Ethiopia: Victorious Struggle Against Fascism

​The Derg / military government era of Ethiopia (1974-1991) is often glossed over as a terrible period, epitomized by the 'red terror' that rooted out any opposition and eliminated it. As a result, while there is much documentation on the atrocities, less is known about the rest of the social, political, ideological and legal aspects. Particularly, the insider view that analyzes why the Derg did what it did. 

This booklet, of 55 pages, presents the Italian occupation, what preceded it and what followed. "Ethiopia: Victorious Struggle Against Fascism" presents an internal view. It is a presentation of an Ethiopia aligned with the Soviet Union, struggling for alignment with socialist ideal, and battling against fascism, imperialism and the failures of capitalism. It also comes along with 20 pages of photos, some quite graphic (including an Italian holding up the head of a decapitated Ethiopian). 

I shared an earlier government-produced document, published by the Ministry of Information. This is a similar document, but is without a listed author. It appears to be the Ministry of Information. There is also no date, but my copy is stamped with "May, 1985". Documents such as these would prove useful for a historical study, and hope to make them available in full in the near future.

A History of Modern Ethiopia

​Bahru Zewde has penned some excellent books: The Challenge of Democracy from Below (2002), Pioneers of Change (2002) and The Quest for Socialist Utopia (2014). This post covers "A History of Modern Ethiopia 1855-1991" (originally published in 1991, second edition in 2001). Richard Pankhurst, one of the great historians for Ethiopia, described Bahru Zewde as a leading historian in reviewing this book. Undoubtedly his status has risen since, and may be Ethiopia's greatest living historian today. All of his works are highly recommended. Due to its general nature, this book has received the broadest readership. I do not attempt a summary – instead a few quotes that stood out, or are facts that seem to have fallen through the cracks and are worth highlighting.

The history of Ethiopia often focuses upon the highlands, and of Orthodox Christians. This partially as a result of more historical documentation to draw from. It also represents the ruling voice, at the expense of others. Bahru points this out, notable in 1991, when statements such as these were not commonly made: "Confused as it certainly was, his [Iyyasu] policy can be interpreted as one of trying to redress the injustices of the past, of making the Muslims feel at home in their own country. In this, he represented a revolutionary departure from the past. Tewodros, a man of wide vision in many respects, was bigoted when it came to Muslims, particularly the Muslims of Wallo. Yohannes, liberal and almost federal in his politics, was even more uncompromising on the question of Orthodoxy and Christianity. Menelik, builder of the largest empire Ethiopia has ever seen, did little to integrate the heterogeneous entity into one nation. Iyyasu's religious policy was the first major attempt to tackle the question of national integration, a question which has not been satisfactorily solved to this day." (p. 124)

It is often said that Ethiopia was never colonized and as a result has the opportunity to develop its own institutions, policies and laws. However, reading Bahru's description of the Italian occupation, one can't help but recognize its legacy: "Italian administration was characterized by a top-heavy bureaucracy and corruption. According to one writer, "Sixty percent of the bureaucratic machinery was working in AOI [Africa Orientale Italiana] to administer itself" (Sbacchi, 80). There was a mania for creating committees and commissions, largely so that the members might attempt to exonerate themselves from responsibility. A vast number of colonial officials were distinguished for their ineptitude and narrow-mindedness, as well as for their corruption. The Duke of Aosta is reputed to have characterized 50% of his officials inept and 25% as thieves. There was a veritable frenzy to get rich as quickly as possible. Badoglio himself reportedly pocked half of the 1,700,000 Maria Theresa thalers confiscated from the Bank of Ethiopia, in the immediate aftermath of the conquest." (p. 163)

There is also deeper legacy, consider this description of the Imperial government: "The composition of the parliament, which had two houses – a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies – emphasized the belief that the people were not yet ready for active participation in the political process… The property qualifications for a member of parliament excluded even rich merchants, let alone commoners" (p. 141). The language has changed, 'vanguard' being adopted by the military and current governments, but the sentiment of acting on behalf of the people has remained a core tenant of government.

