Ethiopia was colonised
We kept the imperialists at bay, but it wasn’t enough.
Like many African countries that were colonised by the British, Ethiopia’s educational system strongly privileges the English language. I learnt this first hand going through school in the capital Addis Ababa.
Along with my classmates across the vast country, I was taught in my local language from Grades 1 to 6 (ages 6 to 12). But after that, the language of instruction switched. History, maths, sciences and the rest were now taught in English, while Ethiopia’s official language Amharic became its own separate subject.
Growing up in Ethiopia, fluency in English was considered a mark of progress and elite status. At my school, we were not only encouraged to improve our proficiency, but made to feel our future depended on it. When I was in grade 4, one of my tasks as a class monitor was to note down names of classmates I heard speaking Amharic during English lessons or lunchtime. Our teacher would enforce a 5-cent penalty for every Amharic word that slipped through our lips during lessons.
At the same time, we were proudly educated in Western history and literature. I learnt to take pleasure in reading books in English. I listened to American songs. And I looked to emulate the lives of the people I saw in Hollywood films.
At primary and secondary school, we were taught about Ethiopian history too. But many aspects of the country – from its philosophy to its architecture to its unique methods of mathematics and time-keeping – were neglected. I left school feeling I lacked a coherent understanding of my country’s history. And today, like most of my classmates, I would struggle to write even a short essay in Amharic.
My experience no doubts resonates with many people across Africa, where colonialism elevated European languages and history in the education system while devaluing local languages, methods of instruction, and histories. This is what has spurred vigorous movements across the continent today calling for the academy to be decolonised.
The strange thing though is that Ethiopia was never colonised in the first place.
So how did the country’s school system come to be the way it is? According to Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes’ brilliant new book, Native Colonialism: Education and the Economy of Violence Against Traditions in Ethiopia, the answer is that Ethiopia was “self-colonised” and that education played a big part.
In the academic’s extensive study, he sets out to show “how and at what cost western knowledge became hegemonic in Ethiopia”. He suggests that the 1868 British expedition to Abyssinia, which resulted in the British looting massive national treasures and intellectual resources that Emperor Tewodros II had accumulated over time, was a turning point in Ethiopians’ perception of power. Although the Emperor’s defeat in Magdala did not result in the country’s colonisation, it brought about a new, outward-looking consciousness. “This reaction to the European gaze created the desire to acquire European weapons in order to defend the country from Europe,” writes Woldeyes.
Successive rulers maintained a contradictory relationship with Europe – between friendship and enmity – until Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled up to 1974, initiated a period of radical westernisation post-WW2. In that process, Woldeyes explains, Haile Selassie entrusted certain elites to establish Ethiopia’s modern education system. This group was educated in Western languages and teachings. They embraced European epistemology as a singular, objective basis of knowledge, seeing it as synonymous with “modernity” and naturally superior to the local.
These elites, who Woldeyes refers to as “native colonisers”, introduced a system of education into Ethiopia that mimicked Western educational institutions. Contributions from traditional Ethiopian educators such as elders, religious leaders, and customary experts were squeezed out.
The result is that Ethiopia’s schools came to lack a meaningful connection with the culture and traditions of the communities in which they are located. Instead, they prepare students in the skill of imitation using copied curricula and foreign languages. Schooling today, argues Woldeyes, is as much a process of unlearning local tradition as it is about learning the art of foreign imitation.
This disconnect at the heart of Ethiopian teaching has many negative ramifications. An education that doesn’t speak to students’ lived experience limits their capacity to create, innovate, and deliver solutions to problems in their surrounding world. It leads young Ethiopians to feel alienated from their own culture, lowers self-esteem, and leads to a disoriented sense of identity.
Moreover, without a comprehensive understanding of their country’s history and politics, graduates lack the knowledge and skills to confront the nation’s ongoing problems.
Text kills, meaning heals
In Native Colonialism, Woldeyes does not stop at diagnosing the problem. He goes on to propose remedies – namely that the education system be reconstituted on the foundations of Ethiopia’s “rich legacy of traditional philosophy and wisdom”.
He argues that: “before the rise of western knowledge as the source of scientific truth, one’s political and social status in Ethiopia was justified on the basis of traditional beliefs and practices”. In the tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, he says, education was not a means to an end, but part of “an endless journey” of knowledge-seeking. This quest was grounded in the two core values of wisdom and humility.
