War disrupts the normalcy of life for millions of people around the world. Thousands of educated people were tortured and killed by Ethiopia’s military regime claimed Ethiopian students who came to study at the University of the South Pacific. Their story was published in The Fiji Times on March 5, 1981.
They were; Haile Semaw, 24, Abebe Jimma, 27, Motuma Tilahum, 24, and Kahasay Abraha, 23. They arrived under the Geneva-based World University Service scholarship scheme.
Mr Jimma, who took a three-year social science course, said the military regime came into power in Ethiopia after it overthrew Emperor Haile Selasse seven years before.
It was beyond imagination to describe the events of the military takeover.
“It is also believed,” Mr Jimma said, “that 17,000 Cuban soldiers and 3000 Soviet advisers are presently in Ethiopia backing up the military regime.”
He said literate Ethiopians were continually harassed. Thousands were being killed, tortured or imprisoned.
He said the torture and assassination of educated people were widely condemned by Amnesty International.
“Thousands of people fled to the borders of the country, leaving their families behind to survive.”
Ethiopia is bordered by the Red Sea in the north, Djibouti and Somalia on the east, Kenya on the south, and Sudan on the west.
Mr Jimma said Djibouti and Kenya had provided political asylum to thousands who were lucky to make it there.
He himself had escaped to Kenya in 1978 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city.
He was a student at the University of Addis Abba which was then controlled by the military.
Mr Jimma did not encounter any problems as the trip to the Kenyan border took only a day, where he reported to United Nations officers who provided a subsistence allowance until he found a job as a schoolteacher. Mr Tilahum, who also sought asylum in Kenya, was an arts student at the same university.
He said he had to “rough it a bit” and trek through the bushes to avoid military checkpoints at the borders of different states in Ethiopia.
He did not have a job in Kenya and lived with Ethiopian friends.
For Mr Semaw and Mr Abraha, it was a tough experience making it to the Djibouti border from Addis Ababa, 1200km away.
Mr Abraha, from the city of Asmura in the east, had escaped in early 1978.
He had to walk five days, crossing rivers and a desert before reaching the border.
Many people perished in the desert from exhaustion, and lack of food and water, he said.
Mr Semaw, who escaped in 1977, said he and his friends had to hide in the bush during the day and travel at night to avoid government spies.
“The journey was tough with lack of food and water,”he said.
Both Mr Semaw and Mr Abraha were transported to the city of Djibouti where they lived for three years with friends before going to Nairobi in Kenya. There they met each other for the first time early this year.
The students said there were thousands of Ethiopians in universities all over the world sponsored by World University Service and other similar international bodies.
The four decided to attend the USP because they were impressed by the information they read in brochures and from Pacific Islanders who had attended it.