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Swapping Ethiopia’s Debt for the Construction of Adwa Pan African University

Professor Desta, Asayehgn

Against odds, Ethiopian patriots won a decisive victory over the aggressive colonial Italian army at the battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896. Consequently, the Battle of Adwa helped Ethiopia maintain its sovereignty while inspiring other African countries that had been defeated and divided by European colonizers. After the victory, Ethiopia served as a role model for the entire black race, even inspiring other colonized countries worldwide to repulse aggression with dignity and to assert their own independence. For instance, Japan employed several of Ethiopia’s heroic strategies from the Battle of Adwa to liberate itself from Russia’s aggression in 1904 (Levine, 2014). More importantly, the Battle of Adwa forced the Italian invaders to shed their long-held and false illusions about the black race.

          More than a hundred and twenty years have passed since the heroic Ethiopians defeated Italian aggression at the Battle of Adwa. The town of Adwa, which was then vibrant and often regarded as a sacred place of common heritage within the black race, provided a spiritual victory for all black Africans who suffered under the yoke of enslavement and colonialism. Sadly, modern Adwa stands on the verge of decay. It has neither a paved pathway to signify where the heroic battle was fought, nor a historical museum to preserve historical artifacts and to commemorate the pivotal victory (Ababya, 2008; Kinfe, (1996); Gorfu, 2007; Jonas, 2011 and Desta, 2011).

          Given the countless lessons to be learned from the Battle of Adwa and the many stories to be told, some concerned individuals have taken the initiative to restore the town of Adwa to its former glory (Giorgis, 2015. Bogale, 2018). Those individuals who are behind this initiative are determined to transform the town of Adwa into a major academic and cultural center in order to advance the causes and interests of the African World (the Coordinating Committee, 2018).

On April 24, 2017, a stone monument for Adwa Pan-African University (APAU) was installed on 150 hectares of land near of the Abune Girma Church and the burial site of Ethiopian hero Ras Alula (Aba Nega) to commemorate the Battle of Adwa.  Though the future APAU expects to generate its funding from philanthropic and non-governmental organizations, Ethiopia’s Federal Government has already pledged 200 million Ethiopian birr as seed money for the university’s establishment, (Bogale 2018). Furthermore, APAU’s finance and budget is expected to come from the Ethiopian Government for the first five years” (APAU, March 28, 2018).

Given that the agenda for the 21st century is based on sustainability, Ethiopia’s government cannot fund this project on its own. APAU must be a “green” campus that conveys conservation of resources, energy, and water, and provides a healthy outdoor environment for its students, faculty, and other visitors. Therefore, APAU must solicit help from international organizations, African governments, and individual philanthropists who share a passion for the Battle of Adwa and its significance to the people of Ethiopia and Africa in general.

In order to generate sufficient funds from philanthropic organizations, APAU must communicate a crystal-clear vision, with mission statements, value statements, and design action plans that connect the history of the Battle Adwa with the fruition of a united Africa. A tentative action planning process, drafted by the Ad hoc Committee of Adwa University on March 12, 2018, but modified by the author, follows:   

Vision Statement

APAU is a vibrant platform for sharing and exploring the trusted history of the Battle of Adwa—illuminating and unifying all people of African descent while respecting and appreciating the experience of others.    

Mission Statements

APAU’s mission is committed to inspire, to educate, to research, and to exhibit collections, drawing together and engaging the broadest possible audience to a) recognize and honor Africa’s architects and heroes of resistance and liberation, b) engage in a discourse of commonality and solidarity among the people of Africa, c) preserve and present the compelling network of historic struggles against all forms of exploitation, and, d) entertain Africa’s sustainability.  

Core Values

Core values are the basis upon which APAU makes decisions, plans strategies, and interacts with its employees, visitors, students, and stakeholders. APAU processes its core values through professionalism, openness, integrity, creativity, and passion. As a dynamic and innovative institution, APAU

·         offers cognitive, affective, skill domains using Humanities, Social Sciences, and Information Sciences;

·         creates an inclusive environment and welcoming, respectful, and open discourse with staff, students, and visitors;

·         recruits and retains top talent by investing in an engaging, productive, and innovative workplace;

·         employs the latest technology to maximize student and visitor learning;

·         engages learners and visitors to actively explore and to publish literature on the history of enslavement, colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism;

·         encourages learners and visitors to examine its archives of Africa’s liberation history;

·         offers interdisciplinary research and interpretations;

·         collaborates with other African and global organizations in order to pursue its vision.                                                          


 After establishing APAU’s mission statements, the next step is to develop specific short-, medium- and long-term objectives necessary to make the vision and mission statement a reality. APAU’s coordinating committee is currently endeavoring to make the results of the initiative specific (clearly identified), measurable (information is collectable and detectable), achievable (pull the results), relevant (applicable to the vision and mission statements), and timely (See Community tool Box, 2018).   