Woldeyes argues that we need to put these core values back at the centre of the country’s education, which should reflect indigenous beliefs, knowledges and philosophies. This does not mean foreign ideas should be rejected. Students should be exposed to a variety of teachings. But they should, he says, be disseminated through an Ethiopian frame of reference.
Woldeyes argues that this approach was the norm in Ethiopian education for centuries. Through trade and diplomatic relations, scholarship from as far as Asia and Europe has been making its way to Ethiopia for hundreds of years. But traditionally, scholars did not simply translate these works into local languages.
Instead, they used an Ethiopian interpretative paradigm called Tirguamme “to evaluate the relevance and significance of knowledge”. Woldeyes defines this as “a process that searches for meaning by focusing on the multiplicity, intention, irony and beauty of a given text”. This unique process of inquiry is based on a traditional principle that literally translates as “text kills, but meaning heals”. It is apparent in different Ethiopian cultural practices such as the multi-layered poetic practice of “wax and gold”, allegorical puzzle games, the art of judicial debating, and storytelling.
Woldeyes’s methodology offers a potential framework for reforming the current education system in Ethiopia. It envisions a system of education centred on local priorities and ways of being, whilst also incorporating ideas from around the world.
Decolonising the academy
Woldeyes’s ground-breaking analysis demonstrates that despite the fact that no colonial power managed to conquer Ethiopia, the country did not escape being colonised in other ways.
Moreover, his study shows that decolonising education across Africa will require an investigation of how indigenous epistemologies were violently discarded. It will also entail a critical study of the modes of scholarship previously side-lined as “traditional”.
Woldeyes’s research suggests that the decolonisation movement cannot be confined to the four walls of elite educational institutions. It must reach out beyond to members of society that were previously closed out, such as traditional leaders, elders, and others.
Emperor Tewodros believed that Ethiopia needed European weapons to defend the country from Europe. Today, we may need native epistemologies to take back the country from native colonisation.
An incorrect assumption produces an invalid conclusion. This does NOT appear to be recognized in this anlysis. The people of this country actually benefitted from adopting languages and methods from a more developed world. That is not to say there can not be futher improvements along with adaptations. To wish for “the good old times” is NOT a basis for the future UNLESS the current evolution has serious flaws which in this case will be self correcting. To attempt to stop or redirect the world may have great emotional appeal but contains minimal logic. Lets keep moving ahead and place past practices in the class of history where it belongs.
Good Article. Appreciated. But what do you mean by Native education ? The Orthodox/ religious? the Islamic education? the Amhara ? Tigray or Oromo ? Is the ‘native’ education system inclusive? Does it make sense for an Ethiopian Islam ? or Oromo ? … South?
I agree with the author; Ethiopia has its own languages and traditions, and these must be honored in its schools. On the flip side, Western schools have been disparaging Western culture more and more over the years. At this rate, Africa might be the only place a child can get a Western education.
During the 17th century, belief in the supernatural was commonplace. In Europe and colonial North America, Satan was believed to be present and at work doing evil deeds the earth. This lead to a belief that women could be under the spell of Satan, turning them into witches. The solution? Burn the witches to free their souls of the devil.
Clearly, some solutions are not worth preserving!
This simply shows that the authors don’t understand the difference between colonization and choosing to adapt your country to the wider world. It is not “self-colonization,” to decide to teach a foreign language. The people I meet in Ethiopia who are educated are fluent in Amharic, know most of their countries history quite well, and have an independence of spirit that sets this country apart from many in Africa.
That is not to say that the education system did not suffer greatly after the early 70’s under the two successive governments. Still, Ethiopia should be proud that education remains a key initiative of the government and that people can rise on merit.
Mastewal has a point but is she wanting Ethiopia to isolate itself. In reality most first time visitors love Ethiopia partly because it has succeeded in very largely resisting cultural colonisation, so its cultures and traditions are strong and unique.
It is great to have your own calendar, languages and traditions but the reality is that we live in a globalised world. Ethiopia needs to massively increase its exports, including tourism, to bring in more hard currency.
When an Ethiopian is selling coffee, or holidays, or flowers or the output of the rapidly expanding manufacturing sector to a Japanese, Chinese, or German importer, what language do they use to negotiate a deal?? Mastewal might not like it but the answer now is English!!
