Ethiopia: Making Sense of the Past and the Present with People

Ethiopia: Making Sense of the Past and the Present with People

by Tadesse E.A.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452526065
Publisher: Balboa Press Australia
Publication date: 11/04/2014
Pages: 580
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.29(d)

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Making Sense of the Past and the Present with People

By Tadesse E.A.

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2014 Tadesse E.A.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4525-2606-5


Starting Life: From Childhood to Adulthood

1.1 Piecing Together what Stretches Behind and in Front of Me

1.2 The Impact of Ethiopian Politics on the Diaspora Community

1.3 Who Plays the Unfinished Game?

1.1 Piecing Together what Stretches Behind and in Front of Me

Honourable life sometimes meant different things to different systems, and such different meanings to life brought various divisions, claims, and struggles, that commanded each of us to stand where we should and face those who force us to be incorporated into their defined ways of life. We observe problems and experience difficulties in our life. Then in a struggle to change, there is nothing to be achieved in one single stroke and comfortably say, "End of history." In a country that had not settled into a stable pattern, the solution may always become difficult to capture, creating a struggle that simply fl oats off from its direction. Everyone starts raising questions, everyone runs to get the most out of every situation, opportunities are not shared, differences are not appreciated, and the heresy we all have fallen into becomes wearing, irritating, with no end in sight, but still we have to keep on struggling.

The basic problems of our time started with the rise of Emperor Menelik. A century ago, the emperor integrated a system that contained strong challenging issues to the starting conditions of the country Ethiopia and left no room for negotiation or modification. So for a century, problems continued steaming from that original fault line. From then on, the hunt for freedom and equality continued. The past generation kept on with the fighting game. The country's feature became recognisable as the land of revolt, and this was channelled into today's generation.

Private identity is out of way in Ethiopia. Establishments used to promote the culture of the dominant ethnic group. As a result, people were being singled out, ethnic identities were displayed negatively, and political, social, and economic domination continued. People refused to be controlled and absorbed. Instead, they created their own experience, their own struggle that kept on appealing to the consecutive generations. No matter how much milder or stronger it might be, the truth is each of us embodies the causes of our generation.

Therefore, in the vigour of my teenage life and in the mythology of adulthood, I blended with others to follow my generational brand. We involved ourselves in many social, cultural, and political causes. We were willing to give ourselves without reservations to those causes. We carried the slogans of freedom and faced armed men without fears.

Emperor Menelik desired to move the country into the modern era. Emperor Haile Selassie came to power to nurse the same problem, with no fear of the people. Now he became a cause in the continuation of oppression. As the struggle got bigger and bigger, many of us were falling into it and found ourselves sided more and more to the left (a term used in modern times). Under such an environment, life is not handy for every one of us who wish to do what we want to do. So we had to struggle to create our own social and political reality. Despite many difficulties, the struggles which were shaped by social and political conditions paced forward.

Eventually, we faced a test of crisis when the old imperial regime crumbled in 1974. What good can come out of it? Freedom and equality are not contradictory but were twisted and rearranged to fit defenders of the old, defenders of the new, defenders of independent seekers, defenders of unity seekers, and defenders of diversity seekers, with all jumbles of freedom and equality contradictions. From the right to the centre to the left, issues mingled one into the other, and the grand drama of fighting had set in with a dog-eat-dog cruelty that drifted into anarchy.

Our true problem is not dictatorship, it is not lack of point of view; it is not a problem of perspective but lack of critical evaluation of our own journey. It is where each of us stands on the issues of ours and our past generations' journey that muddied our waters. It is where our confidence rests that changes the game to one we can comfortably play. Without that, we will come to nothing. Here, one could understand that there is no field of history, politics, philosophy, or science which stands proud against every lurking problem in a society. No one politician, philosopher, economist, or journalist's systematic organisation of our suffering helps. I don't deny the contributions to humanity of any field and any book, but our potentials, our values, our aspirations, our experiences which were all learned by doing, using our own recipe, exceeds many limitations; sometimes, we need to go beyond any restricting challenges to question our facts, to see merits and seek solutions.

Today, as a solution to the older problem, the country reshaped itself and took the form of federalism. Again, the leaders of EPRDF, who came to power in 1991 through bitter struggles, are accused of tangling a system that contains confrontational issues to the starting conditions of the new era of the twenty-first century. Some (the majority) are enjoying, and some are sad. National federalism disconnected the people from the one- Ethiopia of the imperial mould.

