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Native Colonialism: Education and the Economy of Violence Against Traditions in Ethiopia

Native Colonialism
BY Professor Ephraim Isaac*
Many books have been written about education in Ethiopia. Yet,
they mostly focus on a one-sided consideration of modern
education, its methodology, relevance, and use. Few have seen
the need to critically evaluate the development of modern education in
Ethiopia. In particular, they neglect an important component: the role
of tradition.
Since the late 19th century, Ethiopia simply duplicated western educa-
tion to modernize without due consideration of the importance of tradi-
tional learning. Some, including myself, have at times expressed concerns
regarding the indiscriminate adoption of modern western education in
Ethiopia. What some call modernization has come at the cost of a total
neglect of traditional learning – or, the lack of balance in incorporat-
ing traditional humanistic Ethiopian teachings and the important and
valuable aspects of western scientic education. Yirga is the rst person
I know who has systematically analyzed the problems created by this
shortsighted educational philosophy in modern Ethiopia.
Traditional education has a long history in Ethiopia going back to the
time of the translation of the Bible into the Ge’ez language in the h
century. Ge’ez (Classical Ethiopic) is one of the rst seven languages of
the world into which the Bible was translated (see my article “e Bible in
Ethiopia” in New Cambridge History of the Bible, Richard Marsden, et. al
eds. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012). Ethiopia has a veritable traditional
educational system based on a wide range of ancient Hebrew, Aramaic,
* Dr. Ephraim Isaac’s latest book is e Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahido
Church, 2013, Trenton, N.J: e Red Sea Press, Inc.
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Greek, Syriac, and other literary works. eir total neglect in modern
Ethiopia has created some confusion among the youth who are proud to
be Ethiopian, on one hand, but confused about its culture, on the other.
In other words, almost all Ethiopians feel proud of their history, but at
the same time they look down upon their traditional culture and values.
is is what the author rightly denes as centerlessness, a form of alien-
ation where one feels isolated from their tradition but is not granted a
place in the new western system.
is book makes a unique contribution to the fundamental problems
facing the Ethiopian educational system, past and present. e author
has an excellent grasp of the system of modern Ethiopian education. He
also has a rsthand knowledge of traditional Ethiopia learning systems.
Dr. Yirgas book is based on an extensive examination of relevant tradi-
tional literature and ethnography. His examination of Ethiopic literature,
particularly the Kebra Nagast with additional references to other impor-
tant works like the Hate taZe Zara Yacob, in analyzing the relevance of
modern Ethiopian education is an original and creative idea. His inter-
view with traditional teachers and religious leaders in Lalibela augments
his knowledge of the primary literature and understanding of Ethiopian
educational problems.
To my knowledge this is the rst extensive analysis of the history of
education in Ethiopia and a rational and balanced account of tradition
vs. modernization. Directly or indirectly, this book challenges the phi-
losophy of the Ethiopian Ministry of Education. e author does not
deny the importance of western education for Ethiopia. To the contrary,
he has himself benetted from it. But his critical analysis of the pros and
cons of the value of western education points to a much-needed reform
in Ethiopia. Yirga indirectly calls on Ethiopian educators to examine the
nature, purpose, and extent of traditional Ethiopian education and the
need for its incorporation in the educational system.
In short, I commend this book enthusiastically. It is an original work
with many creative ideas for change. In this respect, it is a work relevant
for use by leaders and educators of Ethiopia, for whom it should be re-
quired reading.
We do not live in space, we live in places. To live is to live locally, and to
know is rst of all to know the places one is in (Casey, 1996, p. 18).
There is no exaggeration to the saying that when an old person
dies in Africa, a library burns down to the ground. e proverb
implies that African educational institutions have little or no
record of the wisdom and experience of their traditional scholars. e
proverb also applies to the current Ethiopian condition where traditional
scholars are excluded from the formal system despite long years of study
in the intellectual legacy of their country. Growing up in the historic town
of Lalibela, I had the opportunity to closely observe the lives of these
scholars. ey are the cultural leaders of the people. ey spend decades
of learning in places like Gondar and Gojam, studying in the traditional
education system which is just one of many rich indigenous knowledge
traditions in Ethiopia. In the community, they resolve conicts, advise
the young, comfort the sick, and pray for the dead as well as the living.
ey give shelter and free education for students who come to study with
them, as they were received by others before them. Inside the 13th century
monolithic churches of Lalibela, their singing and dancing seem to bring
the beauty and wisdom of the past into a simultaneous existence with the
present. Yet, these cultural leaders, like all other traditional leaders in the
country, are not active participants in the political and economic life of
the country. ere is a strange aloofness between culture and politics in
Ethiopia. In a country where more than 85% of the people live according
to the dictates of local tradition, traditional scholars are not active par-
ticipants in contemporary decision-making processes.
In an eort to encourage intergenerational dialogue between el-
ders and youth, Afroag Youth Vision, a local NGO, initiated a series
Native Colonialism
of conferences in 2006. e action was inspired by Professor Ephraim
Isaac’s advice that the new Ethiopian millennium, which would be cel-
ebrated in 2008 (2000 according to the Ethiopian Calendar), should be
an opportunity for the country’s renaissance through the active inclu-
sion of its traditional wisdoms. However, in 2008, the celebration of the
Ethiopian Millennium was dominated by an interest to renew Ethiopias
image in the eyes of the world. It focused on activities that would please
tourists and the diaspora, including a paid concert by American singer
Beyoncé Knowles rather than the voice of traditional wisdoms and el-
ders. e events show that elites and policy makers consider Ethiopias
indigenous traditions, calendar, language, and history to be cultural rel-
ics, not dynamic forms of knowledge that could inspire change and en-
rich the education of its current generation. Afroag’s conferences gener-
ated ideas that questioned the relevance of Ethiopia’s current education
system to the tradition and way of life of the people. One participant
questioned its contribution, saying “education should study and improve
the tools with which we do things. But, throughout my life, I haven’t
heard of any contribution of such kind from our universities. Can you
tell us what universities teach our children to improve our lives?” Such
critical questions are important in light of the degradation of the lives
of most rural communities in the country and their environments. My
own recent observation of the places around Lalibela speaks to this deg-
radation. Much of the landscape is now robbed of its greenery, many of
the small rivers that once threaded through the surrounding gorges have
dried up, the few big trees that stood once at the places called guro, erigu
shola and metafet have perished, and the land is scarred with haphazardly
built houses that suggest high population growth. Elders, orphans and
disabled persons do not have any support from the state. Despite the lack
of meaningful contribution to local life, state education is still celebrated
because it is a supposedly “good thing” in and of itself, not because it has
brought good things to the poor who make up the majority of Ethiopia’s
e education system has been signicantly expanding in recent
years, though research suggests that it is also heading “from crisis to the
brink of collapse” (Negash, 2006). Education is always linked in positive
ways to the lives of the people, to their future and destiny. is book
attempts to show that beneath the good name of education, there is a
constant violence against local traditions that perpetuates the degrada-
tion of the lives of the majority whose survival depend those on traditions.
e 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. rough a critical analy-
sis of historical, archival and empirical sources, including rare interviews
with traditional and western educated scholars, and a critical-reexive
approach towards my own position as an individual who beneted from
the formal education system, this book presents a theory that explains
the violence of modern institutions. e central thesis of the book is
this: 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. e western political ideology of the elite
class has become the source of economic, political and social policy. Po-
litical parties determine development processes, and modernization is
seen as a government-sponsored project rather than an evolutionary pro-
cess 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.
is book critically articulates the historical emergence, ideology and ef-
fect of native colonialism. It also attempts to present an interpretation of
Ethiopias rich legacy of traditional philosophy and wisdom as a source of
insight for the production of relevant education for the future.
