Comrade Gebru Mersha was a Marxist scholar who lived an exemplary public life that can be traced back to the Ethiopian student movement. He was the most beloved professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations (PSIR). He was also a whistleblower against any injustice at the university where he served as the head of the university’s ombudsman. He fought against the exploitation of workers who were working in canteens of Addis Ababa Universty. He was a champion of women’s right without which, he believed, democracy in Ethiopia and elsewhere is unthinkable. “The Women’s questions and the gender debate have never been raised in Ethiopia,” was his remark ironically in the times of the proliferation of gender based NGOs and governmental institutions. He used to say, “Democratize your household first.”
If Gebru held the Department’s chairmanship, the office almost became a courtroom; he used the position for students’ cause welcoming any students’ complaints. He was not just a Marxist scholar but also a truly organic intellectual and a beautiful person in every sense of the term. As a teacher, he taught us courses framing them from his lived everyday life experiences with a Marxist spirit. He remained Marxist and never did any philosophical acrobat following the post-1990s global change. He used to say, “I am already too strong of a Marxist being, to change my philosophy.”
I remember he was also against classical political thought courses for being too Eurocentric, though his teaching method resembled Socratic dialogue. “Your silence is deafening” was a quote from Churchill, Gebru used it to encourage students to talk and debate in his class. “Asking questions is the beginning of wisdom,” a corrupt quote from bible, Gebru used to motivate students to raise questions in class.
He was an ardent critique of the World Bank, IMF, NGOs and other manifestations of embedded liberalism and neoliberalism. He was also an optimist scholar and used to imagine a better world. He expected either the disintegration of the big powers because of the logic of too much power they accumulate or the de-linking of the global south. “What do we loose if we delink from the West? The opportunity cost is only the western necktie and suite,” underlying the feasibility of neo-Marxist delinking as a political solution to Africa’s predicament.
At national level, I remember his critique of identity-based center–periphery framework, arguing that there is peripheral class alienated from the means of production and/or from the product itself and there are no peripheral people. Above all, he struggled from the local and from within for a better world and set an exemplary life to all of us. We have found it difficult, and all most impossible to keep his legacy at the department and at the University at large. Dear Gebru Mersha we evoke your name and deeds forever! I hope the university will designate one of the buildings or parks after your name!