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UK Doctoral Student Researching Population Shifts in Ethiopia

by Jeff Worley

A doctoral student in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Anthropology has received grants totaling $30,000 to do research on urban expansion and population displacement in his native country of Ethiopia. The grants to Anduamlak “Andu” Meharie are from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

Meharie, who has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in applied anthropology from the University of North Texas, is spending a year in Ethiopia examining the social and economic impacts on people age 15 to 24 who are part of a government program that displaces rural farming families from their land near urban areas for housing developments.

Meharie, who became a political refugee in 1988 in America, escaping the oppressive Marxist government rule of Mengistu Hailemarian, is conducting his research in the peri-urban area of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Hailemariam’s regime, which had defeated and replaced the government of ruler Haile Selassie, was overthrown and the country now has a more democratic form of government, Meharie says.

“What is happening is that the current government in Ethiopia is buying peri-urban farms for urban housing,” Meharie says, “and I want to explore the short- and long-term effects of this development action on people, particularly focusing on 15- to 24-year-old people who have been displaced.”

Meharie is a graduate student of Peter Little, chair of the UK anthropology department. “These are extremely competitive and prestigious grants,” Little says.

“Andu Meharie is a wonderful success story of a person who came to the United States in the late 1980s as a political refugee, worked and paid his way through college, and established permanent residence here in our country,” Little adds.

Meharie’s brothers and sisters were the first to leave Ethiopia and when the Marxist government began conscripting young Ethiopian men to fight their battles, the family became concerned and made plans to bring him to Texas where most of his family had finally settled. “They called them soldiers, but they were being sent into battle with little or no training and poor equipment, just to take a bullet from Hailemariam’s enemies,” Meharie recalls.

His heart is still in Ethiopia, though, Meharie contends, and that is one of the places he wants to work after his year of research and earning his doctorate in anthropology from UK.

“My goal is to help design, evaluate and inform development policies related to population movement involving adolescents or youth,” Meharie says, “and I can’t think of any better place to apply my skills than in my homeland [Ethiopia] and the country I now also call my home [the United States].”

To read the Q & A with Andu about his research mission in Ethiopia, see this 5-page pdf.