e book follows one of Ethiopias indigenous knowledge traditions
that survived for thousands of years through the education system of the
Tewahido Church and traditional life of the people. In addition to the
contribution of the church, some Ethiopians and foreign scholars have
made great eorts to save the wisdom of our ancestors from the native
colonialist drive of our own elites. For example, Aleqa Asres Yenesew,
who is one of the prominent scholars of the traditional school, has docu-
mented the principles and values of Ethiopian identity from the Tewahi-
do Christian tradition and the danger of mental colonization by the West
(1959 [1951 EC]-a). In a similar vein, Claude Sumner’s interpretation of
Ethiopian philosophy, including that of the 17th Century philosophers
Zara Yacob and Walda Hiwot, is a tremendous work that invites readers
to the rich legacy of traditional philosophy in the country (1976). e
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work of Asmarom Legesse on the Gada system of the Oromo is a notable
example that shows the rich diversity of indigenous knowledge in Ethio-
pia (1973). Kidanewold Kie, Desta Teklewold, Hiruy Woldeselassie,
Haddis Alemayehu, Tekletsadik Mekuria, Richard Pankhurst, Getachew
Haile and Abera Jembere are among the few scholars who have written
on Ethiopia’s diverse indigenous conceptions, stories and language. In
addition to providing an in depth understanding of Ethiopia’s ancient
knowledges, Professor Ephraim Isaac has been a practitioner of tradition-
al wisdom and methods. He has been engaged in teaching young people
and attempting to reconcile radical political opponents using traditional
methods. e contribution of these and many other scholars and elders
on the history, philosophy and tradition of Ethiopia provide indispens-
able context to closely examine the relevance of western knowledge and
education from the perspective of Ethiopia’s tradition and culture. I fol-
low some of the interpretations and suggestions oered by the above
scholars, together with empirical information gathered in Ethiopia, to
present my arguments on native colonialism in Ethiopia.
My eort is to provide a critical reading of the metaphysical empire
of western knowledge that has been imposed upon Ethiopia in the name
of education. e best way to show the violence of this empire is not to
reason based on its own rationalities. is is what most commentators
did when they criticize the quality or relevance of the education system.
ey oen start from the education system, not from the meaning of
education. ey focus on evaluating the performances and activities of
the education system based on the goals and theories set by it. ey fo-
cus on issues such as coverage, access, and resources, and measure the
relevance and quality of its practice to a set of xed objectives by the
system. Although these may have positive outcomes, it presents the edu-
cation system as a self-contained metaphysical entity whose relevance
and signicance is beyond question. Consequently, it pays little atten-
tion to the relevance of the content, process, outcome and vision of the
education system itself to the knowledge, experience and interest of the
local people concerned. It fails to consider whose knowledge is being
packaged for distribution through the education system. is failure
contributes to the continuation of the metaphysical empire of the West
and its violence against local traditions. I argue that the best way to show
this violence is to commit oneself to an earnest endeavor to enter and
stand on the epistemic elds that are suppressed by its violent presence
with a reexive practice that recognizes the shortcomings of this entry.
Presenting the intimate experiences and knowledges of others in this way
could be seen “as putting oneself into someone else’s skin” (Geertz, 1983,
p. 56). However, my claim of entry is not to represent the exact words
and experiences of those suppressed knowledges but to critically and
adequately inform my own interpretative perspectives and experiences
with theirs while writing on the topic. In the process of doing this, I
have taken the time to get the perspectives, experiences, knowledges and
suggestions of so many people in Ethiopia including traditional scholars,
students and teachers as presented in the book. Yet, I consider it to be
important that the common myth of objectivity as a disconnection be-
tween the author’s own experience and his/her work should be avoided.
While objectivity could become the aspiration of any genuine scholar-
ship, the author cannot interpret social reality without referring back to
his/her own subjective experiences and values. erefore, it is important
to provide readers with a short reection of my experience in relation to
the topic.
Reection and Book Summary
My view on the relationship between tradition and education developed
through lived experience and research. I was born at the town of Lal-
ibela where I started my educational journey with the study of numeracy
and literacy at a traditional school (Nibab Bet) from the late Seregela
Abate. en, I studied in the government school from elementary to
grade 10 during the previous Derg period, and from grade 11 through
to my undergraduate degree in Law during the current EPRDF rule.
During my early school years, I grew up in close relationship with rural
life and places with practical exposure to farming and related activities.
Although I did not complete a higher level of study in the traditional
school, I became an active leader in the youth Sabbath schools and my
leadership role and personal interest created a desire to learn the scrip-
tures and language of the Tewahido tradition. I still have memories of my
classes on the interpretation of traditional scriptures, tirguaamme, with
the late Aba Zekarias Wassie; the study of local history with Afememihr
Alebachew Reta; my late-night Ge’ez reading and rehearsing classes with
Native Colonialism
Merigeta Mekonin; scripture Sabbath classes with Aba Ketsela and the
late Merigeta Gebremariam and others. e great melodist and vocalist
the late Riese Debir Gebre Maskal Amagnu and the passionate teacher
Lique Kahinat Kassie Setegne were sources of inspiration and passion
for my interest in traditional knowledge. Before I nished high school,
this interest took me to the Monastery of Daga Estifanos at the island of
Lake Tana where I spent a brief time of communal living with the monks
there. Later, aer nishing year 10, I was trained as a Health Assistant
and worked at remote rural clinics, an opportunity that enabled me to
work at one of the country’s rural villages. ese experiences informed
my extra-curricular activities when I later joined the Law faculty of the
Addis Ababa University. I started to work at the students’ clinic provid-
ing rst aid and referral services during non-oce hours. My role as the
Chairman of the literature club for two years following the 1999 student
protest and later as Director of Afroag Youth Vision, a national NGO
working to enhance the civic engagement and leadership role of youth in
the country, enabled me to be actively engaged with the ideas, passions
and challenges of my generation.
It was during my legal training and my teaching career as a law lec-
turer that I dimly started to perceive the strange contradiction between
university education and rural culture in Ethiopia. Although Ethiopian
laws are legislated and applied in Amharic, Ethiopian lawyers are trained
in English. While English, French or Latin philosophical sources are
referenced and the history of Europe is emphasized, Ge’ez or Oromo
sources of Ethiopian philosophy and history have been neglected. Both
in the rst year of university and at law school, western philosophers
were presented as biblical gures who spoke universal, neutral and
objective truths. My travel to join my family in Australia gave me a
comparative perspective and reective space to critically engage with
my own assumptions. In particular, my Masters training at the Centre
for Human Rights Education at Curtin University encouraged me to
draw insights from a range of critical theories that ultimately led me to
conduct a PhD study on the relevance and signicance of education in
Ethiopia. My ongoing teaching and research experience, which involves
interaction with several colleagues and postgraduate students, gave me
the privilege of accessing information that facilitated the production of
this book.
is book, though informed by my own experience, is the product
of signicant empirical research and an examination of Ethiopian his-
tory, literature and philosophy. e empirical research took place from
2010-2014 and involved observation of traditional schools, high school
and university classes, and interviews with teachers and students in both
the state and the traditional Ethiopian school systems. e book starts by
examining the legacy of traditional knowledge in Ethiopia. In Chapter 1,
it presents a theoretical reection on the meaning of epistemic location
and epistemic violence and a brief observation of how the literature ap-
proaches the relevance of tradition to education. Chapter 2 presents the
conceptual and traditional basis of political and social life in Ethiopia
based on the Kebra Nagast. It demonstrates that covenant and wisdom
provided a theory of place and knowledge that guided political and social
life for several centuries in Ethiopia. Chapter 3 examines the traditional
education system and the intellectual legacy of the country. It presents
the process of education and tirguaamme, the indigenous methodol-
ogy of knowledge production. Both Chapter 2 and 3 demonstrate that
Ethiopia has indigenous sources of knowledge that could have been used
for making state education relevant to the lives of its people. Chapter
4-5 examine the process of westernization and the institutionalization
of violence against tradition across two historical periods. Chapter 4
presents the beginning of Ethiopia’s transition from kingdom to Elitdom
(a system of elite autocracy) through epistemic violence against tradi-
tion. It examines the onset of a western consciousness of power as the
precondition for violence against tradition from 1860s to 1960s. It also
presents the imitation of western laws and western education as instances
of epistemic violence during this period. Chapter 5 critically examines
the occurrence of radical violence against tradition from 1960s to 1990s.