Action Plan

Once these objectives are created, APAU outlines the steps or directions required to design strategies (such as action steps, persons responsible, website, social media, required resources, existing barriers, collaborators, priorities, and organization structures) necessary to accomplish its objectives or describe its processes. 

As outlined (March 28, 2018), APAU’s coordinating committee is brainstorming to coordinate national and international members to coordinate its Academic, Public Relations, Fund-raising, Historical research, and Archives tasks. To enhance its historical records, APAU also plans to collaborate with sister institutions such as Nkrumah, Senghor, Mandela, and other global institutes. As stated in the Community Tool Box (2018), each action step must specify: 1) which actions or changes will occur; 2) who will carry out each action or change; 3) when the change will take place and for how long; 4) which resources to employ (staff, capital); and 5) communication (who should know what).   

Fundraising Ideas: Debt-for-APAU Swaps

As mentioned earlier, Ethiopia’s Federal Government has already allocated 200 million Ethiopian birr for APAU’s capital expenditure. Nonetheless, with Ethiopia’s current rate of inflation, this funding will unlikely be sufficient to sustain and operate the institution. Therefore, after mapping out and preserving the Battle of Adwa’s original historical landmarks and drafting its educational goals, a plan must be set for raising capital and operating expenditure funds for the center.

Over the years, to revitalize its economy and to rebuild large-scale infrastructure and development projects, Ethiopia’s Government has borrowed heavily from bi-lateral and multi-lateral organizations.  As estimated by the IMF, “…Public and publicly-guaranteed debt is estimated to have been 54.2 percent of GDP in June 2016, of which 30.2 percent of GDP corresponds to external debt” (2016).

To address environmental challenges, several developing countries have relied upon the generosity of non-government agencies to buy back foreign debt at substantially reduced prices. In other words, creditor banks could write off the face value of the loans for taxable deductions. By employing this method, Ethiopia could identify passionate non-government agencies to buy Ethiopia’s non-performing external debt at a discount rate or substantially less than the face value from the external creditors.  Then, the Central Bank of Ethiopia could redeem or swap the total foreign loans and issue local currency to fund the APAU project.  If the negotiation of the debt swap and the consequence of inflationary risk are handled properly, this robust external debt swapping technique could possibly serve as a pipeline to generate revenue streams for APAU.  Furthermore, in addition to giving bequest values to the non-governmental agency or agencies, this strategy of resolving external debt could go a long way toward alleviating Ethiopia’s rampant and chronic unemployment; it could also reduce Ethiopia’s debt burden that could cripple its ability to make internal investments (OECD, 2007).

To summarize, the proposed external debt swap is vital for the leveraging of additional capital expenditure for APAU—but by itself, it is not enough. The most challenging and rewarding task for APAU’s Board of Directors is to identify and invite passionate local philanthropists, family foundations, corporations, institutional funders, and various development agencies to participate in a capital campaign vital for the ongoing financial longevity of APAU.


Adwa pan African University  (March 12, 2018). “Adhoc Committee of Adwa Pan African University”.

Adwa pan African University, Coordinating Committee (March 28, 2018). “An Invitation to the Adwa Pan-African University’s International Conference.”

Ababya, R. (March 27, 2008). “The Folly of Dubbing Ethiopia”.

Bogale, S. (January 15, 2018). “News: Government Allocates More than $7M to Build the Adwa Pan-African University.” Addis Standard.

Desta, A. (2011). “A Note on the Economic Effects of Queen Sheba School on the Town of Adwa”.

Desta, A. (2017). “Illusion or Reality: Is the town of Adwa growing in Leaps and bounds? Aigaforum.com, May 7, 2017).  

Giogis, H. (March 11, 2015). “ If we want to understand African history, we need to understand the Battle of Adwa.” Available at https://qz.com/359857/ethiopians-battle-of-adwa-is-a-powerful-symbol-of-black-resistance/, accessed May 4, 2018.  

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Jonas, R. (2011). The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Kinfe, A. (January -March, 1996) “A Monument to African Heroism.” Selamta: Ethiopian Airlines Quarterly Magazine, Vol 13, No. 1.

Levine, D. “Ethio Politics: The Battle of Adwa as a Historic Event. http://www.ethiopolitics,com/adowa/Adwa.htlm.

Organization for Economic Co-Operation and development, (2007). Environmental Finance: Lessons Learnt from Experience with Debt-for-Environment Swaps in Economic Transition. OECD.

Staff Reporter, (October 17, 2016). IMF concerned about Ethiopia’s external debt” International Monetary Fund.

University of Kansas, the Community Tool Box (2018). “An overall of Strategic Planning or VMOSA” , Vision, Mission, Objectives, Strategies, and Action plans” Available at http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/structure/strategic-planning /vmosa/main, accessed 5/13/2018.