Somalia – The Problem Child?

​In September of 1977 Mesfin Wolde Mariam published "Somalia: The Problem Child of Africa", near the outset of the Ogaden War (which lasted from July 1977 to March 1978). As much as I respect Mesfin Wolde Mariam, this is a problematic book. Essentially, Mesfin challenges the claims that Somalis make with regard to their right of nationhood, some of which are valid. They are given no agency in the decision making process, history rather deems that their land must Ethiopian. The book is highly politicized and presents a highly biased Ethiopian perspective. For a person who is, at least in theory, arguing for the Somali region of Ethiopia to be included in the country, he speaks very poorly of the people and their livelihoods (e.g. p. 54-55). The 'problems' of Somali, as Mesfin describes them, are all external (Italian colonialism, British colonialism, apparent British inculcating of Somali nationalism). No mention is made of how Somalis in Ethiopia have been treated in Ethiopia, their lack of inclusion in the nation (except then they when needed), that they have been neglected from the state, and during many periods of history persecuted because of their faith. Instead, Mesfin tells us that the dreams of a Greater Somali are all of colonial origin and that Somali's have no claim to the Ethiopian Somali region. With reference to this historical moment, the book may be useful for those interested in Ethio-Somali relations, and specifically the rhetoric revolving around the Ogaden War.

The History of Ethiopian – Indian Relations

​This may not be the most rigorous of historical books, but given it was published in 1961, in Ethiopia, "Indo-Ethiopian Relations for Centuries" by Muthanna is a unique find. The first 70-odd pages present some rather tenuous linkages between the two areas, and  ome rather bizarre claims that Ethiopians (and Egyptians) are descendants of Indians (p. 19). Even some of Ethiopia's most important texts (e.g. Kibra Negast) are claimed to have Indian roots (p. 36) as too are the Rock Churches of Lalibela: "in all probability the masons and subsidiary workers must have come from India" (p. 203). However, once the book moves to cover the relatively most recent period (14th century onward), it provides some interesting historical relations between the two nations. The deep historical were largely driven by imperial powers – Portuguese trade, British colonialism, slaves and soldiers moving across the oceans. More modern historical ties (1800s onward), took business and political forms – with India and Indians playing key roles in the right against the Italians and in the decision regarding Eritrea in 1952. As India is now one of Ethiopia's largest sources of foreign direct investment, this book may find new readers as the ties between the nations deepen.

Invisible Countries

  • The "map of the world as we all know today is the product of a series of accidents and historical processes that could just as easily have gone another way" (p. 5). 

Joshua Keating explores why the countries on the map seem so stable by visiting countries that don't exist, in one shape or another. The book, "Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood" (2018), while published by Yale University Press, it is not an academic work. It is more journalistic in nature, sharing brief visits or experiences. The author analyzes outlier countries that probably should be countries, countries that are recognized that probably should not be, and oddities, such as countries that may lose their land, e-citizenship and claims of new countries in unclaimed lands. A good airplane or train read for those interested in the topic.

There is an interesting podcast with the author.

Wichale: The Attempt to Establish a Protectorate over Ethiopia

​On May 2, 1889, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia and Count Pietro Antonelli of Italy signed the Treaty of Wichale. Menelik had a relatively long relationship with Italy in his rise to power, and the Italians supported him as he sought to become Emperor. The Treaty of Wichale, according to the Italian version, gave Italy a protectorate over Ethiopia, while the Amharic version did not. The events surrounding the Treaty of Wichale were of the critical moments that significantly altered relations between the two nations, culminating in the Battle of Adwa in 1896, where an Ethiopian victory maintained and asserted its independence.

Sven Rubenson collected the original treaties and their drafts, in Italian and Amharic, and presents a history of the Treaty of Wichale in his publication "Wichale XVII: The Attempt to Establish a Protectorate Over Ethiopia" (1964). This book was the first of the Historical Studies series published by the Haile Sellassie I University. In addition to reproducing the original treaties, Rubenson discusses the history of the treaty itself, the representation of this period in history (i.e. was Ethiopia a colony for these years or not), and a host of misunderstandings that have arisen regarding it. The author explores opinions about whose action, fault or intention it was to have different texts, with accusations made on both sides as well as possibilities of simple translation error. The matter remains unresolved, but available historical evidence points toward intentional Italian action.