Beginning with the rise of student missionarism and messianism, it looks
at the rise of violence as a means of perpetuating state messianism by sup-
pressing dissent. It argues that epistemic and physical violence produced
native colonialism in Ethiopia.
Chapter 6 then looks at the eect of the western education system on
the lives of Ethiopian students today. It shows that Ethiopian students
experience a deep sense of double alienation, from tradition and from
the system of power, Elitdom. e chapter demonstrates that centerdless-
ness is the outcome of double alienation and violence against tradition,
Native Colonialism
which contributes to the perpetuation of native colonialism. Finally, in
the Conclusion, I draw theoretical lessons on the nature of education and
present methodological insights for relevant education as well. Although
the sources of my analysis for this book is heavily drawn from the Ethio-
pian Orthodox Tewahido tradition, I acknowledge the existence of other
traditions such as the Gada system of the Oromo and the Muslim tradi-
tion as equally important sources of knowledge that need to be studied in
order to make education relevant to the people in Ethiopia.
Theoretical Lessons and
Methodological Insights
The link between African states and western education was estab-
lished through colonialism. At rst, education was introduced
to train Africans who would assist the colonial administration.
e education system cultivated knowledge and identity linked with the
colonial system. rough education, it became possible for Africans to
believe that the knowledge of the colonizer was a hope for the liberation
of the colonized. Initially, by the initiatives of the missionaries and later
by the policy of the colonial administrators, the colonial school expand-
ed, and became a signicantly important institutional foundation for
the postcolonial state. African parents demanded colonial education for
their children (Ranger, 1965). Studying about the West, reecting on its
traditions, identifying what is relevant for Africa and what is not, educa-
tion is seen as a crucial means to achieve power. is process undermined
African traditional institutions and created a myth of primitivism that
subjected the logic of local traditions to the power of the colonial system.
e end of colonialism brought about a discourse of development,
one that redened the colonizer vs colonized relationship into a devel-
oped vs underdeveloped one. As expressed in US President Harry Tru-
man’s speech, the exploited and impoverished lands of Africa and other
non-western places were labelled “underdeveloped areas”. e sharing of
the “technological advances” of the West through education became the
new civilizing mission (Esteva, 1992, p. 6). As witnessed during the Ad-
dis Ababa Conferences of 1961 and 1962, the eort of African countries
to determine the content and method of education and utilize African
Native Colonialism
knowledges and traditions failed due to a lack of support from metro-
politan powers (UNESCO, 1961, 1962). Instead, the Jometine consen-
sus, initiated by the World Bank, created the slogan “Education for All”.
Today, universal education is accepted as a fundamental human right
and the “internationalisation” of higher education is a widely accepted
norm, despite criticism that it constitutes the “recolonization of the Af-
rican mind” by western knowledge (Assie-Lumumba, 2006; Brock-Utne,
2000). Like colonialism, education during the post-colonial period fo-
cuses on the study and application of the ideas and experiences of the
powerful in the hope of transferring power to the powerless. Once again,
the idealism behind universal education masks the epistemic violence
that degrades and excludes African traditional and indigenous knowl-
edges from local education.
Ethiopia joined African nations in their quest for western education
aer World War II. is is a country composed of numerous tribes, cus-
toms, languages, and religions that live across scattered villages in a large
and varied geographical area. It is also a country that was able to unite the
power of these diverse identities by traditional means and score a decisive
victory against the Italian army at Adwa in 1896. Perhaps, more signi-
cant than the victory of Adwa is the ability of the country to withstand
centuries of isolation from the rest of the world due to the occupation of
its seacoasts by Islamic forces and the colonization of the rest of Africa
and much of Asia by Europe. is book examined the development of
consciousness of power towards the West, as Ethiopian rulers started to take
into account the existence of a powerful enemy that sought to impose its
will upon their nation. is reaction to the European gaze created the
desire to acquire European weapons in order to defend the country from
Europe. e contradiction between enmity and friendship with Europe
generated various internal responses, especially when Haile Selassie initi-
ated a radical westernization process.
is consciousness of power further developed among Ethiopian
leaders, culminating in the wholesale imitation of western institutions
in order to modernize the state. e eect of this process is epistemic
violence – the continuing suppression of traditional institutions, cus-
toms, worldviews and practices by a new system of knowledge that is
imitated from foreign sources. Western knowledge was used to central-
ize regional power, to homogenize the diverse experiences and identities
Theoretical Lessons and Methodological Insights
within tradition as primitive, and to create what Donald called “vernacu-
lar modernism– attempts to reorder local society by the application of
strategies that have produced wealth, power, or knowledge elsewhere in
the world” (1999, p. xvii). One of the most important outcomes of this
process is the emergence of western educated individuals with a new cul-
tural capital. e new elites became missionaries of change for the birth
of a new Ethiopia. Western knowledge, with its tendency to objectify
and bifurcate reality into antagonistic opposites, initiated new normative
divisions, such as modern vs traditional, urban vs rural, manufacturing
vs. agrarian and so on. e former identities are believed to be superior
to the latter, and the educated are regarded as missionaries of change who
would transit the people from the second to the rst set of categories.
is view of modernization sometimes involves the reformation, incor-
poration or modication of traditions. e belief that western educated
intellectuals have the ability to modernize their people using western
knowledge is what I dene as elite missionarism.
Elite missionarism created signicant discontent in the 1960s and
1970s, as several graduates were unable to achieve their vision through
the monarchical system. As both Zewde (2010) and Kebede (2008b)
argue (despite dierences on emphasizing structural vs. ideological fac-
tors), the educated started to blame the imperial system for denying them
the opportunity to modernize their people. In the 1960s, a radicalized
version of missionarism emerged among university students based on
Marxism-Leninism. ey adopted new languages from radical Marxist-
Leninist sources, reinvented Ethiopian kings in the image of medieval
European feudals and foresaw violence as the only way of curing the ail-
ment of the nation. I regard this radical approach as elite messianism.
Elite messianism is belief in the role of intellectuals to radically change
the society through revolutionary, oen violent, means. By large, student
messianism is a genuine and passionate commitment to one’s cause, and
its problem emanates precisely from this strict demand for ideological
conformity. It is a self-appointed initiative that regards its own interpre-
tation as the true expression of the interest of the people. Consequent-
ly, messianism has little room for compromise and dialogue, even with
groups that follow similar ideologies, making physical violence the most
likely method for resolving conicts. While elite missionarism regarded
Ethiopian tradition as backward and subject to change, elite messianism
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regarded it reactionary and antithetical to progress, hence subject to
eradication. In the 1960s, Ethiopian students followed the messianic ini-
tiative of radicalized students who adopted a cult of Fanonian violence as
a necessary force that could cleanse the country from feudalism.
e ability of the government to eectively use physical violence re-
placed student messianism with state messianism. e state took rst
the slogan, then the ideology of the students. It murdered, expropriated
and humiliated what it called feudal leaders and reactionary elements,
distributed land to peasants, and organized the rural and urban dwell-
ers under various associations. While the messianic movement of the
nationalist students of the 60s and 70s was largely crushed by the Derg,
Ethno-nationalist students started one of the longest civil wars in East
Africa. Aer 17 years of armed struggle, they took power from the mili-
tary in 1991 and have continued to implement their political programs
since then. Although several political parties came to the scene during
this time, most of them disappeared or ed the country, complaining of
various forms of state violence. e above brief summary shows that the
Ethiopian political system since 1960s has been dominated by elite mes-
sianism. e Derg, EPRDF or other opposition political parties, how-
ever bitterly antagonistic to one another, share the ideology of messian-
ism. eir claim for power is not just to save the people from poverty
and backwardness but also from the political success of their opponents.
