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In the midst of Ethiopia’s democratic revolution, a new law school takes root

In October 2019, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Prize for Peace, signalling the beginning of a new era of democracy, prosperity and stability.

Years of poverty and political repression have starved the country of its brightest minds, including lawyers and jurists whose skills will be needed to defend the still-fragile reforms. Bahir Dar University (BDU) aims to fill the gap.

With the help of Academics Without Borders, BDU is preparing a small cohort of PhD candidates to take the reins of its newly established School of Law.

BDU is a public research university located in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara Region, bordering Sudan. It has 54,000 students on eight campuses.

BDU has relied on visiting academics to build the fledgling law school’s research and teaching capacity and, with the support of AWB, to prepare local staff and faculty to take over.

In 2018, AWB volunteer Dr. Andrew Botterell of Western University visited BDU to initiate the relationship with the law school. Andrew co-taught a course in Advanced Jurisprudence and Contemporary Legal Issues in February of that year and returned to teach it again in January 2019.

In March 2018, Michelle McGinn, an AWB volunteer from Brock University, co-taught a postgraduate seminar in Transferable and Academic Skills and a course in Advanced Research Methods.

Dr. Kevin Pitts visited BDU in March 2019 to help develop a curriculum for a course in advanced research methods and the syllabus for a postgraduate seminar.

Kevin, who is a professor of Teaching and Learning at Seneca College in Toronto, taught compressed versions of both courses to four aspiring legal scholars, which allowed them to complete important sections of their PhD dissertation proposals. He also introduced them to various assessment and teaching strategies that they could incorporate into their repertoire as they move into teaching roles.

To make up for BDU’s limited access to academic databases, Kevin introduced Open Educational Resources into the revised course material and set up an online course portal (Moodle) that students could access via a web browser or a mobile application.

While the portal project had to be put on hold due to a lack of reliable Internet connectivity on campus, Kevin recommended that BDU not abandon the technology. As the school’s technical infrastructure improves, blended learning will give visiting scholars and future faculty more teaching flexibility and allow students to access a wider range of academic resources.

With ideas and opinions now circulating more freely inside the country, students at the School of Law stand to benefit from greater access to online resources, particularly on ethics and methodologies, which will strengthen the quality of research and academic integrity at BDU.

“As more students complete the courses and eventually the program (earning PhDs in the process), there will be an increasing pool of qualified candidates able to build and revise curriculum, teach in the program, conduct research, and supervise students,” said Kevin Pitts. “This bodes well for the future.”

Date: 2018 & 2019


  • Kevin Pitts, PhD, Professor, Teaching and Learning, Seneca College
  • Andrew Botterell, PhD, Associate Dean (Research & Graduate Studies), Faculty of Law, Western University
  • Michelle McGinn, PhD, Interim Associate Vice-President, Research, Brock University