Maybe in the future Mandarin or Cantonese!!
One of Ethiopia’s many problems right now is the very poor level of spoken English of its university graduates.
Frank Rispin. Addis resident for 19 years.
Your ‘Ethiopia Was Colonized’ topic seems a little too much out of context & exaggerated. Either you missed it deliberately or you have no clue about being colonized…its just an education system that needs a little more adjustment in terms of language prioritization. FYI, I grow & attended school in this country & have never been penalized for speaking Amharic – you may find 1 idiot, but doesn’t need to be your point of generalization. Besides, so long as you give the priority & value to your identity first, there is no harm in learning others language, culture, etc – you, for example, have listed a bunch of all foreign institutions to show how much educated & commanding you are (which, by the way, is no wrong!).
1/ I would de-emphasize the idea of Ethiopian exceptionalism; there exists no society in the world that in some fashion does not lay claim to such an idea.
2/ I would emphasize the importance of balancing ethnic histories with the regional, national, and the global;
3/ The fact that the development of education in Ethiopia has been uneven and now worsening quality should not necessarily mean the solution is in going “native.” We need to be pragmatic; Which strategy best serves the purposes of producing a society that is literate, law-abiding, and able to feed itself? Remember the reason for the 1974 socialist revolution was to replace a dying state with a progressive one [whether the goal was realized is another matter].
4/ The idea of learning as many local and foreign languages should be encouraged; multilingualism is the norm in Ethiopia/Africa [even in Europe]. Whatever would give the nation a competitive edge [within its means] should be explored.
5/ Education outcomes are not always predictable. The introduction of modern/Western education in Ethiopia was supposedly to develop a national workforce; but it also led to students inquiring about conditions in the country and later to organize to change them. Wall Street barons are product of elite universities and yet often engage in unethical/illegal behaviors.
In short, rooting the present in past cultural values is only good in so far as it provides the tools to strengthen a sense of fairness, ownership and greater local participation.
Colonization is not the only factor certain language to grow but research is the main factor….English dominated the world as world commercial language because almost more than 60 percent world reaserch made by English
“Ethiopia was colonised “by Masetewal Taddese Terefe.Really ? Whatever justification there are why do we need such a title which did not happen.Is your name really real?Because according to your name even you do not have the right to say such shame idea in the public.
Do you know how many Ethiopians were sacrificed for our freedom???..You don’t need to know.Mastewal Taddese Terefe, yes it is a good idea to learn more for masters; maybe you will be observing the fact.Until that, please just the struggle to throw this stinky the so-called Ethiopian government. Please, can you read this Amharic poetry; it may help you.
ብትጠየቁ ዛሬ፤ለሞት ሽረት መልሳችሁ፤
ትናንትስ የት ነበራችሁ???
ሕዝቡ በአንድነት ሊቆም:-ብሶቱ አመፅን ፀንሷል፤
በሰላም ሥም ሲረገጥ ሃያ ዓመታትን ታግሷል::
አሁን ግን በቁሙ እንዳይሞቶ ሰበብ ብቻነው የሚሻው፤
ርኩስ ሲፈጠር ከጥንትም:-
ሞት ብቻ ነውና ማርከሻው።
እናም ! ልብ እናድርግ የሕዝብ ዳኝነት ሳይመጣ፤
በማይቀር አመፅ ተወግረን ባደባባይ-ሞት ሳንቀጣ፤
አሁንም ለአንድነት ትጠራላችሁ።
የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ:በሞት እሣት ሲታመስ፤
በየጎጡ ሲከልሉት:ባደባባይ ደሙ ሲፈስ፤
በመራር ድምፅ ሲተናነቅ:ለነፃነቱ ሲታገል፤
ከባንዳ-ወያኔ ሲፋለም፤በተንኮላቸው ሲገደል።
የመረጠም በሰላም:የርጉማን ልብ ለመስበር፤
ሕዝብ እንዳይሞት ሲለማመጥ በየዋሕነቱ ሲጠፈር።
አቅም ያጣው በሹልክታ ከባርነቱ ሊያመልጥ፤
“የተሻለ ነው”ብሎ: የስደት ሕይወቱን ሲመርጥ።
የሞት ሸለቆን ሲጋፈጥ:ቤት ንብረቱን እየደፋ፤
ከሚወዳት ኢትዮጵያ በባንዳ ተንኮል ሲገፋ።
እኮ ምንድነውሳ መልሳችሁ?