Elitdom is the new political era whose political, economic, social and
other systems resemble that of the colonial system in the rest of Africa.
e direction of the country and its inhabitants are centrally determined
by the political elite who live in the palace of Haile Selassie, whose values
can be shared and communicated only to its clienteles, the majority of
which are among the urbanized minority group in the country.
e history of western education in Ethiopia is built on the ideol-
ogy and actions of elite messianism, which invented a local orient and
the passion to free him from the bondage of tradition. In Chapter Six, I
have shown that the current education system reects a Eurocentric view
of modernism, which includes a “dualistic consciousness, a hierarchical
vision of society, and a metaphysical idea of science” (Hardt & Negri,
2000, p. 70). e ETP presents Ethiopia’s past only as a period of “com-
plex problems the country has plunged in by dictatorial, self-centred and
vain regimes” (MOE, 1994, p. 4). is means, while Ethiopia’s past is
Theoretical Lessons and Methodological Insights
particularized in light of its “evil” regimes, western experience is present-
ed as a universal and neutral experience, without being tainted with its
history of plundering the rest of the world through slavery and colonial-
ism. e ETP prescribes learning as a simple act of diusing science to
the students using a foreign language not spoken in the country. Elemen-
tary education employs ethnic standards, guiding the student towards
regional language, custom and history. Higher education emphasizes an
international standard, requiring the use of English to study western
content. Elitdom stands at the center of the outcome of the ethnicization
and internationalization of student identities through education, replac-
ing the notion of center the country’s tradition had aorded to students.
It operates as a native colonial system that produces the ideology of tradi-
tionalism and globalism to justify its power.
e eect of the education system on the lives of Ethiopian students
cannot be exhaustively described here. e dismissal of Ethiopian tradi-
tional knowledges from the curriculum, the glorication of the innova-
tive spirit of western science, the correlation between science and truth
on the one hand, and tradition and myth on the other, the undermin-
ing of the country’s history and traditional knowledge, as evidenced in
student textbooks, the use of western language for higher education and
research: all of these factors give students a strong message that the Ethi-
opian tradition is primitive and antithetical to modernization. On the
basis of this knowledge, the system constructs students as missionaries
of change, and promises them power as the reward of knowledge (MOE,
2009a, p. 130). With the denigration of their tradition as backward and
primitive, and the exclusion of traditional leaders and institutions from
any form of public oce, the students take the promise of education very
seriously. e identity of missionarism is so strong that they hardly ques-
tion the relevance of western education in the country. For example, sev-
eral students I spoke to during my eldwork opposed the possibility of
changing English as a medium of instruction. Although they admitted
that the use of English has made it too dicult for them to understand
the content of their studies, the fear of becoming backward and isolated
from the world appeared more dangerous and threatening to them than
failing to understand or master the content of their studies. Alienation
from tradition makes students complicit to the epistemic violence of
western knowledge.
Native Colonialism
e epistemic violence of the system aects not only students who
become alienated from the knowledge of their societies but also the ma-
jority of the people who still depend on tradition as a source of meaning.
In Ethiopia, elders, priests and traditional scholars play decisive roles in
the social and cultural life of the majority but they are excluded from
serving in government oces if they do not have certication from the
western school. Consequently, the majority of the rural people are served
by young graduates or school leavers who are indoctrinated by the supe-
riority of science and western knowledge over Ethiopian tradition and
history. is denies the possibility of developing local wisdom and expe-
rience into policy making. Another eect is the denial of recognition and
support to traditional school students and their teachers to pursue their
studies. Traditional schools are not eligible for government funding.
eir students have to leave their parents and travel to distant places in
search of a traditional teacher who might be willing to take them for free.
During their study, they have to beg for food in order to survive and give
manual labor to their teachers. It can be argued that their service is more
relevant to the people than modernist graduates, as they serve within lo-
cal communities as teachers, counselors and healers, oen with little to
no remuneration. e government gives no support to their educational
endeavors, and public resources are funneled only to the western school.
Another eect of epistemic violence is the avoidance of traditional
accountability. In Ethiopia, tradition determined the basis of author-
ity and the limit of the exercise of power. Notions of accountability are
embedded within traditional beliefs and practices. Although violation
of traditional accountability was not uncommon, there were always se-
rious consequences, from lack of support to outright rebellion against
the leaders. is meant that kings had to follow traditional rules and re-
spect what the people respected in order to maintain their legitimacy to
rule. Power required some balance between the traditional accountabil-
ity of the leaders and the traditional subjectivities of the people. With
the westernization of the state, political power emancipated itself from
traditional accountability but maintained the traditional subjectivities of
the people. e meaning, worth and role of tradition is subjected to the
ideology of elite missionarism and messianism. Due to their alienation
from tradition, students continue to disregard the value of learning from
the experience of their society.
Theoretical Lessons and Methodological Insights
Epistemic violence also aects students individually, as the loss of
Ethiopian traditional values is not oen compensated by the fullment
of modern values associated with western education. e education sys-
tem fails to achieve its own promises. Low quality education, failure to
join university or graduate from it, the use of foreign language as a me-
dium of instruction, the diculty of nding employment, the existence
of informal rules of inclusion and exclusion to benet from the system
such as political or ethnic aliation, the irrelevancy of the content of
education to self-employment or innovation: these are just some of the
factors that contribute to alienation. Finally, this failure to achieve a sense
of belonging in both traditional and modern systems of identity creates
the condition of centerdlessness that allows Elitdom to maintain power
through the production of vulnerable identities. Alienation from tradi-
tion invites internalization of Eurocentrism and consciousness of power,
and alienation from Elitdom leads to powerlessness and meaningless-
ness. Powerlessness is a condition that develops as students are unable
to change how Elitdom is inuencing their current and future lives, and
meaninglessness is the inability to utilize their education outside Elitdom
due to its ineectiveness and irrelevancy to local life. e combination of
these two forms of alienation is dened as centerdlessness. Centeredless-
ness is the inability to anchor one’s imagination and eort on a concrete
cultural ground, in a place that connects past, present and future lives.
Although the above analysis focuses on the development of a native
colonial system and its local consequences in Ethiopia, Elitdom has epis-
temic and structural links with forces of globalization outside the coun-
try. Epistemically, it is related to what Mudimbe called “the western epis-
temic order” that dominated the African intellectual landscape (1988,
p. 1). Structurally, it is supported by institutions and structures that
impose rules and displace traditional knowledges and local institutions.
ese two processes create a homogenous global space for the exercise of
a globalized elite power. ere are two major ways through which the di-
versity of local life contained in place, locality or tradition is subjected to
the epistemic violence of western knowledge. First, western knowledge
presents the local as the opposite of the global, as though the global has
no geographical center or location in the world. We think in terms of
mega theories that are sanitized from local particularities, and forget the
idea that “everything is somewhere and in place” (Aristotle qtd. in Casey,
Native Colonialism
1993). is thinking is commonly espoused through notions such as
“globalization”, “humanity”, and “internationalism” that project a vision
of homogenous global space detached from particular places. Traditions
are given xed meanings that support these processes.
Second, epistemic violence against traditions supports the structural
and institutional forces whose activities facilitate the destruction of tradi-
tions within localized and xed boundaries. For example, the inuence of
structural adjustments required by institutions such as the World Bank
pressure countries to adopt policies that facilitate the transfer of local re-
sources into market forces that are beyond the control of local people.
Investment projects involving the transfer of land to rich investors robs
local people of their entire life, as it oen results in the loss of social,
cultural, spiritual and economic connections they had with their places.
From mid-1990s to 2011, Ethiopia transferred 3 –3.5 million hectares
of land to investors resulting in “the vulnerabilities of small producers in
the rural areas whose lands are increasingly being threatened by expro-
priation” (Rahmato, 2014, p. 26). However, global measures of growth
do not take into account the consequence of the loss of the physical,
emotional, cultural and epistemic wealth and relationship people have in
and with places. e World Bank’s praise of Ethiopia as a country “With
Continued Rapid Growth, … Poised to Become a Middle Income Coun-
try by 2025” does not take into account the impact of land deals which
the Bank itself supported (Chavkin, 2015; Hardison, 2015). For local
people, to be placeless is more grievous than the loss of the sense of place,
as Edward Relph suggested in his idea of placelessness (1976). It is above
all to suer destitution within the darker side of modern development.
e Ethiopian education system does not provide information and
critical concepts that could allow students to question the above epis-
temic and structural violence against tradition. In Chapter Six, I have
indicated the role of the World Bank in education policy making in Ethi-
opia and other countries (Takala, 1998). International actors have insti-
tutionalized mechanisms for inuencing social policy in poor countries
through aid and other conditionalities (Samo, 2013). ey have created
a homogenous ideological and political space, inuencing poor countries
with dissimilar social and geographical contexts to adopt similar types of
policies, to implement education in similar ways, using similar resources.
ey support the introduction of technologies that have little relevance
Theoretical Lessons and Methodological Insights
and signicance to local life, as the case of teaching rural students in Ethi-
opia using satellite television in English demonstrated. ese approaches
mystify students’ conceptions of identity and modernity as presented in
Chapter Six. It projects a vision of globalism detached from local particu-
larities by institutionalizing the teaching of western knowledge and the
English language in higher education as a measure of achieving “interna-
tional standard”.