This book is an excellent reference work and provides interesting insight on the use of the Treaty by different writers. At the time of signing, Italy shared the Italian version of the Treaty with European powers, which largely accepted it. The issue of different versions of the Treaty – one version in Italian and another in Amharic – only came to the attention of Emperor Menelik II after a correspondence with Queen Victoria. The discrepancy was identified, and Italian efforts to resolve the issue with Menelik II were not successful. After the signing, in many Italian works, Ethiopia was considered effectively a colony for the period that the Treaty was in effect, while Ethiopian and some alternative sources call into question the claim. Rubenson analyzes past Treaties and explores rich historical evidence in English, Italian, French and Amharic. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the subject.

Can Intervention Work?

Crises call for action. Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen... The international community has responded to countries experiencing crisis in a range of ways, from heavy-handed military action to neglect. Have the activities achieved their objective? And, if not, what might be do differently in responding to crises in the future? This is the subject of "Can Intervention Work?" (2011) by Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus. The book is two long essays, one by each of the authors. This book is essentially reading because is challenges commonly aired opinions about state-building, governance, international intervention,

In essence, the book advocates that "limited but well-resourced humanitarian interventions can succeed. Outsiders can bring a war to an end and even help build peace" (p. xiii). However, in many instances it does not, and has not. Rory focuses on some of the causes of the failures. One is the application of a planned, best-practice approach often devoid of any context. For example, staffers are higher for generalist knowledge, not linguistic abilities or depth of cultural knowledge (p. 16). He writes of Afghanistan: "They were not experts in gender or governance in Afghanistan: they were experts on gender and governance in the abstract. They had studied "lessons learned" by their colleagues in other countries and were aware of international "best practice." Their focus was one "cross-cutting themes" – issues that should be applied to all countries and integrated into any project – such as human rights, the environment, and (to quote mission criteria for a Department for International Development, or DFID, project in Iraq) "the political participation of the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized, particularly women" (p. 20).

As an example of a failure to recognize context, regarding one of the foundational documents developed in Afghanistan, among "the sixty-nine separate tables and charts in this 137-page plan, including ones on "predicted teledensity" and "status and accomplishment, national police and law enforcement," the following words did not appear: Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik, Islam, Sharia, jihad, communism, Northern Alliance, warlord, democracy, equality, insurgency, resistance, and consent. Were you to delete the word Afghanistan from the document, and replace it with the word Botswana, it would be very difficult to know of which country you were speaking" (p. 36-37). What was the result? One example is that after a decade of work, of billions of dollars spent, and far too many lives lost, "the justice delivered by young Taliban commanders under trees was consistently rated as fairer and more efficient than that of the infrastructure of the state" (p. 45).

What does Rory propose? "The knowledge required for intervention is not theoretical knowledge – it is a form of practical wisdom: an activity in which there is no substitute for experience. The ideal instructors are those who have spent a long time getting to know a particular place and have seen it at very different times and under different conditions. The ideal education is through an ever more detailed study of the history, the geography, and the anthropology of a particular place, one the one hand, and of the limitations and manias of the West, on the other. You should not, therefore, teach interventions in the way that you teach natural science, but in the way that you teach mountain rescue. Although there is a humanitarian purpose – to save life – the central question is not "What ought you to do?" but "where are you and who are you?"" (p. 77).

The second half of the book, Gerald's essay, focuses on Bosnia. It presents four ideologies about international intervention, drawing out lessons from the Bosnian experience. He echoes Rory in many regards. For example: "In reality, interveners are never in a good position to understand what objectives are actually achievable or how to achieve them before a mission starts. It is by trial and error – by learning from failure as well as success – that a mission understands gradually what is might be able to achieve" (p. 188). Gerald concludes: "Changing other countries is extremely difficult. Historically occupations have rarely ended with an outcome that was satisfactory to the occupier. But supporting certain norms and values and opposing others has led to some astonishing successes in recent years" (p. 192).

Ethiopia’s First Land Tenure Study

​In 1965, H. S. Mann published "Land Tenure in Chore (Shoa): A Pilot Study" (data collection took place in 1963). It was Ethiopia's first land tenure study. It is a product of the Haile Sellassie I University, one of the many great publications that emerged during this time period – and which are increasingly difficult to obtain copies of. The land tenure study area took place around what is now Adama (formerly Nazareth).

The author was an FAO officer working with the then Imperial government. At the time, land tenure issues were becoming an increasingly important public issue, and indeed Haile Selassie sought to reform the tenure system. The reforms were not sufficient, and it was the land issue that contributed to his downfall. This study claims to be the first study of land tenure in the country – the study collected data on the systems of land tenure, land owner and tenant holdings, landlord-tenant relationships, and socio-economic institutions. The book also includes six appendices, which include the data collection tools and some relevant legal documents. All in 78 pages.

I hope to make this document available as a PDF in the near future.

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).

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