The Quest for Socialist Utopia

​Bahru Zewde's "The Quest for Socialist Utopia: The Ethiopian Student Movement c. 1960-1974" (2014) is brilliant. It is detailed, and may be of interest to a narrow audience as a result. However, this exploration of the student movement – leading up to the overthrow of the Imperial Regime in 1974 – is extremely well done, and is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the historical roots of contemporary issues in Ethiopia.

Bahru admirably accomplished his task of "present a more comprehensive and analytical narrative, placing the movement within first its global and then its national contexts. Taking into account both the external and internal components of the Ethiopian student movement" (p. 9). While, at the same time, the book does not set out to defend or vilify any specific group or person. Rather, Bahru argues, "the student movement, the Ethiopian included, has to be viewed not as a philosophical issue but as a historical phenomenon. As such, it has to be understood within the context of its time, not judged from the vantage point of the present" (p. 9.

What was the movement all about? Ending oppression: "There is general consensus that the driving force behind the Ethiopian student movement was rejection of oppression in all its forms. The protests and demonstrations that started to peak after 1965 were directed against one manifestation or another of that oppression. The 'Land to the Tiller' demonstration of 1965 had its objective economic and social equity in the exploitation of the country's most important social and economic asset – land. In 1966, students rose in defence of the poor who were herded in shelters that were considered sub-human. The 1967 demonstration was in protests against the curtailment of the freedom of expression and assembly. The nation-wide protests of 1969, under the slogan of 'Education for All' drew attention to the increasing constraints placed on the poor sectors of society in educating their children" (p. 187).

It was, given the circumstances, a highly influential and effective movement. "For about a decade and a half in the middle of the past century, Ethiopian students made a decisive and fateful intervention in the national affairs of their country", writes Bahru (p. 263). But, the author also wonders how ended up where it did: "there is general consensus that the seventeen-year tenure of the Darg was one of almost unmitigated gloom. The only redeeming feature of that tenure was the land reform proclamation of 1975, which could be said to have been a resounding response both to the passionate calls of the reforming intellectuals of the early twentieth century to alleviate the lot of the tribute-paying peasant (the gabbar) and the slogan of the 'Land to the Tiller' articulated by the students in 1965 (p. 263-264). The author does not only recount the events, but reflects upon them and their significance. For example, he suggests that the radical Marxist ideals with militant adherents were not new in form, but rather a "transmutation of the religious orthodoxy of the classical tradition" and the "Marxist-Leninist writings provided a ready-made justification for such militant opposition" (p. 138). On the future, this eminent Ethiopian scholar, writes: "The country has to come to grips with and move beyond this legacy if it is to have any hope of redemption. At the same time, however, we have to understand that the students did what they did in all genuineness and sincerity. They had not hidden agenda. They were driven by what has driven youth everywhere and throughout the ages – the quest for social justice and equitable development" (p. 280).

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New Publication: Worldviews Apart: Agriculture Extension and Smallholder Farmers

Cochrane, L. (2017) Worldviews Apart: Agriculture Extension and Ethiopian Smallholder Farmers. Journal of Rural Social Sciences 32: 98-118.

Abstract: This paper presents an inquiry-based learning assessment into why farmers in the highlands of Ethiopia were not adopting a new planting methodology promoted by the government and non-governmental organizations. It offers a process of reflexivity whereby assumptions emerge as the key barriers to misunderstanding, and focuses on the concept of divergent worldviews as an important consideration for understanding (non)adoption. The learning process offers insight for policy, programming and research, emphasizing learning instead of definitive conclusions.

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The Challenge of Democracy from Below

Edited volumes do not tend to have staying power as a publication – collections of essays pass like most academic articles. Rarely does an edited volume remain an essential reading for decades. "Ethiopia: The Challenge of Democracy from Below" edited by Bahru Zewde and Siegfried Pausewang (2002) is one of those books. A number of the chapters have been widely cited, and remain key sources for research. This text is also unique in that is was co-published by an Ethiopian civil society organization within Ethiopia (Forum for Social Studies)

Providing a summary of an edited volume is challenging. Rather than try to give a few points, I'll overview the structure and highlight some essential readings. The book is divided into four sections: (1) Traditional systems of governance, (2) The peasant and the management of power and resources, (3) Alternative loci of power, and (4) Alternative voices. Of these, contributions by Bahru Zewde, Oyvind Aadland, Svein Ege, Siegfried Pausewang, Dessalegn Rahmato, Mehret Ayenew and Original Wolde Giorgis are excellent. This book is well worth finding.

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New Publication: Stages of Food Security

Cochrane, L. (2017) Stages of Food Security: A Co-produced Mixed Methods Methodology. Progress in Development Studies 17(4): 1-16.

AbstractThis article presents the stages of food security methodology, an adaptation of stages of progress developed by Dr. Krishna. Studies of food security are primarily survey based, applying a common set of generalist indicators across a range of agroecological areas and for a diverse array of people; these findings have provided a wealth of information and insight into the trends, challenges and the extent of food security on national, regional and global scales. Ethnographic and qualitative approaches have provided detailed, contextualized findings about the interrelated and complex nature of food security at the micro level. This co-produced, mixed methods approach brings together participatory qualitative approaches and co-produces quantitative data collection tools, which provide generalizable data geared towards supporting the development or refinement of policies and programmes to strengthen food security. Based upon a pilot implementation of the methodology in Ethiopia, advantages and limitations are discussed, as well as reflections on why co-production as a participatory approach was adopted, in contrast to other participatory processes. The findings demonstrate the ways in which co-produced approaches can offer unique insight, complementing and enhancing existing knowledge about complex challenges. 

Available from publisher here.

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Logan Cochrane

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