By focusing on the notion of place rather than space, I seek to illumi-
nate the deceptive face of globalism and call for a corrective approach.
From the perspective of the theory of place, the English language and
the content of learning are rooted in place, particularly the West. e
institutions that inuence the policy of education are also just as rooted
in places as the concepts and tools of education. e World Bank is a
ne example. Its policies and programs reect market principles that
benet strong western states. e United States has undue inuence over
the World Bank, even to the extent that the US President nominates the
President of the Bank. e institutions and the ideas that the Bank pro-
motes are not hanging in an abstract notion of space that is equally open
and reachable to all. Instead, it is rooted in the philosophy and in the in-
terest of particular places in the West. e Bank may procure prot from
collecting debt repayments or facilitate the brain drain due to its homog-
enizing inuence. is means, intentionally or unintentionally, it dis-
proportionately allows the ow of benets not to all places in the global
world but to particular places from where it is situated and controlled as
an institution. erefore, what we have as global actors are institutions
that have the capacity to transform diverse places into a homogenous
space so that they can operate without being hindered by the specici-
ties of those locales. is indicates that the notion of space projects an
ideological map constructed based on predetermined theories, formulas,
and principles. Traditions as rich sources of knowledge within places of
poor countries are regarded as primitive not because that is what they are,
but because that is how the global gets its deceptive, all-embracing and
all-encompassing face. My argument is not to oppose non-oppressive,
intersectional but also multi-central places interacting with each other
for cosmopolitan humanity or internationalism. Rather, it argues that
the global should be the genuine expression of diverse localities. To this
pluversality, Ethiopia, similar to other places, has contributions to make.
Native Colonialism
Traditions are important epistemic sources that challenge objectica-
tion – the turning of people and nature into things that can be dened,
controlled and managed by powerful men to achieve calculable material
ends. ey resist epistemic violence and are sources of self-denition
and renewal. is approach requires the avoidance of traditionalism,
the essentialist view of traditions as either barbaric or innocent. Tradi-
tions do not belong to a particular stage of life or to a particular race;
rather they are constitutive of dynamic contexts that generate new mean-
ings in dialogue with old ones. e failure of education emerges partly
from a failure to recognize not just cultural or traditional diversity but
also other types of diversities such as metaphysical, epistemological and
cognitive diversities (Santos, et al., 2007) which are contained in local
traditions. Such diversities should be approached not as neatly separate
binaries of oriental vs occidental or traditional vs modern knowledges,
but as plural yet interrelated centers of knowledge (Ngugi wa iong’o,
1993). erefore, my attempt to interpret Ethiopia’s traditions is not to
provide a strict theoretical formula that explains traditions as they are.
Instead, it is an attempt to indicate the existence of silenced sources of
knowledge that could contribute to epistemic principles for relevant edu-
cation in the country. To this end, I propose that the Ethiopian tradition
interpreted in Chapter 2 and 3 demonstrates that traditions can work
as sources of knowledge to 1) challenge the dominance of the western
epistemic order that privileges space over place, and 2) create a common
ground with other traditions for the production of relevant knowledge
for relevant education.
In challenging the dominance of western epistemology, the Kebra
Nagast presents a great insight that makes place the source of meaning
and identity. As shown in Chapter 2, the Kebra Nagast regarded Ethiopia
not just as a physical entity but also a spiritual one, a sacred inheritance,
yekalkidan hager, whose independence had to be protected and whose
destiny is to be free. I have indicated that although the historical use of
covenant oen created a sense of othering by referring to outsiders as
heathens, in the Ethiopian context the land rather than the people was
regarded as sacred. By becoming the “place of habitation” for the Ark of
the Covenant, Ethiopia became a seat of mercy for all of its inhabitants.
e “mercy seat” provided “the rains and the waters from the sky, for
the planted things... and the fruits, for the peoples and the countries, for
Theoretical Lessons and Methodological Insights
the kings and nobles, for men and beasts, for birds and creeping things”
(Kebra Nagast, 1932, p. 144). is sanctication of place based on the
Ark of the Covenant challenges the epistemic violence that attempts to
present place as a mere natural resource that should be converted into
cash. Similar perspectives in Oromo, Sidama, Konso and others provide
epistemic principles that present place as important sources of identity
and meaning. is elevation of place is an important defense against the
commercialization of lands, indigenous knowledges and resources. It also
suggests an important epistemological contribution for the rethinking of
education. It suggests that education cannot ignore the signicance of
place as we cannot know anything without emplacing it rst, and every-
thing has to come from somewhere or to take place somewhere (Casey,
1993). Knowledge requires a context that orients its production and de-
termines its eects. Each context or place has its own historical, cultural,
geographical, social, economic, political and spiritual characteristics with
important similarities as well as dierences with other contexts. ese
contexts produce knowledge traditions that could generate epistemic
principles that can relate or unite with one another in multiple ways. e
question of how epistemic principles from diverse knowledge traditions
should relate with one another is a delicate methodological question that
should not be determined by the western epistemic order, lest the out-
come could become epistemic violence. It is important to avoid the cre-
ation of static and antagonistic boundaries between traditions that could
make power the desired or inevitable outcome of the relationship. at
means the epistemology of knowledge production should go beyond the
view of knowledge as a means to power.
is leads us to the second insight that we can draw from the Ethio-
pian epistemological tradition: the view of knowledge as wisdom and
humility as the end of knowledge. In the traditional education system,
knowledge is regarded as the gi of God that can be acquired by the soul
as wisdom. Wisdom is regarded as “the eye of the soul … the High God
light that lls the soul” (Sumner, 1981, p. 54). It enables the soul to see,
hear, speak and think clearly. From this, education is the training of the
soul with wisdom to achieve humility አትህቶተ ርዕስ. is goal enhances
the relatedness of the individual to place and people, rather than the cul-
tivation of his/her individuality and isolation from the world. To know
is to melt the self into the being of the other; to grasp the passion, the
Native Colonialism
fear, the pain, the blessing and the hope of the other. Modernist argu-
ments consider this to be self-defeating, arguing that it discourages the
ego-centric drive that produced science in the West (A. A. Mazrui &
Wagaw, 1982). I argue that a humble approach to reality does not create
a defenseless being that welcomes oppression and violence. As Ethiopia’s
victory over European colonialist forces showed, the notion of a sacred
place initiated the desire to act in defense of what is just and good beyond
the self. Indigenous people all over the world have never accepted dispos-
session through colonization or development (Bodley, 2008). ey have
been ghting back using their traditions against the epistemic order that
cannot recognize their resistance and resilience outside its own frame.
Humility creates the willful passion to make sacrices for a higher and
common good. Although its epistemological and ethical principles are
not intentionally designed to oppose the West, it can nevertheless par-
ticularize and objectify the West and theorize egocentrism and individu-
alism, as the Ethiopian traditional literature showed. But more impor-
tantly, humility as the end of knowledge nurtures non-oppressive and
creative dialogue among diverse epistemic traditions within Ethiopia.
Once place and traditions are recognized as sources of knowledge,
and humility is accepted as an end to knowledge, the next step is to an-
swer how local traditions could interact with foreign epistemic sources.
