Gemechu Abeshu receives “Preis der Stadt Bayreuth”
Gemechu Adimassu Abeshu completed his doctoral studies at BIGSAS in 2019, after four challenging years. He is now a policy consultant working in Canada on several projects. He shares his experiences in Bayreuth and beyond during a demanding time of research, activism and family separation.
It was during a visit in Kenya in 2014 that Gemechu heard about the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies from Prof. Dr. Dereji Feyissa Dori. The professor, who also pursued his doctoral degree at a German university and is closely linked to Prof. Dr. Georg Klute (Gemechu’s supervisor), suggested Bayreuth as a place for Gemechu’s future in academia. It was then in April 2015 that he was admitted to BIGSAS and started his PhD.
Soon Gemechu started to engage in the student and Junior Fellow life in Bayreuth, attending weekly meetings, such as the “Ethnologie Kolloquium” (Anthropology Colloquium) at Iwalewahaus. The ongoing encounters supported the dedicated doctoral student from Ethiopia in following his research titled “New Forms of Power in the Afar Region of Ethiopia: The Rise of Big Men near the Ethiopia and Djibouti Border” (link). With a master’s degree in Governance and Development from the University of Antwerp Gemechu conducted research on emerging forms of political power in the Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti Border Triangle Area in combination with anthropological perspectives and methodologies.
“BIGSAS brings together Junior Fellows from multitude of African (and beyond) countries which make Bayreuth a preferred learning hub for scholars interested in African Studies programmes”.– Gemechu Abeshu
Bayreuth is a quintessential German city which I adored. The annual Bayreuth Festival “Richard-Wagner-Festspiele”, the “Oktoberfest” celebration in Bayreuth which comes with the arrival of fall season, and personally for me, I enjoyed hearing on Bayreuth city buses a chime and a recorded children voice that announces the name of the next stop.
Mastering challenges with a head held high
With moments of achievements and progress there also came moments of setbacks. One of the biggest challenges he was facing during his time in Germany was the separation from his family. His wife and son had to remain in Ethiopia for the whole course of his studies, even though they applied for a visa in Germany. However, their application was rejected (twice) and Gemechu had to stay in touch with his family through long distance. He is not the only one, who had to study under such circumstances. Our alumnus Charles Moyo (click here) dealt with the same issue and there are many more cases. Most of us can only imagine the toll it takes on a person, being apart from his/her loved ones, let alone the missing out on each other’s lives. As an anthropological researcher Gemechu spent roughly 12 months spread over three years between 2015 and 2018 in Ethiopia. What was also meant to be a time of reunion with his family was challenged by the fact that his fieldwork coincided with a widespread political protest in Ethiopia, which began in his home region of Oromia Regional State and lasted from 2014 to 2018. While the protests led to the removal of the previous regime, Gemechu, as well as his wife, were both detained on several occasions. With such confrontations happening in his home country and being apart again when travelling back in Germany, one can only wonder how much strength a person must have to carry a burden like this.
Starting a new chapter
After Gemechu defended his excellent dissertation in October 2019, he moved to Canada to reunite with his family. After coming to Canada, he worked as s a policy consultant, editing and publishing articles (e.g. “This Conflict is new to us: conflict in the Borderlands of Ethiopia and Djibouti”, forthcoming article on the Journal of Modern Africa Studies) and recently started a role as Research Assistant (Co-op) at Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services on researching on a project titled “impact of family loss and separation on refugee children and youth (CYRRC)” in Toronto.
His hard work is honoured with “Preis der Stadt Bayreuth”.
Even if the years of separation cannot be reversed, Gemechu receives this year’s “Award of the City of Bayreuth” as a distinction and recognition for his outstanding doctoral thesis*. In the end, his diligence and hard work under extraordinary circumstances has been honoured and he thanks his family and his doctoral supervisor for their support.
“I am honoured and humbled to be selected for the “Preis der Stadt Bayreuth”. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. Dr. Georg Klute at the Department of Anthropology in Bayreuth University, for his support and advice as a supervisor-father throughout the course of my PhD project. His sharp comments and suggestions were extremely instrumental in shaping the arguments and format of my thesis which led to the very selection of my dissertation for this award. It would be a discredit on my part if I fail to pay accolade to my wife – Biftu Haile by at least saluting the long and enormous sacrifices she made in terms of, not only of waiting for the husband to complete his studies and come home, but also for raising our son Naol alone as well as her relentless support and encouragement”.
We congratulate Gemechu Adimassu Abeshu on receiving this award and wish him and his family all the best for the future.
*Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the awarding was shifted from November 2020 to summer 2021.