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Establishing the Ethio-Adwa Pan-African University: Some Suggestions

By Professor Desta, Asayehgn
Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News, May 24, 2016


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 Jamaica., 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



Space Sciences

Strategy and tactics


Earth science


Energy Sciences





Social Sciences

Climate change









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.http://aigaforum.com/article2016/Adwa-Pan-African-University.htm. 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 .” http://www.ethiopolitics.com/Adowa/Adwa.htlm . 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.

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