By Abebe Gellaw,
THE chief adviser of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the minister, Tedros Adhanom, is a self-appointed professor with a PhD in “international studies” from a “university” labelled by a U.S. congressional investigation as a diploma mill, Addis Voice (AV) can reveal.
“Professor” Mekonnen, who also served PM Hailemariam Desalegn as his chief adviser, claims publicly, as well as in his official biography posted on the ministry’s website, that he was a professor at Maryland-based Bowie State University for 15 years.
“At Bowie State University (1991-2006), he gave courses in modern political philosophy, political science, international relations and African-American history in the Department of History and Politics,” his official biography says. Founded as a historically black college in Maryland, Bowie State is one of the ten oldest in the United States, according to its website.
The missing link
But Bowie State, where Mekonnen claims to have served as a professor of history and politics for fifteen years, told Addis Voice that it has no record of employment let alone his appointment as a professor. In response to AV’s formal request for information in accordance with the Maryland Public Information Act, Sheila Hobson, Senior Director of Human Resources, formally replied to the request in writing and by phone stating that the university has no record of the professor.
“We have searched our records for Dr. Mekonnen Haddis but have been unable to locate a current or former employee by that name,” she wrote in an email. . She also checked a card system that the HR department used to keep before it computerized its system. But the search did not find any records of the top Ethiopian government official.
Hobson also talked to the Chairman of the Department of History and Government, Professor Sammye Miller, who remembered him to have taught for one or two semesters long time ago. He also confirmed to this reporter what he had already told the HR director. Hobson explained that HR does not keep brief stints by graduate assistants and instructors as employment records.
Professor William Lewis, who also served for over three decades at the same department like Sammye Miller, remembered Mekonnen not as a professor but as a student. “He did his Master’s degree at the university and gave a couple of courses. That was it as far as I know,” he said. Both veteran professors refuted Mekonnen’s claim that he was a professor at Bowie State and taught a range of courses from 1991 to 2006.
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What was even more puzzling was the fact that no academic writing or paper published under his name at any university can be traced. Academic appointment at any serious university is normally a lengthy process based on substantial and proven academic work, teaching, research and publishing records to advance knowledge in a given field.
In the course of this investigation, AV reached out to Mr. Mekonnen twice to give him an opportunity to address the serious issues related to his credentials and work experience. He declined to answer any questions and insisted to be left alone. When he was told that Bowie State has no record of his employment and professorship, he blamed the problem on the research skills of this journalist. “You don’t seem to have the skill to obtain basic information. When you said that they do not know me, it proves to me that you lack the elementary skills to verify facts,” he said.
“Let me tell you something,” he said. “As Winston Churchill once said, you will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks,” he quipped.
As the chief adviser, architect and expert on Ethiopia’s foreign policy, Mr. Mekonnen has a significant influence on the nation’s foreign policy directions. He was appointed in 2010 as the chief adviser to Hailemariam Desalegn, who was then the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Since Dr. Tedros Adhanom took over as the nation’s top diplomat in November 2012, he has been serving as chief adviser and the ministry’s head of policy research and analysis.
Well-informed sources within the Ministry indicated that as a naturalized U.S. citizen, Mekonnen is paid in hard currency outside the civil service pay scale. The TPLF-dominated Ministry and its diplomatic services are widely accused of being blighted by nepotism and discrimination based on ethnic identity and political views.
Pacific Western University
The professor claims to hold a PhD in international studies from Pacific Western University, California. The U.S. Senate had ordered an investigation into the business malpractices of four unaccredited universities that sell degrees with little or no education in 2004. Pacific Western University (California), Hamilton University (Wyoming), Western-Kennedy University and California Coast University were found to be diploma mills running degree-for-cash schemes.
In a testimony before the Committee on Governmental Affairs at the U.S. Senate, Robert J. Cramer, Managing Director Office of Special Investigations, told the Senate that an eight-month long investigation found that the four universities “offered degrees for a relatively low flat fee, promote the award of academic credits based on ‘life experience’, and do not require any classroom instruction.”
Purporting to be a prospective student, investigators found out that the schools award academic credits based on life experience and require no classroom instruction. According to the director’s report, Pacific Western University charged a flat rate for degrees: Bachelor of Science ($2,295); Master’s Degree in Business Administration ($2,395); and PhD ($2,595) without providing any forms of education. The university was closed down a few months after the damning congressional report. Another branch of the university in Hawaii was sued by the State of Hawaii Consumer Protection Agency and was closed down in 2006.
Poet of the century
Mekonnen returned to Ethiopia in 2007 as a visiting scholar under the U.S. Specialist Speaker Program. For many months, he travelled to universities and other institutions to lecture on democracy, media, public integrity and ethics in government. Some of his talks got media coverage in Ethiopia. In a story that appeared on the Daily Monitor on October 21, 2007, he was reported to have told journalists that Ethiopian media acted inappropriately and shamefully during the 2005 elections. He criticized the private media for lack of professionalism.
At the same event held at the U.S. embassy in Addis, he was quoted as having claimed to be “named in 2000 as one of the Best Poets of the last 100 years by the International Society of Poets.” The claim was, as usual, preposterous for an unpublished writer except for his self-published poems in English including on his “anti-neoliberal” blog, Political Snapshots. But the latest post on his blog is a picture of himself with a ‘neoliberal’ diplomat. The title of the post reads: “Canada’s Ambassador David Usher with Professor Mekonnen.”
The “International Poets Association”, a vanity publisher, was sold to another company after a string of complaints for running a scam related to its dubious poem competitions. The Better Business Bureau has given IPA also known as International Library of Poets an “F” rating for its poor business practice.
The family from Greece
One puzzling fact AV has discovered is that the professor and his family did not proudly tie their ethnic identity to their homeland or Africa while living in the U.S. All of them identified their ethnicity as Greek. As the ancient Greek philosopher Aesop said” “Appearances are often deceiving.” Professor Mekonnen, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, maybe Greek even if he looks like and speaks like a proud Ethiopian in charge of defining the nation’s foreign policies.
Tedla Woldeyohannes, final year PhD Candidate in Philosophy at Saint Louis University,Missouri, said, “ Stories like Mekonnen’s show a profound depth our society has been sinking as the Ethiopian public watches and takes a note of the preposterous roles played by fraudulent and corrupt officials in leadership.”
“A person like Mekonnen and other fraudulent members of the tyrannical regime must realize that Ethiopians are demanding freedom from their corrupt and unjust rule. If fakery is such a profitable business for this regime, how can it justify jailing, torturing and pushing into exile every bright and conscientious Ethiopian. This cruel joke must end,” he added.
In one of his public lectures on ethics and public integrity in Ethiopia, the professor reminded journalists that they have a lot of power and they must use it properly and appropriately. Though all the fearless journalists are forced to live either in jails or in exile by the very regime the professor serves amenably, we agree with him on this point. Journalists must continue to uncover the truth wherever they may go and however difficult the circumstances could be.
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The writer is an Ethiopian journalist and democracy activist and he can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org