ትናንት የት ነበራችሁ???
ጉጅሌው-ወያኔ እንደሥጋ ትል፤
ከውስጣችን እየበላ ቆዳችንን ሲተለትል፤
አጥንታችንን ሲግጥ እያፈሰሰ ደማችንን፤
ሕፃናት በሚሊዮን ሲረግፉ፤እንዴት እንግለፅ ሞታችንን? ??
እኮ!ምን ቢባልነው የምታምኑት፤
“አያገባንምን” ትታችሁ በሕሊና’’ኳ የምታዝኑት።
ዛሬማ ብሶ ባርነቱ ሕዝቡ ይኖራል በጭለማ፤
በነፃነት አርማችን በሞት ሽረት ሰንደቅ-ዓላማ።
የባንዲራውንም ሴራ የሰንደቅ-ዓላማውን ሚሥጥር፤
በልቡ-ፅላት ፅፎታል ወጣቱ ያውቀዋል ከምር።
እናም!!! ይቅርታው እንዲቀላችሁ፤
አሁንም በሕዝቡ ትጠራላችሁ፤
ዛሬም ብትንቁ ሕሊናን:-ለሕዝቡ ደንታ ከሌላችሁ፤
ነገ ግን መባሉ አይቀርም:-
በግላጭ “የት ነበራችሁ? ? ?”
የጊዜን ጥግ ስትመሽጉ??
ሰውን ማመን ትታችሁ ተስፋቆርጣችሁ በትግሉ፤
በፀሎት በዱአ ታጥባችሁ ደም ያላያችሁ ስትመስሉ።
የነገን ገቢ በኢንቨስት ወተቷን ናፍቆ በማለም፤
ለቭዲዮ ለሲዲ ንግድ ሙዚቃ ብሎ ማሳተም።
አሊያም የግል ጥቅም ለማሳደድ፤ከባንዳ-አጋዚ መጣበቅ፤
በኮንዶምኒየም ለመዝረፍ የሌለ ወሬ ማሳበቅ።
በማሾክሾክ ምስክር ሆኖ በመቆጠር፤
በደሞዝ በሰራተኛነት ለባንዳነት በመቀጠር፤
ሕዝቡ ሲሞት:- ሲሞት ሀገር፤
እኮ ምን ታደርጉ ነበር? ?
ጀግና የሞት ሞቷን ስታንገበግበው ወያኔን፤
በባንዳዎች ተጠልሎ ሲጨፈጭፈው ወገኔን፤
አገር ላይ ላዩን አማን እንዲመስል፤
ሕዝቡን አዘናግታችሁ ስታበስሩት የሌለ ድል።
በናንተ ደርሶ ግን “እኛ የለንበትም” የምትሉት፤
ሕዝብ እያስፈጃችሁ በሕዝብ ሥም የምትምሉት።
እረ!ምን ትውልድ ነን እኛ፤እኛነታችንን ያጣን፤
ልጆቻችንን ሲ-ማግዱ ሕሊናችንን የማይቀጣን።
“ተረገምን” አንበል በፈጣሪያችን አናሳብብ፤
ያለፉትን ዓመታት ብቻ ለአንድ አፍታ ቆመን እናስብ።
በትዕቢት ተወጥሮ ውርደቱን በግፍ ሲያፋጥን፤
በባንዳ እና በሆዳሞች:- ኅይል አግኝቶ ሲደነድን።
ለድል ስንቃረብ ወያኔን ለመዘርጠጥ፤
የሕዝቡ አመፅ ተቀልብሶ:-በደም-እምባ ሲለወጥ።
እንደገና ደም ስንከፍል፤መስዋዕትነትታችን ሲከስሞ፤
የሚጮህ ጠፍቶ ተስፋችን በባዶ ትግል ሲጨልም፤
የሕዝብ አመፁ ሲመጣ፦ የዘረፉትም አይወስዷችሁ፤
ለደም-ክፍያ ጥያቄ ምንድነው”ሣ” መልሳችሁ?