The Last Post-Cold War Socialist Federation

​Semahagn Gashu Abebe's "The Last Post-Cold War Socialist Federation: Ethnicity, Ideology and Democracy in Ethiopia" (2014) offers a wealth of insight in Ethiopian federalism, with a particular strength of offering depth of constitutional context.

Of recent, much has been said of Ethiopia's "developmental state" approach, less about its "revolutionary democracy". Semahagn provides useful context on this: "Revolutionary democracy could be considered as the new invention of the TPLF/EPRDF that is used to maintain hegemonic power as well as providing the party with a veneer of democratic pretention in the eyes of western donors" (p. 130). Also: "Revolutionary democracy also divides society into friends and enemies" (p. 136).

The book provides good examples of the contradictions between the constitution and the implementation of these ideologies: "On the one hand, the system is formally regulated by the constitutional principles such as transparency, accountability of government, vertical and horizontal separation of powers, protection of human rights and the establishment of democratic institutions. On the other hand, the system is practically regulated by the merits of revolutionary democracy that do not recognize popular sovereignty, independence of institutions and equality of citizens. Contrary to the principle of popular sovereignty, revolutionary democracy recognizes popular participation in the light of implementing policies that emanate from the elites at the top of the party structure rather than from a bottom-up approach… the constitution provides for the establishment of an independent electoral commission and an independent judiciary. Revolutionary democracy, on the other hand, maintains that the aforementioned institutions are duty bound to implement the ideals of revolutionary democracy rather than having their own independent existence" (p. 138)

The book also offers a unique theory, suggesting that identity was historically more geographic with cultural and linguistic components, but that ethnic identity is a relatively recent phenomenon (1960s). For example, the author suggests that only after ethnic federalism, ethnicity "suddenly became an issue in political, social and economic relations in the country" (p. 153, also see p. 100). This thesis is partially contradicted within the text with many historical examples, such as Tigray discontent Shewan dominance during Menelik's time (p. 158). Would be interested to hear how historians like Bahru Zewde might respond to this idea.

While I enjoyed the book, about half way through the number of errors and inconsistencies in the text diverted my attention. Many of these are editorial, but were distracting. For example, inconsistent spelling: Wolita (p. 102) / "Wolayta" (p. 171) / "Welaita" (p. 70); "nefeteya" (p. 74) / "nefteya" (p. 95) / "neftegna" (p. 157); "Dire Dewa" (p. 178) / "Dire Dawa" (p. 71); "Affar" (p. 71) / "Afar" (p. 70); many others. Inconsistent referencing styles (e.g. 164, 166, 170, 178, 180). Quotes without page numbers (e.g. 166, 167, 174, 175). Some errors, for example "geological descent" (instead of genealogical) (p. 89), Southern Sudan (instead of South Sudan) (p. 154), "Benishangul-Gumuz regional states" (should be state) (p. 156), and many others. Other issues were content related, such as stating that Silte got administrative autonomy but Wolaita did not (p. 171), when they are both newly created zonal authorities (Wolaita, in fact, gaining that status first). The book claims Ethiopians have celebrated inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriages and harmonious living together without strife for generations (p. 71); the forced conversions of Muslims in Wollo by Yohannes, lest they lose all land, is one example, of many, that complicates this story.

Navigation by Judgement

​In development studies and practice we can get excited by new ideas, and over-stretch them. Participation was a cure all, then it became tyranny, and now we have more informed 'split ladders' that help determine when, where, why and how participation can work well. The rise of results- and evidence-based decision making was at its peak (the randomistas ran the day), there emerged naysayers, and now we have 'navigation by judgment' – an assessment of thousands of evaluations to understand when, where, why and how top-down processes work (and alternatively when more flexible approaches are warranted).

