Native Colonialism

The people of Ethiopia defeated European attempts to colonize it. However, Dr Yirga argues that in embracing western education and erasing local history and tradition, the institutions and laws put in place colonizing processes, what he calls 'native colonialism'. This is one of the most interesting books I have read of recent, highly recommended to anyone interested in what (de)colonization means, and specifically for readers looking for critical works on education and Ethiopian history. Native Colonialism: Education and the Economy of Violence Against Traditions in Ethiopia (2017) by Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes (Res Sea Press) is a unique book and offers (what many will see as) a provocative take on education in Ethiopia. In so doing, Dr Yirga also offers rich insight into the traditional education system, particularly of his home Lalibela. This is recommended reading. The Introduction and Conclusion appear onlineA few quotes:

"This book attempts to show that beneath the good name of education, there is a constant violence against local traditions that perpetuates the degradation of the lives of the majority whose survival depend on those traditions. The belief in the redemptive power of western education is informed by a colonialist worldview that local traditions and people are primitive. It is also an indictment that privileges westernized elites to speak and act for the rural majority without the latter's consent." (p. 2-3)

"Ethiopia has never been colonized by an alien political power, but a political system similar to colonialism has been institutionalized in the country by native colonizers. The western political ideology of the lite class has become the source of economic, political and social policy. Political parties determine development processes, and modernization is seen as a government-sponsored project rather than an evolutionary process that emerges from people's local experiences. Education has played a central role for the emergence and expansion of native colonialism. It promotes a worldview and culture that produces colonial consciousness. This book critically articulates the historical emergence, ideology and effect of native colonialism." (p. 3)

"The best way to show the violence of this empire is not to reason based on its own rationalities. This is what most commentators did when they criticize the quality or relevance of the education system. They often start from the education system, not from the meaning of education." (p. 4)

"Imitation, not interpretation, was the principal mechanism by which the new laws were adopted. Following the constitution of 1955, six codes were issued. These include a civil code, a penal code, a commercial code, a maritime code, a civil procedure code, and a criminal procedure code. "These codes were all either drafted by foreign lawyers or inspired by foreign sources" (Vanderlinden, 1966-1967, p. 255)." (p. 107)

"The adoption of western laws had the effect of creating institutions that are violent to tradition. The most significant manifestation of this violence is the silencing of local histories, knowledges and experiences, while reinventing the state as a sole source of authority using instruments of power that are alien to the people." (p. 109)

"...the combined effect of the two senses of alienation creates centeredlessness. First, the education system isolates students from their traditional roots. It declares tradition backward and barbaric; it initiates a sense of mission and a promise of power to students. Alienated from their place of tradition, students make efforts to seize the promises of western knowledge through the formal channels of the state. Although knowledge is presented as a stepping stone or a promise of power, Elitdom has strong barriers that make it difficult for many students to succeed. Consequently, students fall into the condition of powerlessness and meaninglessness." (p. 190)

"...the majority of the rural people are served by young graduates or school leavers who are indoctrinated by the superiority of science and western knowledge over Ethiopian tradition and history. This denies the possibility of developing local wisdom and experience into policy making." (p. 200) 

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Ethiopian Discourse

Teodros Kiros is a public philosopher, demonstrated by his commitment to making philosophy accessible and bringing philosophy into the public spaces. Ethiopian Discourse (2011) is a kind of companion book to Teodros Kiros' Philosophical Essays (2011). Both are published by Red Sea and both are collections of articles written in the Ethiopian Reporter newspaper, amongst other platforms (some of which no longer active, which makes this collection a unique repository of writing). The articles were penned during the 2000s. While Philosophical Essays was about broader (more eurocentric) political philosophy, this collection focuses on African philosophy and Ethiopian affairs (interestingly, with a thread of ancient Egyptian morality waved throughout).

The book contains 81 short entries. Like the other book, many essays focus on political philosophy, albeit with an orientation to Ethiopia. I found the articles on African novels and Ethiopian philosophers the most interesting (the author also wrote a book on Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob), of which there are multiple contributions. These also better stand the test of time, compared to the more situated-in-time pieces. We are indebted to Kiros for bringing forth the work of Zera Yacob (along with Claude Sumner), particularly Kiros in the public realm (as Sumner's works remain difficult to find, and in long philosophical books).

For those interested, Kiros has a 2021 book with Cornel West, which they discuss in this online event. 

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Democracy Project

Starting in 2001 Teodros Kiros began writing articles in Ethiopian newspapers, as a way to engage with the public about democracy and democratization. The articles continued until 2004, and are gathered in his book "Philosophical Essays" (2011). The series of articles are short interventions, and are largely an introduction to Euro-Western thinkers, or a sort of Euro-Western political science 101 (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Madison, Kant, Hagel, Marx, de Tocqueville, Rawls). Given that this is the same author who brought to life Zara Yacob for a broader audience, it is surprising that little to no engagement with Ethiopian ideas takes place, nor strands of thought beyond the Euro-Western canon. However, that seems to be a purposeful selection for this book, as the author has another book, Ethiopian Discourse, also published in 2011, that collects writing explicitly engaging with Ethiopian thought and experience (to be reviewed in a future post). This is an interesting collection of writing during a particular moment in Ethiopian political history - however, other than a reference for historians interested in the early 2000s (or a general primer on Euro-Western political philosophy), it is unclear who the intended audience is. 

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Ethiopia in the Wake of Political Reforms

Following years of protests, unrest and instability Abiy Ahmed became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018. After a year of optimism and positivity, the challenges put increasing pressure on a fragile transition. It was around this time that a group of scholars met to take stock of the situation and develop the ideas of what would become the book Ethiopia in the Wake of Political Reforms (2020), edited by Melaku Geboye Desta, Dereje Feyissa Dori and Mamo Esmelealem Mihretu. The collection, published by Tsehai, brings together a wide range of leading scholars, who contributed works on politics, economics, governance, foreign affairs and security. This is a 600+ page collection, beyond summary here. It is well worth picking up. 

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