bosses went to Ivy league schools with their tuition fees paid for from the stolen money and may be some good schools in Mekelle for kids from Adwa with Ethiopia’s tax payers’ money but exclusive. The whole central committee of TPLF or EPRDE was rewarded MBA degrees from ‘open university’ in London when the opposition showed up with a lot of PhD holders at election time. Indeed the quality of education in Ethiopia has taken a nose dive in the past 20 some years specially. The message was clear ‘you guys forget you are black often and you need to be punished for that’. Because the Ethiopian students in America and Europe went to very good schools and did very well. Did very well even as undergrads because the high schools in Ethiopia provided high quality education with some of them five year long. Their number was also impressive for foreign students from across the ocean, only topped by Iranian students.

    If you haven’t noticed there seems to be a determination to change all that now. And the work horse who has done many things others couldn’t and is legendary for getting real pleasure from actual work is in charge. I often feel sorry for that guy and God knows he has his own shortcomings but if there is a natural in a way words can’t describe., that is him. Thousands of people that were rewarded fake diplomas unknowingly or other wise will want to kill him soon because those diplomas are their lives. Besides in a feudalistic society like ours titles are more than the person itself. We had a lively president who insisted on being called ‘METO ALEQA’ even though he left the army a very, very long time ago and was the head of state. Just imagine how angry those fake engineers and PhD’s are told they need to go back to school. The staggering number of engineers who are not building anything but are in politics confident with their title now makes sense.

    Alex de Waal and a few other ‘professors’ are determined to destroy Ethiopia with their nostalgic colonialist mind set. They love house Ns like TPLF very much because they do their dirty jobs.

    Again please google and watch Alex de Waal’s racist speech late last year.

  5. Professor Alex de Waal is a well known pro-TPLF face in the west and his biased and sub academic writings and advocacy to support the TPLF have only discredited him. Those in the same area or profession should subject all his career and position in the university to scrutiny and repair the damage his pro-TPLF engagement is causing. The University he is associated with should not have allowed his transgression of academic and professional ethics and standards. He is abusing his responsibility in his university by disseminating the pathological lies of the TPLF and does not have any professional or ethical ground to criticize the Addis Ababa University.

  6. A deserved and appropriate rejoinder to professor Alex de Waal, who is a devoted supporter of the fascist organization the TPLF. Professor Minga Negash has debunked and and exposed all the shortcomings of professor Alex de Waal` s arguments and analysis. The professor has gone so low to serve the TPLF and has lost credibility.

  7. Degrees have no value for ruling a nation. A Tea seller can rule 1.3Billion people of India why can’t Abiy Ahmed?

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