Student Spotlight: Discovering home by studying law
For Aman Solomon '08, this year's Africa Summit is part professional, part personal
By Liza Weisstuch
The following article was published in the April 2006 issue of Harvard Law Today.
Post Date: May 4, 2006
Aman Solomon '08
His grandfather was Ethiopia's minister of education. His father was born in Ethiopia but had to flee in the 1970s. His uncle, who decided to remain in the country, had to use false identity papers to protect himself during violence that broke out in the 1990s.
Despite Aman Solomon's many connections to Ethiopia, he's never been there himself—until now. As a member of the HLS Black Law Students Association, he is traveling to Addis Ababa for spring break as part of the Africa Summit, an annual BLSA program that sends student delegates to different nations in Africa.
The program is designed to help law students gain a better understanding of one African country’s political and legal systems, as well as to learn about different cultures and connect with people. Past summits have sent delegations to countries such as South Africa and Ghana. This year, BLSA chose Ethiopia because the country recently hit a political milestone: In May 2005, Ethiopia had its first contested election.
Growing up in Maryland then Sudan then Atlanta, Solomon gleaned pieces of information about Ethiopian politics and culture from his father. “My dad was somewhat reticent in general. He’d tell me stories, but they always seemed abridged,” he said.
Solomon had many questions, and he thought he’d start getting answers when he and his father planned to visit his father’s home country in 1998. But they had to cancel the trip when violence broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which had recently gained independence from Ethiopia.
Solomon’s family connections have sharpened his academic interests, but he realizes how much more he can learn by meeting and talking with experts.
“I value this opportunity because I’ll get a better idea of how law is administered in developing countries,” he said. “In Ethiopia, there’s so much corruption—there’s not even a tradition of impartial juries. It’s a chance to immerse myself in a totally different legal and political climate.”
He and other BLSA members began preparations for this year’s summit shortly after classes started in September. The organization coordinates fundraising for the trip and holds a campus event to raise awareness about the summit and the country they’ll visit.
For his part, Solomon helped organize a symposium about Ethiopia in February. The event, “Ethiopia: Prospects for Democracy,” coordinated by BLSA and its sister organization, the Harvard African Law Association, brought practitioners of Ethiopian law, diplomats and academics to HLS to discuss issues facing the country.
One participant—Seyoum Solomon, a leader of the Ethiopian opposition party (no relation to Aman)—shed light on the divisions between the country’s two main political groups and offered a nuanced view of prevailing political fault lines.
“Hearing him speak so eloquently about the opposition party’s platform gave me a basis to analyze what I hear from the government officials,” said Solomon. “Of course officials are going to be in support of the current government and give the party lines, but it’s good to have heard this man—whose own party members have been jailed on trumped-up charges—explain why his party takes the actions it does.”
During the summit, Solomon will be able to explore these issues further in meetings with top politicians, government advisers and judges.
And that’s not to mention the added benefit of the trip, which Solomon calls “a golden opportunity to visit my father’s home country.”