In particular, how can Ethiopian knowledge traditions interact with
western knowledge which contains important lessons and skills for our
lives? is question should be addressed in light of the skepticism to the
argument that as much as western tradition has been the basis of western
education, African traditions could also become the basis of African edu-
cations (Hountondji, 1996). I agree that no knowledge could be classied
as an eternal property of a certain group. However, as many postcolonial
and decolonial thinkers strongly argue, western knowledge has attained
a universal position by depicting non-western places as primitive, vacant
spaces that can be cultivated by the West, and by working through the
structures and institutions of power that made these assumptions a real-
ity (Mignolo, 2011; Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2013; Said, 1978). erefore, my
interest in approaching local knowledge does not suggest a preoccupa-
tion with the authenticity or purity of an African tradition, or the roman-
ticisation and essentialisation of it (Semail & Kincheloe, 1999). Instead,
it is a conscious move from preoccupation with spaces of knowledge to
Theoretical Lessons and Methodological Insights
places of knowledge, from the experiences and stories of the powerful
to the needs and potentials of particular societies and traditions. It is
therefore important to understand western knowledge from the darker
side of modernity (Mignolo, 2011), from the epistemic tradition of non-
western places and the growing critical literature against its universalist
and imperialist nature (Chen, 2010). e purpose is not to accumulate
a detailed inventory of the trauma caused by western knowledge but to
understand our own position and relationship with it.
e Ethiopian indigenous methodology of tirguaamme provides
a fundamentally important insight that addresses the question of how
to learn from other epistemic sources. As discussed in Chapter 3, tir-
guaamme is a process of inquiry from the traditional education system
that examines the hidden essence of a text or reality. It is based on the
principle of ንባብ ይቀትል ወትርጓሜ የሃዩ which literally means “text
kills but meaning heals”, suggesting the importance of interpretation over
mere translation or imitation. In relation to introducing foreign texts
into Ethiopia, tirguaamme was particularly led by the principle of creative
incorporation. As presented in Chapter 3, Ethiopian traditional scholars
interpreted various texts from Greek, Latin, Arabic and Judaic sources
by using their epistemic tradition as “a lter through which every facet
of thought, old or new, had to pass to be accepted, rejected, or modied”
(Ullendor, 1965, p. 139). Creative incorporation is the art of interpret-
ing the world from a place, the process of drawing insights from external
sources to enrich, activate, and transform a tradition through dialogue
with other traditions. In the traditional education system, immersion in
Ethiopian epistemic traditions, or centeredness, was a critical precondi-
tion for the production of relevant knowledge for the country.
A contemporary use of creative incorporation should consider two
important steps. First, it requires a critical and deeper understanding of
the principles and patterns of Ethiopian knowledge traditions. As Isaac
advised a young Ethiopian scholar:
If we read books written by Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx, Lenin and Mao,
why not those attributed to Kristos Samra, Iyasus Mo’a, Zar’a Ya’eqob,
Ewestatewos, Onesimos Nasib, and our other ancient writers? Why do
we not study Ge’ez poetry and literature? Why do we not study and re-
search the rich oral tradition of the Oromo and other Ethiopian peoples
Native Colonialism
about human wisdom and political democratic philosophy? Why do we
not listen to or learn from our own ordinary village elders about mutual
respect, humility of knowledge, and, love of peace and wisdom (2013b).
Isaac’s suggestion follows Egwale Gebra Yohannis’ advice that current
Ethiopian scholars should rst “digest and swallow” the knowledge of
their society before they incorporate western knowledge to their tradi-
tion (2011 [2003 EC], p. 71). e seeds of education are to be chosen
primarily on the basis of the nature of the land and the environment,
not on the quality of the seed alone which is only secondary to the place.
is process should aim at uncovering local epistemic locations that
could allow diverse traditions within the country to contribute to the
continued use of Ethiopia as a shared spiritual and emotional signier.
Once shared Ethiopian epistemic locations are identied, the second step
is to imagine how to interact with other knowledge traditions. For this
second step, Egwale Gebra Yohannis presented creative incorporation as
the art of graing a wild shoot onto an olive tree based on the analogical
interpretation of Romans Ch. 11 no. 17-18 (2011 [2003 EC], p. 72).
He suggested the oil tree that has natural oil represents the Ethiopian
knowledge tradition, and the wild shoot represents western knowledge:
በተፈጥሮ ዘይትነት ያለው ዛፍ አለ። ፍሬ ማፍራት ስለተሳነው ቅርንጫፎቹን
ይቆርጡአቸዋል። በነሱ ፈንታ አውልዓ ገዳም የምድረ በዳ ዛፍ፤ በዘይቱ ግንድ ላይ
ተቀጥሎ እንዲያድግ ይተክላሉ። ተቀጽላው የስሩ ህይወት ተካፋይ ስለሚሆ ዘይትነትንም
ያገኛል። ግን ፈርቶ መኖር አለበት። በቅርንጫፍነቱ መኩራት አይገባዉም። ምክንያቱም
ስር ቅርንጫፍን ይሽከማል እንጅ ቅርንጫፍ ስርን አይሸከም።
e olive tree has its own natural oiliness. Since it failed to bear fruit,
they cut its branches o. In replacement, they graed a new wild shoot
to grow on the stem of the tree. Since the graed shoot partakes in the
life of the root, it gets oil. But, it should live in fear [humility]. It should
never consider itself superior. Because the root carries the branch not the
branch carries the root (2011 [2003 EC], p. 72).
e analogy presents Ethiopian knowledges as a living tree rooted in
place but lacks fruits. Although this analogy of a tree that lack fruits does
not seem to actually represent Ethiopian knowledge traditions as the lat-
ter have produced intellectual, cultural and civilizational fruits, we can
still use the story to illustrate how creative incorporation may work now.
Theoretical Lessons and Methodological Insights
e analogy presents western knowledge not as another tree that should
replace the olive tree, but as a branch, a fragment that would be graed
“to partake in the life of the root”. It is interesting to note that the out-
come of this process is not a purely old or new fruit but a mixture of both.
e practice of learning in the traditional education system shows
that creative incorporation creates dynamism to place. It allows exchange
and interaction among diverse knowledge traditions through two inter-
related ways. ese are learning om places and learning to places. Learn-
ing from places entails learning from the internal qualities of a place,
from the accumulated legacy that occurred in the past and is stored in
the stories, practices and experiences of that place. In the traditional edu-
cation system, the schools are located at specic places, each with its own
peculiarities of excellence. e House of Reading (Nibab Bet), the House
of Holy Mass (Kidassie Bet) and the House of Hymn (Zema Bet) could
be regarded as examples of learning from place. Students as moving bod-
ies travel to these traditional schools to study the various manuscripts,
songs, skills and materials invented or developed by Ethiopian traditional
scholars such as Yared, Petros ZeGascha, King Zara Yacob and many oth-
ers. Places that inhabit historical footprints such as Axum, Lalibela and
Harar furnish innite possibilities for learning from places. is notion
of learning can inspire the cultivation of knowledge traditions that exist
in Oromo, Konso, Sidama, Tigray, Afar, Amara and other places. ere is
also learning that is carried to places. Ethiopian traditional scholars who
incorporated knowledge from Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and other sources
brought various forms of learning to their places. It is important to em-
phasize that learning om and to places are signicantly related to each
other. Tirguaamme as creative incorporation provides a principle that
learning om places should guide the process of learning to places. To
this end, the use of creative incorporation requires a critical, reexive and
dialogical study of traditions, and a process of unlearning and relearn-
ing, which can greatly be aided by the traditional view of knowledge as
e traditional education system provides additional insight into
the critical potential of traditions. Hatata, critical meditation, is a good
example of reective dialogue within and among traditions. Hatata is a
process of developing critical, rational and independent thought or the-
ory on various philosophical questions. e philosophy of Zara Yacob
Native Colonialism
and Wolda Hiwot are good examples of this tradition (Sumner, 1976).
e two scholars, who were educated in the principles and practices of
Ethiopian traditional thought, developed a critical philosophy relevant
to their society. is demonstrates that knowledge traditions have criti-
cal potentials that can generate transformative knowledge for education.
e above theoretical and methodological insights inspire richness and
dynamism into Ethiopia’s knowledge traditions. Knowledge gains origi-
nality or new meaning whenever it is adopted by a new place.
is book presents compelling arguments in support of an epistemo-
logical and methodological shi that could make education relevant to
the people of Ethiopia. Despite the ongoing suppression of indigenous
knowledges, Ethiopia still carries the seed of a new epistemic hope for the
future. It has a vast population surviving based on diverse knowledge tra-
ditions. e only way to defend the people is to support their tradition,
which includes their beliefs, experiences, customs, rituals and aspirations.