ጀግና ለሕዝብ ፍርድ ይመጣል አይቀርምና ነገ፤
ወጣቱ ከነቃ ሰንብቷል፤በኢትዮጵያዊነቱ ካደገ።
ማን ለምን እንደቆመ፤የአሰላለፉን ዓይነት፤
የጎጠኞችን ሥም ዝርዝር፤የባንዳዎችን ምንነት።
ጠንቅቆ ይዟል ለታሪክ ማን ኢትዮጵያን እንዳደማት፤
የድሃ ሀብት ነፃነቷን ማን በተንኮል እንደቀማት።
ማን እምዬ እያለ፤እየሞተላት ሲያነሳት፤
ማንስ ወግቶ ሊግድላት፤እኝ አድርጎ ጡቷን ነከሳት።
መድኅኔያለም ይጠብቃታል፤አላህ ፈጣሪ እንዳቀፋት፤
ልጆቿ ረገፉ እንጂ ኢትዮጵያንስ ማን ሊያጠፋት።
ዛሬ ትናንት ሳይባል:-የሕዝብ ዳኝነት ሳይመጣ፤
በማይቀረው አመፁ ባደባባይ-ሞት ሳንቀጣ፤
ምንድነው’ኮ መልሳችሁ፤ዛሬ ከማነው ውሏችሁ
የደም ጥያቄ ሲመጣ፦ የዘረፉትም አይወስዷችሁ::
ምንድነው”ሣ” መልሳችሁ???በደሙም ሳይጠይቋችሁ ፤
“አላውቅም”በማለታችሁ እንጦርጦስ ትወርዳላችሁ።
አሁንም በሕዝቡ ትጠራላችሁ፤
ዛሬንም ብትንቁ ሕሊናን:-ለሕዝቡ ደንታ ከሌላችሁ፤
ነገ ግን መባሉ አይቀርም:-
በግላጭ “የት ነበራችሁ???”
For me this is sickening. In an era where information or data from any source is vital for any development, it is unhealthy mentality that talking/writing/learning in your language means you were colonized! If some body is brilliant enough, he/she will learn any language and make benefit out of it. It has nothing to do with colonization. The education system in Ethiopia uses English language (at university or high school) as media of instruction. This is because Ethiopia wants to make best benefit of technologies and approaches written in English language. So please let us not waste our time in simple arguments about language or colonization issues but make sure that we all get the right information, knowledge and capacity from any source written in any language and make a difference!! But make sure that we keep our values, cultures and identity but at the same time learn from others!!!!
This assessment is true that Ethiopia has neglected its own roots and turned to western culture by importing shortwave radio and tv stations which were otherwise strangers to the public for generations, favoring the English language over the only African language that has its own written script. This was the vision of the late PM Meles Zenawi who was shortsighted and who himself used too many english phrases expressions while delivering speech in the ingenious Amharic language as if Amharic was less expressive than English.
There are many, many things wrong in this article.
Let’s start with the title and the main argument being made based on the book of Woldeyes. Both the author of this article and Woldeyes completely ignore the very physical nature of violence that colonialism entails. One of the main characteristics of colonialism, in Africa as well as in other part of the world, was the use of force to impose the subjugation of the colonized. Clearly this needs to be distinguished from the reproduction of cultural norms either by imposition of non-physical power or through mimetism and/or reproduction. What the author here describes in regards to education in Ethiopia, if we are to follow its argument (more on this below), is therefore NOT a situation of colonialism but rather of “neo-colonialism”, “cultural imperialism” or more precisely the reproduction of a hegemonic education model.
Turning now to the argument that Ethiopia has undergone a “Native Colonialism”. This argument would hold if the imposed culture was a native one and not a foreign one as Woldeyes is trying to demonstrate. The author of this article seems too young to remember the time when primary and secondary education in Ethiopia was in Amharic up till the 12 Grade with English being the language of study only in University and Higher Education. It is only since 1994 that local languages were used in the primary schools and that English became the language of instruction in the Secondary and Tertiary levels. The changes to education curriculum and languages is actually very revealing. It demonstrates that rather than a foreign epistemology being imposed as is by a native power, the matter of the fact is that the native elites have used this foreign epistemology as a tool to cement their power in a process of mimicry. The Haile Selassie government used it to establish a domination of the Amhara culture (and the distinction between the cooptive nature of this process is important in differentiating the Amhara culture from the Amhara people per se). The Derg regime followed the same trend with the notable difference that it was no longer geared towards producing an educated elite but rather educating the masses (thus for example the imposition of Ersha as a subject for everyone rural like urban). The 1994 reform and the introduction of local languages is a major change but it also serves to reproduce the narrative of the EPRDF on the nations and nationalism. So there is an argument to be made that there has been a native colonialism to impose the Amhara culture, the Ethiopian Socialism and now the ethno-nationalist agenda of the successive power holders (including at times with the use of physical violence).