Enter Dan Honig's "Navigation by Judgment: Why and When Top-Down Management of Foreign Aid Doesn't Work" (2018). He writes that the argument "is not, then, that Navigation by Judgement is always superior; nor is it that Navigation by Judgement allows IDOs [international development organizations] to improve their absolute level of performance as environments become less predictable or projects less verifiable. It is simply that Navigation by Judgment is sometimes a good idea, particularly as contexts become harder to navigate using top-down controls and measurement… Navigation by Judgement is a second-best strategy – a strategy to employ when it is less bad than the distortions and constraints of top-down control" (p. 9).

A mixed method approach found that there is "strong evidence that Navigation by Judgement is frequently, but not always, useful. We have evidence that at least some of what determined when Navigation by Judgment is useful relates to the nature of the environment and the tractability of the project to top-down controls, which in practice often means reporting against quantitative output targets… As predicted, econometric analysis drawing on the PPD – the world's largest database of development project outcomes – suggests there are greater returns to Navigation by Judgement in less predictable environments. This is not because Navigation by Judgment actually leads projects to be more successful as predictability falls. Greater propensity to Navigate by Judgment simply cushions the falls, with high Navigation by Judgment-prone IDO performance declining less as environmental predictability rises" (p. 133).

Ideas on where different approaches might be suitable? Consider sectors: "from 2000 to 2012, 64.9 percent of all rigorous evaluations focused on the health sector with an additional 23.1 percent of studies focused on the education sector. By contrast, on 3.3 percent of studies focused on attempts to improve public-sector management. This is quite probably because it is very difficult to identify a plausible counterfactual and/or externally verifiable outcome measures for many public-sector management projects. Some of the same factors make Navigation by Judgement more beneficial for a particular project also make impact evaluations more difficult, precluding an econometrically rigorous examination of a particular project's results. Navigation by Judgement is most helpful where rigorous evaluation is most difficult and where rigorous evaluation is the least likely to build a robust knowledge base" (p. 153).

Ways forward? "One way forward is for an IDO attempting to implement a project that is difficult to effectively manage using measurement of either outputs or outcomes is simple, if somewhat radical, for IDOs: Stop using measures for the purposes of evaluating interventions or managing agents. There is no need to eliminate measurement; measures simply need to be repurposed. Measures can still be good for organizational learning. Learning is often put forward as a primary goal of IDO evaluation. International development organizations could deepen this focus on learning, sometimes putting aside the use of measures as tools of management control" (p. 155).

However, it is not always as easy to do so. "Moving toward greater Navigation by Judgment where appropriate is not without challenges; changing organizational management strategy involves risk for those IDO managers and political authorizers who might push for its adoption. But these risks need to be weighed against the benefits of better performance. To do otherwise is to condemn some foreign aid efforts to meaningless numbers and a façade of success that does little for aid's intended beneficiaries. In many contexts, political authorizers and IDOs are likely to achieve better development results by simply letting go" (p. 168).

I Write What I Like – Steve Biko

Similar to other giants of the struggle against apartheid, we do not have a book written by Steve Biko that pens his ideas. For Robert Sobukwe, a biography was written, while for Steve Biko, we have a collection of his writings and transcripts, first published in 1978. The book contains powerful ideas, some of which are shared below, but also contains writings that are audience- and time-specific, making it a sometimes less than relevant read. I share some of Biko's ideas:

