Yale Hosts Ethiopia Conference Amid Social Media Controversy, Dismisses Speaker

Ethiopian expert Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald, withdrawn from the Macmillan Center event moderated by CNN reporter Nima Elbagir, is triggering a backlash on social media.



Yale Daily News

On Tuesday, Yale’s Macmillan Center hosted a panel discussion on the situation in northern Ethiopia, where Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray forces have taken control of the Ethiopian government over the Tigray region. The event sparked backlash on social media amid the revelation that Ann Fitz-Gerald, professor and Ethiopian affairs expert at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Canada, had been declined to speak at the conference.

The conference, titled “Responding to the Crisis in Northern Ethiopia,” was moderated by award-winning CNN reporter Nima Elbagir and featured Democratic Senator Chris Coons LAW ’92 DIV ’92 from Delaware and the Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who serves on the Senate Human Rights Caucus. While more than 1,200 attendees attended the virtual event, thousands more responded negatively on social media, accusing the conference of not including Ethiopian voices and of silencing objective sources, including Fitz-Gerald .

“I had no objection to being asked to withdraw from the event,” said Fitz-Gerald. “I understand that others have complained that Ethiopian voices were not represented at the event.”

Yet many groups expressed concern that the panel was not representative of diverse opinions.

The Ethiopian Academics Global Initiative and People to People, organizations that unite more than 10,000 Ethiopian scholars around the world, sent a letter of concern to the director of the Center for Genocide Studies, David Simon.

“While we fully applaud your insight in fostering discussions on the humanitarian crisis in this troubled country, we are appalled at the consistency of the list of participants you have invited to the event,” the letter reads. . “As you are well aware, the crisis in Ethiopia is complex and multifaceted, requiring thoughtful, objective and evidence-based analysis. “

During Tuesday’s interview, Simon stressed that the center is actively trying to organize an objective discussion.

“We were looking forward to having a broadly representative group to discuss this,” Simon said during the discussion. “We didn’t want to have a partisan argument between one side and the other over their views.”

But others disagreed with the objectivity of the panel. Journalist Hermela Aregawi has garnered thousands of likes on Twitter after criticizing Yale for what she calls “a propaganda board.”

As a Tigrayan ethnicity herself, Aregawi told the News that she believed the international media had been propagated into believing there was genocide against ethnic Tigrayans by the Ethiopian government – while this may not necessarily be the case given that the TPLF is responsible for human rights violations. in the area, she said.

“Non-Tigrayans are being killed for their ethnicity, for their refusal to join the TPLF,” Aregawi said. “You are actually hurting the victims and future victims of the genocide when you organize a panel like this that turns the tale on its head. “

Nebiyu Asfaw, co-founder of the Ethiopian American Development Council, also expressed frustration at the “one-sided and one-sided” nature of Tuesday’s event.

Asfaw explained that the TPLF staged a military coup to overthrow a democratically elected government – an action he said the panel on Tuesday seemed to support when it pushed for the label of genocide.

“What we find very frustrating as Africans is that Westerners think they can speak for us,” Asfaw said. “This panel should have had a voice from the Ethiopian community.”

Simon responded to the representation’s displeasure by saying that the genocide studies program had made “considerable efforts to include Ethiopian participants”, but those he invited had refused to participate “due to fears for their own security ”.

“While we regretted that this meant there would be no Ethiopian attendees at the event, we felt that the lack of space for non-partisan expression underscored the need to talk about the polarized atmosphere in the event. [Ethiopia]”Simon said in a statement.

Critics of Asfaw and others were widely publicized ahead of the event. Yoftahr Gebry, co-founder of United for Brighter Ethiopia, expressed his wish that the University “tell the truth” about the situation in Ethiopia in an impartial manner.

Simon responded to criticism of the alleged prejudices at the event by saying that what commentators saw as one-sided could likely reflect their own prejudice.

“The event sparked a thoughtful discussion about what genocide is, when risks of genocide occur, how this perspective might apply to Ethiopia and what can be done about it,” he said. -he declares. “I don’t think the participants expressed a systematic bias in doing so. “

The Center for Genocide Studies was founded in 1998.



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