Here again, we are divided and remained disconnected in every aspect. There are people around us who try to pull our mind away from the enormous pressure of our ethnic divisions. Modern views are brought up against our nationality aspirations, and we are marching backwards, to a point of no return, to civilisation. But we need and deserve to know our crucial issues. How could we join a struggle constructed by those who failed to give due recognition to the importance of internal historical and cultural problems, which cannot be solved in a wholly external way?

We were profoundly moved by this or that nudge, we studiously ignored one game and trusted the other more, but we saw no good reason to hope for a solution. As a result, we were wounded with the very eff ort we had made to free ourselves. We mistrusted others, we mistrusted this or that democracy, and we mistrusted our own journey. We have fallen in the gaps between theories, we are held up by all sorts of claims, and we are accused by all sorts of measures. Where is our prestige of winning the fight? There is more to what we can hear than what we see (and vice versa). We are toiling for something that neither disappears nor is determined by us. Eventually, the day came when I had to pose for self-monitoring and reflection.

Now writing gives me the freedom of opening the door of my heart that no other force has the power to grant me. In this writing, nothing is absolute, and nothing is foreign to the Ethiopian people as well. I am not asserting anything but presenting the process, the action, and the experience that created the realities of millions of Ethiopians. My uneasiness that started at my delicate childish day when the conscious sense of my being part of the other side imprinted in me, and the dramatic upward journey that followed, have now been taken up.

When I started writing this book, I already knew that it is difficult to write something conclusive, but the small thing I am writing would have its own implications, some doubts, some transcendent values, or anything else. No single book can draw everything each of us want in our life. There are distorted realities and twisted facts behind our ears. There are more than one claim and many justifications.

All the time, I am surprised to find myself surrounded with fractured politics subject to fits of irrationality. It is being bandaged here and there, as though there is something still to come out of it. Any statement made about Ethiopia in this environment attracts negative emotion. It is an environment where hostility is constantly being nurtured.

My attention returned to the past that engineered the present. When I see backwards, I see big things. There were many things in that past that would help me to decide how to move forward from this negative environment. I stood back. When I began to consider writing this book, my thoughts went out to those past events, places, and lives, and I gathered courage from the threads of life intertwined with thousands of people and situations associated to them. These were people who guided me where I was heading. I wanted to stick to the opinions, encounters, findings, positions, and experiences shared between me and many people in my life. I call them my mentors.

Truly speaking, my mentors had a lot of influence in writing this book, which started with my own selected distinct life experiences. It is always good to write something from voices stored in our heart. In many cases, I also take facts out of stored resources (references) as needed. Mentors present themselves to us in different forms and under different situations. My mentors are people who cared for my survival, children who had grown up with me, friends with different backgrounds, strangers with opinions, unique villages, and diverse urban centres, and all who made connection with me for good or bad and opened me up to everything I should be, like men of my generation. It is hard to identify a single person as my mentor, but I can say that many of the things written in this book are the outcome of the ideas of many people (some passed away, some living) connected in many ways and at many places to me. As I write this book, apart from my active contribution, I feel as though I am also translating something between my mentors and you the reader. Whatever has been argued, discussed, fought over, or brewing within us for long time is more or less coming into action in this book.

After EPRDF came to power, the external and internal protective covers, the emotional chants that were used to uphold one-Ethiopia and many past indecent historical tales started to break out from their imposition ranks. But the row between one-Ethiopia of the past and multi-Ethiopia of today is still hanging on in some quarters. Many writers are entering at the bid of working out how best to manipulate the gap created between the old, which hardly believes its own tracks, and the new that wake up out of that past to do its own desires. Change is unstoppable. However, meaningful change will not come by force, but only when the milieu we are in is properly transcended by understanding and trust.

In the midst of all this confusion, this book comes into existence to discuss confusing issues with a unique clarity of reason. This is the only way I guarantee to pass the very act of life that created our divisions and defensive life. This is the purpose I acquired in the end.

The Distant Past: The Childhood Images that Can Never Be Put Aside

By the time I was born, as I mentioned earlier, my relatives were in bondage within a structure that accorded them low status. My life began at a remote Oromo countryside, some six to eight hours' journey on foot from the nearest administrative Oromo town in Shewa. I was there for a few years, right where I was born, before my mum took me with her to that nearest town. Though ordinary, I always look back to that humble origin, to a place where I took my first steps and spoke my first words with special fascination.

The day I was transferred to the town's life, the scant vision of it, stayed with me all my life. Not because I want it, but the childhood teasing, mocking, and nagging that followed me as I grew up let that memory stay imprinted in my heart. So as I come through different ages, even after I toned my language, my name, and everything else, I continued to receive laughter at the way I sounded during my original cultural clash periods. The methodology was "hate your background." It was there in that town that I passed through pseudo-Amharanisation phases successfully.