It is important at this point to distinguish between the techne and the episteme. The western techne was sure used as the basis of the education system, but the episteme itself was never fully foreign to Ethiopia. This also calls into question the very existence of an Ethiopian epistemology. Given the multiple ethnic groups, religions and beliefs found in Ethiopia it would be erroneous to essentialize one particular “Ethiopian” epistemology. Or the risk would then be to fall into the trap of the “Native Colonialism” as described above. On the other hand, wanting to identify multiple indigenous epistemologies unique to each component of the Ethiopian cultural fabric poses the risk of falling into the trap of ethnoepistemologies to paraphrase Hountondji’s concept of ethnophilosophy. A trap that Woldeyes and the author of this article seem to have been happy to fall into.
Ethiopia was never colonized! A college degree does not denote intellect .
We live in Sweden. My kids go to the English School in Eskilstuna. Most of the tuition is in English, and most of the teachers are recruited from USA and the Commonwealth, but also from other countries in all continents.
There is only benifits to this. My kids become fluent in English, not only in everday situations but also in technology, science, math, business, they learn all the technical terms.
History, religion and geography is taught from a Swedish point of view.
And they do have lessons in Swedish and also another language of their choice.
After finishing grad school, they are prepared to work or educate themselves further anywhere on Earth.
And we are not being colonized.
Thanks for this great analysis about Ethiopia!
I can understand the writer’s unhappy sentiments about English, and not Amharic, being used for higher learning in Ethiopia. I also think “wax and gold” is a beautiful concept of being witty, wise and circumspect in one’s speech, but it is an ancient tradition mainly used by the priesthood and the elderly. English is the dominant language in science and technology, international trade and communication. Ethiopia needs the technical knowhow required for its economic transformation, and the extensive body of knowledge used for this purpose is available in English, and not in Amharic. So yes, for obvious and practical reasons, English for higher learning and Amharic for Ethiopian literature and cultural matters – theatre, music, etc.
Your choice for a header says a lot … “Ethiopia was Colonised”. Here is where I would like to say, ignorance is bliss. You exaggerated and attempt to undermine the history of Ethiopia by shedding your crocodile tears about the system of its Education. The western system of education was pursued by majority of nations throughout the world for development. Ethiopian rulers have fought with Europeans as well as made agreements and friendship on their own free will without compromising the nations independence and sovereignty. Of-course a lot should be done to spread national language and Ethiopian system of Education. This by no means tantamount to calling it a colonized system. The gallant fighters of our ancestors beat the European power at the battle of Adwa. This makes Ethiopia the only nations in Africa, probably in the world that has never been colonized. As France was occupied by Germany, at around the same time Ethiopia was occupied by Italy for merely 5 years. Ethiopians never surrendered and patriots were fighting day and night until the Italian forces were removed. This is our proud history that our fathers and forefathers and mothers sacrificed for. Do not mess with it. Do not make a mountain out of a mole. Your header is offensive for it has double meaning. The system of Education can be addressed with clear heading line.
I think it doesn’t make sense for one country to use a foreign language as a medium of instruction. I think the purpose of education is to solve problems and to create a better future for the society. I traveled to many places including Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Netherland, and the only countries they use a foreign language as a medium of instruction is most of the colonized African countries, including in French. I think the author is no referring learning English as a language but changing the countries medium of instruction to a language that is not spoken among the people is ridiculous. I was interested in studying in Norway since the tuition is free, but I couldn’t get a single University that teaches science and technology in English unless it is in Graduate level. The best-developed countries in Technology including Japan, China,… they use their language as a medium of instruction.