Traditions are rooted, not imprisoned, in history; they are not closed but
open to the future. Embracing traditions is not to travel to the past. It
is to live in the present of those dispossessed of their right to exist now.
However dicult it may seem, the cost of not doing this is the deepening
of a colonial consciousness, one that dispossesses people from the place
that connects their past, present and future lives.
... In his book, Epistemic Freedom in Africa, Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2018) writes about how Ethiopia colonised itself as he advances arguments raised by Woldeyes (2017) in his work, Native Colonialism: Education and the Economy of Violence Against Tradition in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is always lauded as one African country that was never colonised by European powers like other African states. ...
... It is also in the Kebra Nagast that the discussion of how the Ethiopians changed from worshiping the Sun, Moon and Stars to the God of Israel (Ullendorff, 1968). Woldeyes (2017) explains that the total years of study under the indigenous education system in Ethiopia spanned over 30 years. Woldeyes (2017) concurs with Dagne (1970) above although his explication of the curriculum is more elaborate, and it includes timelines as well. ...
... Schools should not alienate, but colonial education will always alienate the learners as demonstrated in chapter 1 on how apartheid and colonial education in South Africa alienated the learners because they were learning about irrelevant education based on social injustices. Woldeyes (2017) argues that Ethiopian education is presently far from the mark because it has shifted away from its rich culture and history. This writer points out that, before the advent of Western education, it was an endless journey and not a means to an end. ...
... The theory of Native intelectuales etíopes "tiraron el agua de la bañera con el bebé" al ignorar las tradiciones del país en favor de ideas imitadas de occidente. La teoría del Colonialismo Nativo sostiene que la violencia epistémica contra los conocimientos indígenas etíopes es un factor clave para los desafíos del país (Woldeyes, 2017b). El sistema educativo etíope, en particular, es un trasplante extranjero que enseña a los estudiantes ideas occidentales utilizando idiomas occidentales. ...
... Sin embargo, fuentes oficiales dadas a conocer por instituciones occidentales muestran que hay 6928 manuscritos en los principales museos y bibliotecas de occidente (Tefera, 2019). Libros que detallan el conocimiento ambiental local, como Mtsehafe A' eban (El Libro de las Piedras), Metsehafe Medihanit (El Libro de la Medicina), Metsehafe Tsehay (El Libro del Sol), han sido sacados del país, robando a Etiopía muchas formas Colonialism argues that epistemic violence against indigenous Ethiopian knowledges is a key factor for the challenges of the country (Woldeyes, 2017b). The Ethiopian education system, in particular, is a foreign transplant that teaches students western ideas using western languages. ...
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This paper examines African epistemologies of the environment as a place-based perspective that regards nature as having its inherent value, personhood, and agency. It presents the African way of relating with or living in the environment as a way of becoming one with nature beyond the discourse of the Anthropocene and environmental change. In particular, we will take African epistemological perspectives from Southern and Eastern Africa, the notions of Ubuntu and Tabot, to reflect on how the environment is traditionally perceived as sacred and part of a living community. The paper also considers how African indigenous ways of knowing and becoming one with nature have been supplanted through epistemic violence, the imposition of western views of the environment over African worldviews through systems and institutions that exclude or exploit local knowledges. Using Ethiopia as a case study, the paper demonstrates how epistemic violence is enacted by excluding indigenous knowledges of the environment from education and disseminating Eurocentric views of the environment. It shall show how the collecting and hording of Ethiopian manuscripts in western institutions has contributed to this loss of indigenous environmental knowledge. Finally, we will examine the importance of African perspectives to decolonise our ways of knowing and relating with the environment, and offer critical insights on how African epistemologies could be used to build a future that is decolonised and sustainable.
... Vaughan and Tronvoll (2003, p. 82) for instance stated that "the imperial regimes of Ethiopia practiced a crude form of cultural suppression that sought to deny, if not erase, the identity of all subordinate ethnic groups in its domain." The only difference in this aspect is that the European colonial power was externally imposed while in Ethiopian colony was internally imposed (Native colonialism) but has similarities with European colonizer (Woldeyes, 2017). In this respect, Brietzke (1979, p. 22) indicated that "the conqueror displayed attitudes surprisingly similar to those of European colonialists." ...
... In this respect, Brietzke (1979, p. 22) indicated that "the conqueror displayed attitudes surprisingly similar to those of European colonialists." Moreover, Woldeyes (2017) expresses the native colonial nature of Ethiopia and how the government of Ethiopia imitated foreign ideas to build an internal system that resembles European colonialism. He further put that; ...
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Current ethnic conflict in Ethiopia is not a simple byproduct of Multinational federalism and politicization of ethnicity since 1991. Regardless of the contradictions and debates over the core causes of ethnic conflict in Ethiopia, it is impossible to fully comprehend it without a thorough and honest examination of the pre-1991 country's history in terms of ethnicity and ethnic conflict. The article analyzed the historical root causes of ethnic conflict in Ethiopia by taking Minilik's II and HaileSelassie's I regimes into account. Hence, a Dialectical approach and historical method were employed to conduct a critical investigation of the core causes of ethnic conflict. The article found that the country's current ethnic politics and ethnic warfare sowed during the imperial regime. Minilik II and his successor conquered, confiscated, subjugated, enslaved, and dehumanized the southern nations, nationalities, and people in the consecration of Ethiopia's current territory. During imperial administrations, Ethiopia was seen as a prison-house of people. Ethnic identity has been taboo during the imperial regimes of Ethiopia. The article also found that the imperial regimes of Ethiopia were the precursor to both immediate and potential ethnic-based detestation, animosity, and violence that resulted in the country's lengthy and deadly civil wars. Based on a dialectical method, this article discovered that the process of Ethiopian state creation resulted in sustainable and predictable cyclical rotation of contradiction and contestation between thesis and antithesis, without creating strong syntheses. Moreover, the misappropriation of concepts of nationalism and nation-building has been common in the country's political history.
... In this colonial framework, Africa is reproduced with images that emphasise inherent defect, suffering, and absence, which help render the violence of Western knowledge invisible (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2018;Wa Thiong'o 1994). In Ethiopia, there are many factors that contribute to Orientalism, including the loss of local manuscripts, the acceptance of Western historiography as a true account of the history of the spirituality of the country, and the rise of native colonialism-a process whereby a country colonises itself using Western ideas and institutions (Woldeyes 2017). ...
... The political autonomy of Ethiopia, which traced its beginnings to the Ark of the Covenant, were maintained until 1974, when a Marxist-Leninist revolution interrupted the political role of the Tabot by executing the last Emperor of the Solomonic Dynasty, Haile Selassie I. During this time, the political elites used the cultural, intellectual and institutional capital of the West to develop native colonialism over their own people (Woldeyes 2017). English was introduced as the language of education, knowledge production, and development as a method of "catching up" with the West (Kebede 2008, p. 56). ...
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The rock hewn churches of Lalibela have special significance in the formation of Ethiopia’s consciousness as a sacred land of God’s covenant. Numerous local stories express the sanctity of Lalibela as a Heavenly Jerusalem on earth and the faithful use holy soil from the churches to cure the sick. Every year, thousands of Tewahido believers travel to receive blessings. Local scholars who studied decades in the indigenous education system serve as intermediaries between the sanctity of the place and the people, and transmit their knowledge to the younger generation. This paper traces this spiritual genealogy to the creation story in the Kebra Nagast regarding the Ark of the Covenant (Tabot) and relates it to Lalibela’s famous churches. It demonstrates the existence of enduring spiritual genealogy that considers place as alive and powerful. The paper also reflects on how the loss of indigenous sources of knowledges, particularly through the stealing or taking of manuscripts by foreign collectors, and the rise of a Eurocentric interpretation of the history of Lalibela challenges this millennial spiritual tradition. It argues that this has resulted in epistemic violence, the practice of interpreting local knowledge with a foreign lens in a way that reinforces colonial Eurocentric views that are then internalised within Africans themselves. Despite such challenges, it shows how the genealogy continues through the very identity and practice of local communities and individuals.