My private name given to me by my parents and grandparents was not shining well in the town's life, and hence, I had to surrender my dearest name during that tender age to receive the privileges which authoritative MSD elites (or Amharas elites) had assumed to grant me. There was no ceremony for renaming me, I was just stripped of my former name and forced to accept a cultured one, my current name. The second thing to be surrendered was the language which I and my relatives used to communicate with each other. The third was my culture, and so forth.

As a child, I found tremendous comfort in sucking my thumbs, protected and guarded by my mum, but in the town, as I grew up, my chance to laugh, associate, or compete with the Amhara elite's children, the dominant group in the town and the country, seemed practically zero in the beginning. Here, all negative things were thrown at me. All wrong things, all inferior things, all little things, were associated with my life, and hence, from the very beginning, I was primed for a fight. Then after, it had always been their way that I had to adopt. Since they got everyone in town in that way, I was there as another victim, who would just accept without questioning all the things happening to me.

Finally, I stopped using anything Oromo altogether and became outwardly Amhara, my passport to the world of the chosen ones. Here, I grew up, went to school, and learned modern education. During my school days, we students used to be told a pleasing but heavily conditioned picture of the country that was married to the culture and outlook of the dominant ethnic group. Deep inside me, I knew that not all those things told were true about the country, but we had to accept them blindly, without questioning. My birth place is in the south lands, but I was given the history of the north, which I could scarcely imagine as mine. My ancestors' history had been sacrificed to nourish the monuments at Axume, Lalibela, and Gonder, all in the north part of the country. There was nothing to claim as ours; we were told we had come from Madagascar and were placed where we were not supposed to be. We didn't have history of our own.

Arming one's self with an oppressive culture on one hand, and countering that same culture for what it lacks on the other hand, was a difficult journey for me. Some of my disapproval of that culture was usually noticed by my friends, and wherever I went, I used to face some sort of conflict or inconvenience. From all the things that I went through, I radiated a mixture of peculiarity such as resentment, lack of confidence, and the urge to fight. These reflections have been dictating my outward actions since my early life. It was not only the oppression running around that mattered to me, it was also total disconnection from the dominant cultural assumptions of being an Ethiopian, which totally undermined the existence of millions (in fact, the majority) of people in the south and east part of the country. Very simply, I was born into a community that no longer existed officially and formally in the country. I felt out of place. How does such a phenomenon come about? How were my hero ancestors, those who fought through centuries of life debacles, reduced to such insignificance? I had to pause for self-evaluation. I began to visualise all the bad and good events in my life. I was finally forced to ask one unique, universal question: Who am I?

I want to investigate the chronicles of my history. I have to go back to my ancestors' line and find where the leak occurred. Were they forced or symbolically tricked into such non-existence? Had I owed someone something that put me in bondage? If so, I want to take responsibility until that debt is paid. I want to stop the leak. I want to do something to stop the force and the symbolic trick. I have to go all the way back through time, to pick up their struggles from where my ancestors left off . These were the basis of my participation in the struggle over the years. I don't have to walk hundreds of miles or dig up the earth to find evidence about my ancestors and, thereby, about myself. There are most enjoyable tales and stories, and many recently written books, which put Oromos history on edge with Ethiopian history. I don't want to bring all that here to do with my little tentative or passing questioning. I just want to put their dim historical paths into general perspective. It is enough for me to follow some general routes followed by my ancestors themselves.

Let me put it this way: I want to start from what looks like my story, my route, and my ancient ancestors' story. By doing so, I want to highlight how my ancestors survived and what they thought of the world in which they lived. Then, I want to know how they finally chose a destination that entangled them with today's Ethiopian people, sending them into bondage. To arrive at such legitimate knowledge, I have to answer questions such as who, what, when, where, or how of situations, but I lack perfect sources of reference and space to come up with precise answers to those questions (though there are oral tales and scant writings). My incapacitation here does not change the situations of the past. I would like to design my story in a format which generally integrates a wider time span that would make my account the least possible story.


Excerpted from Ethiopia by Tadesse E.A.. Copyright © 2014 Tadesse E.A.. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Demonstrative Maps, vii,
Abbreviations and Acronyms, xiii,
Preface, xv,
Introduction, xix,
1. Starting Life: From Childhood to Adulthood, 1,
2. The Process that Produced and Maintained the Ethiopian Throne, 67,
3. Dilemmas, Challenges, and Struggles during the Imperial Years, 181,
4. The Nation in Transition, 311,
5. Challenges and Struggles during the Transition Period, 435,
Conclusion, 539,
Bibliography, 543,

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