I agree with PRIFFE. Learning in English is enables the learner to acquire developed technology, science and culture. Whether we like or not globalization is a must. The world is becoming one village. So, sticking only to ours is not the sign of growing.
Ethiopia had and have our constitutional law,our own judiciary,our own military all codified for our needs…our commerce was not restricted to a particular `colonizer`…i can go on on,not worth my while. Indeed,unless the english or french language was adopted/adapted,what scientific or technological academia exists in Amharic or any other Ethiopian language? (-next the fellow is going to claim speaking in english is tantamount to be colonised,so the whole world is a colony of some sort??,absolute nonsense!}.`Colonised` does not depict our scenario, but heavily `influenced` is arguably possible.To dramatize or sensationalize to sell books and articles has become a terrible norm these days.
A confused idea for further confusion!
Why should we trouble ourselves pulling Amharic, the language of a single entity in Ethiopia from abyss to have all of us the subjects carny the load!! Who on earth would bother to bring Amharic in to the language of modern education except possibly the Amhara. The Amhara tribe could own the burden of uplifting their language for their own cause! Please enough is enough for us the subjects! Let the Amhara use it within their Administration!
I agree with Shreve’s argument that this piece contains “minimal logic. Lets keep moving ahead and place past practices in the class of history where it belongs” Well said!
The headline misleads readers. You know initial impressions formed from a headline can have a significant influence on a reader’s thoughts, even if that person reads enough of the article to recognize the headline’s flaws.
ETHIOPIA HAS NEVER BEEN COLONISED.
Don’t try to say ugly word to give to proudly people of Ethiopia we Ethiopian never had been colonized by any nation just read history book which is truly written about Ethiopia . We just lean as language to communicate with others . like France , Chinese’s , ………… We just use the language due to get knowledge not show as colonized nation.
long LIVE TO ETHIOPIA.
Sure, Ethiopia was intellectually Colonized;
• The process of adoption Western education was an abrupt shift from the traditional system to the Western school through the dissolution of the traditional institutions.
• The path traversed by Ethiopia was not to modernize the traditional system rather it was a policy of throwing away its own indigenous experience.
• The imported experts, curriculum and alienated Ethiopian elites failed to see the socio-economic priorities of the society in the educational directions.
• Thus, such educational system was means that served for the colonization of the non-colonized state.
I was An Academic in Math in Eth for 7 yrs I did get my first B.Sc.+M.Sc there and did my Ph.D.work and Worked as an Academic in the US for 21 yrs.English became a medium of instruction because of sound reasoning and wise and visionary decision by the rulers who facilitated the introduction of Modern, i.e. European Education to Ethiopia.The Brits, because the Fascist Mussolini was their enemy too, they fought side by side with Emperor HS and Ethiopian patriots during the final push that drove out Fascist Mussolini’s Army.The General Wingate School was named after the General that led The British contingent.GW High school admitted the brightest kids from across Ethiopia and those from more or less most ethnic or religious persuasion.The Alumni of this and other major high schools in Ethiopia went on becoming Academic, scientists,Engineers,Medical practitioners or capable managers.GW used to follow the most rigorous academic standard.When Modern Education was introduced west Europe and America were the leading industrialized countries and inviting The Brits,Canadians (TMS, the 1st HSchool had Candian School principal for a long time)who were leaders in science is the smartest decision.Ethiopia barely had its own Teachers,Lecturers and Proffessors and only text books in sci.Med,Engin,Law,etc.from abroad could be used and so instructors and the books had to come from these countries.Also, Haile Selassie’s Gov was retaining those who finish at the top in college and secure for them an advanced degree scholarship in US to a lesser degree from Uk,etc. and these trainees kept returning replacing the Expats.The main effect of such visionary and wise educational policy drive turned out to be most Alumnus of , especially the oldest high schools + AAU (formerly Haile Selassie University ) became successful in further education abroad.Hence the main reason we Ethiopians use English as Medium of instruction, are addicted to English Lits or Hollywood movies is because of the way our exposure to the Advanced Nations was engineered.When Deng xiao Ping opened China to the Industrialized world it sent its brightest to US,UK,France,Canada,etc..and they returned and turned China to the envy of the world.Opting to the best Available Education and adopting the best fitting medium is not ” Self-Colonization”, it is being smart and visionary.The French,Italians,Germans,etc have their exclusive high School and Culture and language centers here in Addis, but Historical circumstances favored The Brits+The Americans, it is historical coincidence too. The Thesis of the book in the article and the article seem to base their thesis on a premise that didn’t take into account the crucial historical background.I write and speak in English reasonably well but I am a lot more fluent in Amharic.Ethiopian languages are rich languages and worth learning,being an Ethiopian,you don’t have to abandon them in order to master foreign languages.Parents should make their children aware of that, adopting English didn’t rob us of our rich language and yes fortunately we were not colonized and those who attempted have been saved from one more sinning due to colonizing.Tefera Worku, currently An Indy Adv Math Researcher in Addis ( PMS’s or now AKHS’s and SUNYA+Rutgers Alumni).