  • "Basically the South African white community is a homogenous community. It is a community of people who sit to enjoy a privileged position that they do not deserve, are aware of this, and therefore spend their time trying to justify why they are doing so. Where differences in political opinion exist, they are in the process of trying to justify their position of privilege and their usurpation of power." (p. 19)
  • "We are concerned with that curious bunch of nonconformists who explain their participation in negative terms: that bunch of do-gooders that goes under all sorts of names – liberals, leftists etc. These are the people who argue that they are not responsible for white racism and the country's "inhumanity to the black man". These are the people who claim that they too feel the oppression just as acutely as the blacks and therefore should be jointly involved in the black man's struggle for a place under the sun… It is rather like expecting the slave to work together with the slave-master's son to remove all the conditions leading to the former's enslavement." (p. 20-21)​
  • "The myth of integration as propounded under the banner of liberal ideology must be cracked and killed because it makes people believe that something is being done when in actual fact the artificial integrated circles are a soporific on the blacks and provide a vague satisfaction because it is difficult to bring people from different races together in this country, therefore achievement of this is in itself a step forward towards the total liberation of the blacks. Nothing could be more irrelevant and therefore misleading. Those who believe in it are living in a fool's paradise." (p. 22)​
  • "We must learn to accept that no group, however benevolent, can ever hand over power to the vanquished on a plate. We must accept that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. As long as we go to Whitey begging cap in hand for emancipation, we are giving him further sanction to continue with his racist and oppressive system. We must realise that our situation is not a mistake on the part of whites but a deliberate act, and that no amount of moral lecturing will persuade the white man to "correct" the situation." (p. 90-91)​
  • "I think there is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa there is such an ill distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will be meaningless." (p. 149)

The Development Dance

The practice of development is messy. Far too often it is much more messy we tend to acknowledge. That messiness often does not appear RCTs or evaluations, but it has a significant impact on the implementation of activities. One of the layers of messiness is the negotiation between donor and recipient governments, covered in Haley J. Swedlund's "The Development Dance: How Donors and Recipients Negotiate the Delivery of Foreign Aid" (2017). The author explains: "This book wrestles with a basic problem: both agencies and governments have trouble making credible commitments. This book is about how donor agencies like USAID and recipient governments like Uganda negotiate the delivery of foreign aid. It is about how the two parties engage in aid policy bargaining, or what I refer to in his book as the "development dance." More specifically, it is about how donor agencies and recipient governments attempt to demonstrate the credibility of their promises, and how their difficulty doing so affects the sustainability of aid policy compromises over time." (p. 2)

The problem? "A common complaint among development practitioners is that new aid practices and policies are not given enough time to become effective. Why is this? Best practices regarding aid delivery are notoriously fickle. In the eighties, structural adjustment was the norm. In the nineties, project aid and support to NGOs became fashionable. At the turn of the twenty-first century, budget support was all the rage. Now donor agencies are crazy fir results-based aid. Yet we know very little about why policies and practices often fall by the wayside (sometimes only to be picked up again twenty, thirty years down the road)" (p. 5)

The challenge is that "the relentless focus measuring the effectiveness of aid often causes us to overlook how the policies of foreign aid actually come to exist in the first place and how likely it is that such practices will remain over the long term. It also means that foreign aid scholars often assume – either implicitly or explicitly – that aid programs are actually designed to be effective, and evaluate them accordingly" (p. 4).

Example: "In the midst of a brutal civil war, the Work Bank, for example, spent more than $45 million in Sierra Leone on building and maintaining roads. Thirty-three percent of the funds went toward compensating contractors for lost time and the destruction of their efforts (Easterly 2003s, 36). There is disagreement about why the World Bank continued to fund road projects in the midst of a civil war, but it is clear that it was not about effectiveness" (p. 5).

Swedlund argues that "the choices in aid delivery are neither random nor driven exclusively by aid effectiveness concerns or the strategic interests of donor countries. Rather, choices in aid delivery are the product of negotiated compromise between donor agencies and recipient governments… designing more effective ways of delivering foreign aid is not just about finding better ways of meeting recipient needs. It is also about incentivizing both donor agencies and recipient governments to keep their promises over the long term" (p. 17). This is important because if "a government is not able to accurately plan for incoming sources of revenue, whether they are higher or lower than predicted, it is unlikely to use the resources efficiently when they do arrive. As a donor official in Ghana put it, if a recipient country gets $50 million on the last day of the year, what is the country supposed to do with it? In practice, what habitually happens is that makeshift and poorly designed initiatives are quickly thrown together so that the donor agency is able to disburse the funds and the recipient government does not lose out on aid dollars" (p. 85).

