Obituaries Oromia

Siegfried Pausewang, longtime Ethiopian researcher, dies at 75

Written by Mohammed A

Dr. Siegfried Pausewang, a great friend of Oromo people, eminent Ethiopian researcher and champion of human rights, died of cancer last Friday in Norway. He was 75.

 His colleague and friend, Professor Kjetil Tronvoll of International Law and Policy Institute in Oslo, announced the death in an email to Ethiopian activists.

Dr. Pausewang worked extensively within Ethiopia. Observing elections, teaching, initiating various development programs such as the seminar on the sociology of development, democracy training in rural Ethiopia, land reforms, population research, and penned numerous articles on Ethiopia, especially around issues of democracy and good governance.

He presented his work at numerous conferences worldwide including the Oromo and Ethiopian Studies conferences. His countless published works, engagement in international development initiatives and unyielding activism testify to Dr. Pausewang’s dedication to social justice.

Dr. Siegfried Pausewang came to the collective Oromo consciousness in 1992, following botched local and regional elections. The Norwegian election observatory group, in which Dr. Pausewang had a prominent role, issued a first-hand account of how the ruling party, EPRDF, systematically used the powers of the state and its machinery to kick its election rival, OLF which was poised for a landslide victory, out of the political process, committing egregious human rights violations in the process.

Ever since this face-to-face encounter with the true face of the ruling party and full awareness of its intentions, Dr. Pausewang conducted a series of field work to document how dictatorship was being implemented in the name of democracy and centralization in the name of devolution of power through a facade of a federal system. This close-range grassroots-based research was conducted in the footsteps of his earlier works –– Dr. Pausewang was one of the first to study the Ethiopian peasantry and their exploitation through a land owning system that dispossessed the Oromo and other marginalized groups in Ethiopia.

Over the years, Dr. Pausewang became instrumental in highlighting the inherent deficiencies in democracy and governance under the EPRDF rule. By so doing, he armed political activists who had been at a loss to describe and name an amorphous system that killed the spirit of democracy while celebrating its rhetoric, a system that emasculated federalism while brandishing it as its major accomplishment.

Dr. Puausewang tirelessly labored to fill the gaping hole within the Ethiopian body politic, the absence of a genuine Oromo voice. Out of a belief that the Oromo as well as the country would benefit tremendously from a democratic order, Dr. Puausewang pushed the OLF to re-articulate its objectives in order to re-enter the derailed political process.

He added his powerful voice to the growing chorus for expanding OLF’s appeal to champion the grievances of all marginalized groups in Ethiopia. It was this goal that prompted Dr. Puausewang to organize the Bergen Peace conference of 2004. Although nothing substantive came out of the conference, it helped humanize the image of the OLF in the eyes of the international community, an image that was battered by the constant onslaught of the EPRDF propaganda machine.

The impact of Dr. Puausewang’s work was not lost on the EPRDF. That is why it vigorously resisted, and finally refused, his inclusion in the European Election Observer team during the fated 2005 elections.

The EPRDF had a reason for refusing Dr. Puausewang’s role in the team. The reason is simple: Dr. Puausewang’s line of argument cut to the heart of the regime’s master narrative that it ruled with not just the consent but also the enthusiastic support of the peasantry. Dr. Puausewang and a group of dedicated Norwegian researchers debunked the basis of this false narrative, not through some grand rhetoric but rather based on the concrete experience with the peasantry.

The victory of CUD in the 2005 elections stoked fear of a resurgent Amhara nationalism. Supporters of the CUD, including some of its leaders, began boasting that should they come to power, they would gut the so-called “ethnic federalism” in its entirety. Moreover, some began to openly dismiss the grievances of the Oromo and other marginalized groups –– in the face of the fact that the CUD failed to make any inroads in Oromia, the Jupiter in Ethiopia’s nine-planet pseudo federal system.

Once again, Dr. Puausewang came to the fore, advocating for the inclusion of the rural voice, mainly that of the Oromo and other marginalized groups, in crafting Ethiopia’s future direction. He felt the absence of this vital voice would not help the discourse on democracy. Moreover, it would condemn Ethiopia to endless conflict.

In an email to Ethiopian activists, Tronvoll wrote, with “over 40 years of research on Ethiopia, Siegfried showed an unparalleled commitment to the country and its people.”

“Having personally experienced displacement and refugee as a boy with the collapse of Nazi-Germany and a flight with his mother through the war-ravaged country, Siegfried carried a great passion and commitment for justice and the suppressed.”

Calling him the kindest person and great humanist, Tronvoll added, “Even during his last weeks in hospital receiving treatment, Siegfried worked diligently for the cause of Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers in Norway.”

An Oromo who had worked closely with Dr. Pausewang and kept in touch with until a few weeks before the professor’s death, Mr. Hassan Hussein echoed similar sentiments in an email response to a question from “A consummate scholar, thoroughly humanist, the kind-hearted Siegfried Pausewang was a true friend of the Oromo cause,” said Hussein.

“He was like your favorite grandfather, a man of truth, a rarely kind person of integrity whose absence would be deeply felt.”

Most of Dr. Pausewang‘s work on the Horn of Africa can be accessed here:



About the author

Mohammed A

Mohammed Ademo is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. He's the founder and editor of, an independent news website about Ethiopia.

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