... Mimicry represents cultural forms imitated from western culture; hybridity refers to the mixture of mimicry and local tradition; and tradition refers to the common way of life of the majority based on customs, religions, and history. While no essentialist distinction is possible among these three forms, it is possible to notice that Coolabah, No. 24&25, 2018, ISSN 1988-5946, Observatori: Centre d'Estudis Australians i Transnacionals / Observatory: Australian andTransnational Studies Centre, Universitat de Barcelona mimicry and hybridity are predominantly elite-based cultures whereas tradition represents the residual and commonly practiced culture of the majority (Woldeyes, 2013(Woldeyes, , 2017. It is therefore important to remember that the meaning of belonging sketched below is based on the traditional conception rather than that of western mimicry which is the basis of elite culture in Africa. ...
... Mimicry represents cultural forms imitated from western culture; hybridity refers to the mixture of mimicry and local tradition; and tradition refers to the common way of life of the majority based on customs, religions, and history. While no essentialist distinction is possible among these three forms, it is possible to notice that Coolabah, No. 24&25, 2018, ISSN 1988-5946, Observatori: Centre d'Estudis Australians i Transnacionals / Observatory: Australian andTransnational Studies Centre, Universitat de Barcelona mimicry and hybridity are predominantly elite-based cultures whereas tradition represents the residual and commonly practiced culture of the majority (Woldeyes, 2013(Woldeyes, , 2017. It is therefore important to remember that the meaning of belonging sketched below is based on the traditional conception rather than that of western mimicry which is the basis of elite culture in Africa. ...
... The emergence of modern education in Ethiopia started in 1908. The development of modern education in Ethiopia can be divided into two stages (Woldeyes, 2017). This scholar describes the two stages as: ...
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The digital revolution is the widespread diffusion of information and communication technologies and transformation into an entirely digitised society. The study aimed to investigate the extent of mathematics teachers’ readiness for online education in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and COVID-19 psychologically, sociologically, environmentally, financially, and concerning human resources and content in the case of two selected universities in Ethiopia. Many educational institutions were obliged to transition to an online method of teaching and learning because of the lockdowns implemented in many countries to combat the epidemic. The study used a quantitative research method to investigate the university’s e-readiness of e-learning in the 4IR). The study participants were purposively selected from mathematics departments in the two universities. The study’s literature review reveals that both 4IR and COVID-19 bring new teaching opportunities in education sectors known as e-learning. The Chapnick Readiness Model (2000) was used to determine the findings. The study found that while teachers’ are ready psychologically, sociologically, environmentally, and financially, and regarding human resources and content were moderate. They lacked knowledge of 4IR in all these categories. Most teachers are far from mastering 4IR knowledge and skills. The study reveals a lack of e-readiness of teachers toward technology due to a lack of teachers’ training during their degrees, a lack of training on e-learning, technical support on e-learning, and a course for using e-learning.KeywordsCOVID-19e-Learning4IRTechnologyMathematics education
... The school curriculum is substantively liturgical and significantly differs from the curriculum in public schools. However, scholars of the church are acknowledged for cultivating nationalistic perspectives (Yirga, 2017). The school system, in particular, has long been linked with promoting values of patriotism, loyalty, and national identity (Aselefech, 2014;Messay, 2010). ...
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Based on feldwork in Washera Qenie School, this article explores Ethiopian national identity from Qenie students’ viewpoint. Given a distinct line of knowledge system they come across, Qenie students viewed Ethiopia and Itiopiawinnet difer- ently. Individual and group interviews with 66 Qenie students (12 to 18 years old) uncovered traits that the children identifed as signifcant markers of Itiopiawinnet. These were presented under three key psychological dimensions as cognitive, emo- tional, and behavioral manifestations of national identity. By illuminating salient aspects of Ethiopian identity, this study contributes to the literature on Ethiopian national identity and for policymakers as a stepping board for further reconstruction or reframing of a multifaceted Ethiopian identity. Keywords Children · EOTC education · Itiopiawinnet · National identity · Qenie student
... The texts produced by orientalist scholars remain dominant not just in Ethiopian Studies but also in the Ethiopian education system since its inception (Isaac 2007;Kebede 2008;Woldeyes 2017). Despite never being colonized, Ethiopia has a western education system with English as the medium of instruction (Negash 2006;2010). ...
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The Hagiography of Ethiopian Saint Woletta Petros was recently translated from Ge’ez into English by Wendy Belcher and Michael Kleiner. Belcher has no knowledge of Ge’ez and simple errors in the translation suggest that Kleiner lacks the fluency required to accurately interpret the language. A western lens with a deliberate distortion of the facts has been applied to the text, using contemporary western understandings of marriage and monastic life to interpret a 17th century Ethiopian nun. Contemporary ethnic politics have been inserted into the interpretation in a way that reproduces negative racial binaries, and relies heavily on the colonial racialization of African identities and western color prejudice that does not exist in Ethiopia. This has resulted in a colonial rewrite of one of Ethiopia’s most holy books. Belcher represents Woletta Petros as a violent, diseased and lustful nun, reproducing racist stereotypes about black women. Sexual scenes and a same-sex partnership between nuns have been inserted into the text where they do not exist in the Ge’ez original. This article will detail the most significant misinterpretations in Belcher and Kleiner’s translation. It will also offer an Ethiopian interpretation of Woletta Petros, considering her legacy within context and drawing on the testimony of the local scholars. The article will show that the translation, as well as Belcher’s subsequent publications around Woletta Petros, constitute colonial scholarship, where a foreigner who cannot understand the language is elevated to the status of expert at the expense of the local people who can not only read and write the language, but also have decades long training in the interpretation of these important holy texts. The article will demonstrate that the colonial practice of taking African intellectual resources and using them to rewrite African history is not a relic of the past, but an ongoing and supported practice within universities. Major universities, as important sites of knowledge production, should not contribute to racial prejudices and distortions of African history by supporting projects that are carried out by scholars who deliberately exclude or distort the voices and experiences of local people. This article seeks to prompt a change in the writing of African history, where the agency of black people to narrate their own histories and experiences is respected and supported.
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Schools pursued multiple ways to cultivate national identity amongst students, but not all approaches are effective. Drawn from ethnographic fieldwork conducted in rural Ethiopia, this study aims at explor- ing how national identity is reproduced through the knowledge system of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC). By exploring the daily lives of students in the school of Qenie, the findings show detailed prac- tices and how the school system exposes them to a multi- tude of cultural resources that help in national identity reproduction. The study has important implications for practice and policy to reinforce a healthy approach to nurturing valued aspects of the nation. KEYWORDS children, cultural reproduction, EOTC education, Ethiopianness, national value, Qenie students
The notion of decolonisation implies the existence of a territory, entity, structure, or system which has previously been colonised by exogenous forces and thus needs to be liberated. In most African countries, the discourses of decolonisation of higher education emanate from the shared experience of imposed European colonisation that perpetuated epistemic violence on African indigenous knowledge systems. Thus, a lived experience of colonialism became a foundation for the decolonisation debates imagining and aspiring to alternative and inclusive futures. This point of departure yet makes the discussion of decolonisation as the subject of only those who have had colonial experiences – an event of interruption of a specific process considered colonial and therefore, undesirable. This approach conceptualises decolonisation in a narrow sense as a linear process with a distinct historical beginning, which is colonial, and an envisaged liberating decolonial end. This article critically challenges this dominant narrative of decolonisation and reconceptualises it as a complex, dynamic, and lifelong process of re-centring. It argues that decolonisation, as a concept in higher education, goes beyond a pre-existing colonial foundation. Taking the context of Ethiopia, a country that remained independent during the European colonisation of Africa, this article aims at reconceptualising the notion of decolonisation of higher education in a space that has never been colonised. The article discusses epistemological challenges of the Ethiopian higher education system and provides a proactive alternative future departing from monolithic epistemic tradition to a pluralistic approach that accommodates diverse structures of knowledge.
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