Way forward? "Building aid delivery mechanisms that will last beyond an initial period of enthusiasm requires us to design institutions that incentivize both donor agencies and recipient governments to live up to their commitments" (p. 131).

New Publication: Participatory Mapping

Cochrane, L. and Corbett, J. (2018) Participatory Mapping. In Handbook of Communication for Development and Social Change, edited by J. Servaes. Springer.

  • AbstractSpringer MRW: [AU:0, IDX:0] Participatory and community mapping has emerged as a key tool for identifying and communicating development needs and been further recognized as a means to support social change. Drawing upon a broad assessment of the literature, more than two decades of experience with mapping initiatives from three continents, and covering a diverse array of applications and issues, this chapter explores both the application of participatory and community mapping and the range of impacts experienced. In so doing, the chapter explores the potential effectiveness for participatory and community mapping to effect positive change. At the same time, we will critically review the assumptions about social change and empowerment, highlighting challenges and limitations to their meaningful usage. This chapter provides practitioners and academics with an overview of participatory and community mapping uses, processes, and impacts and their role as a tool of communication for development and social change.

Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance

Institutions have (re)emerged as a popular topic in development studies, particularly after Why Nations Fail (2012). However, the study of institutions and institutional change should trace back to key work of Douglass C. North, namely the 1990 book "Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance". Given several decades have passed, parts of the book are less relevant today. It is worth reading to better understand the history and development of ideas (and at only 140 pages of text, it is not a lengthy read).

The book "provides the outline of a theory of institutions and institutional change", which at the time of writing, was a relatively novel contribution. North writes in the Preface to the book that "History matters. It matters not just because we can learn from the past, but because the present and the future are connected to the past by the continuity of a society's institutions. And the past can only be made intelligible as a story of institutional evolution" (p. vii). Again, later in the text: "Path dependence means that history matters. We cannot understand today's choices (and define them in modeling of economic performance) without tracing the incremental evolution of institutions" (p. 100).

First, North takes down a dominant mode of thinking: "If political and economic markets were efficient (i.e. there were zero transaction costs) then the choices made would always be efficient. That is the actors would always possess true models or if they initially possessed incorrect models the information feedback would correct them. But that version of the rational actor model has simply led us astray. The actors frequently must act on incomplete information and possess the information that they do receive through mental constructs that can result in persistently inefficient paths. (p. 8).

Why institutions? "Institutions provide the basic structure by which human beings throughout history have created order and attempted to reduce uncertainty in exchange. Together with the technology employed, they determine transaction and transformation costs and hence the profitability and feasibility of engaging in economic activity. They connect the past with the present and the future so that history is a largely incremental story of institutional evolution in which the historical performance of economies can only be understood as part of a sequential story." (p. 118)

An Untold Story of a Medical Disaster in Colonial Africa

  • "All the villagers, women and children included, gathered, as they did every year, for their injection of Lomidine. The preventative administration of Lomidine to entire populations, then called "total Lomidinization," was a priority and a source of pride for this postwar colonial health services. The technique's efficacy was unprecedented: a single injection of Lomidine conferred protection for several months against infection by trypanosomes, the parasites that cause sleeping sickness… for the first time, eradication was within reach." (p. 1)

However, amidst the scientific certainty, and millions of injections, it was later learned that Lomidine had no preventative effects at all. What brought halts to the campaigns, however, was not a change in scientific opinion, but a series of disasters. Such as: "…A catastrophe was looming, and the diagnosis was soon obvious: the shot of Lomidine had caused a bacterial infection that progressed to gas gangrene, spreading from the buttock to the rest of the body, leading to swelling and bursting in affected tissues" (p. 2). "This may be why rumors about the campaigns were so worrying to colonial authorities, as if the irrationality and ignorance of which Africans were being accused might, in fact, be a projection of the doctors' enthusiastic and amnesic foolishness" (p. 183).

Guillaume Lachenal's "The Lomidine Files: The Untold Story of a Medical Disaster in Colonial Africa" (2017 translation by Noémi Tousignant) tells the story of Lomidine. A wonder drug scientists were fully convinced worked, only later to learn it did not work as thought. The author explains: "This book is a biography of Lomidine. It traces this medicine's trajectory from its first trials during the Second World War, when it was introduced as a miracle cure for sleeping sickness, to its abandonment in the late 1950s, when a series of incidents in Gribi and elsewhere brought Lomidinization campaigns to a grinding halt. My broader aim, however, is more ambitious: by selecting as a historical object this white powder, a power injected more than ten million times in Africa during the 1950s, I am experimenting with a novel form of inquiry into the relation between medicine and colonialism" (p. 2).

The book explores medicine for colonialists and colonized (p. 90). The testing of "native volunteers" by exposing them to tsetse flies "every two or three days" for more than a year (p. 30). Blaming medical error and scientific fallacy on the colonized (p. 157). In this regard, it provides a wealth of insight into the colonial projects. The book also provides a wealth of insight into scientific "certainty" more broadly (p. 173). However, the book could have done much better in speaking about the spread and control of sleeping sickness. While this did not need to be the focus of the work, readers are left wanting slightly more information on the bigger picture of the disease.

Tewodros of Ethiopia

The history department of Haile Sellassie I University published some excellent works, unfortunately many of these books are difficult to find. I came across "King of Kings: Tewodros of Ethiopia" (1966) by Sven Rubenson not too long ago. The book is short, but a treasure trove of insight as well as direction to unconventional sources – ones largely lost in the age when we expect everything to be Google-able.

Who was Tewodros? Sven writes: "In Tewodros II, Ethiopia received a ruler of a kind very different from any that she had known for many years or even generations. In more than one sense of the word he was a revolutionary. In more than one field of life of his nation he was an innovator of no mean proportions. The last of the mesafint, he was also the first in the line of Emperors to create modern Ethiopia" (p. 46). In another passage: "Tewodros was a man of tremendous power and great promise. He appeared to be the unifier of all Ethiopia. With most of its armed men in the ranks of his armies and a reputation of being invincible, he had more military power at his disposal than any Ethiopian ruler possessed for several generations. His keen and open mind, his boundless energy and his extraordinary sense of destiny and deep faith in his calling to restore the greatness of Ethiopia combined to make him one of the most remarkable men Ethiopia has produced." (p. 66)

The book goes into great detail about his family and early life. In so doing, there are glimpses into the political sphere, and thus the book is not only for those looking to learn about Tewodros II. For example: "According to the Kibre Negest it was the House of David and the House of David only that should rule Ethiopia. Tewodros' only possibility to make himself a legitimate Emperor would have been to make a bold claim, whether founded or unfounded, that he was a descendant of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. In fact Tewodros did not did this at the time of his coronation nor did he appropriate the title of Ase for himself. Tewodros' contemporaries called him Nigus Tewodros. His own secretary Zeneb does not refer to him as Ase once. This title is throughout Zeneb's chronicle reserved for members of the old Imperial family. Instead Zeneb speaks of Tewodros as the man whom God had chosen to carry out his own plans." (p. 48)

Also, regarding the role of international actors in what we might call 'regime change' today: "Thus the fall of Meqdela by foreign guns and the death of Tewodros by his own hand coincided. But it would be a mistake to believe that the second was really caused by the first. As some foreigners had played a role when Tewodros set his goals for a modern Ethiopian state, so they played their part in his downfall by causing unnecessary misunderstandings, frustrations, and rash actions, which Tewodros himself no doubt regretted. But in neither case was it the major role." (p. 89)

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