Your Afrocentric definition of Africanness is the reason our intellectuals are those misleading Africa most. Afrocentrism is not the solution to Africa’s problems, it is the root problem. How on earth can people continue to push an idea of Africa that has so monstrously failed us? African studies is waste of cultural and intellectual energies. What Africa needs most urgently is not deepening of African knowledge but extraction from our archaic traditional worldviews. This is what we are doing under the banner of Post-Africanism
I’ve noticed that many of the critics of this article seem to be ignorant of the fact that language is an important manifestation of culture, being, identity, and frame of reference. One critic even complained that HIM was pushing Amhara domination by using Amharic as a medium of instruction in grade schools. Amhara culture was already engrained within Ethiopian society, both through political culture, and, as the author mentions, religious traditions. What language would you have preferred the Emperor employ for grade school instruction… Tigrinya? You need to shake off your anti-Amhara inferiority complex and address the author’s argument as it stands.
There is no doubt that cultural colonialism is taking place in Ethiopia’s urban localities. This is manifested not just in schools, but in societal modes of discourse and expression, as well as in societal norms and values. Is this problem rooted in using English as the language of instruction? Partially, but it is also rooted in harmful exposure to propaganda from the international media outlets. And while using English as a medium of instruction has its advantages in terms of economic utility in the global market, the author makes the very important point that it incurs an important opportunity cost.
It is important to note that international development is not just about economics. Development theory is rooted in the concept of Aristotle’s “good society”, one that upholds personal dignity, freedom, and overall quality of life. Is some semblance of dignity not lost in losing your linguistic identity to the pressures of globalization? Do the urban youth in Ethiopia today not resemble the spoiled Millennials of the west more than they do their more cultured counterparts in the more rural areas? Do we not worship the same celebrities worshipped in the West? Do we not mock or denigrate traditional values? If the answer to these questions is yes, then the author of this article has certainly identified part of the problem.
Do you ever ask what the purpose of public education is? If the purpose is to help you get jobs overseas or communicate with foreigners then pay for your own education. You can`t use the free education paid by poor majority farmers to benefit only yourself through globalization. The purpose of public education is to lift your people and yourself, to serve the people. You can’t serve the people when you even can’t speak their language correctly. If you love Ethiopian uncolonized culture learn its history and language before that of the West. If you’re proud of Ethiopian ancestry follow their way not Ferenjochen. Start from where the majority are today. I agree with the author. Mind colonization is worest!
To respond to Kal, since I am the said “One critic [who] even complained that HIM was pushing Amhara domination by using Amharic as a medium of instruction in grade schools”, do re-read my argument. In no way am I complaining about the use of Amharic. The point I was trying to make is that it makes more sense to talk about “native colonialism” when referring about, for example, the use of Amharic rather than the convoluted argument that “native colonialism” is the imposition of a foreign academic culture by a local (read native) elite. Whether I am in favor of the use of Amharic in grade school or of another Ethiopian language is completely irrelevant. The issue was more about what can be considered to be “native” not so much the part about what constitutes “colonialism” which I had already addressed in an earlier paragraph.
Thus why I not only referred to the education system under Haile Selassie but also mentioned the one under the Derg and the one that has been established under the current government, though you seem to have conveniently decided to ignore my mentioning of the latter two examples.
Just to get my point across, let me paraphrase you for a moment. Couldn’t we imagine one of the shemagele from the countryside saying:
“Do the [local] youth in Ethiopia today not resemble the spoiled Millennials of [Addis Abeba] more than they do their more cultured counterparts in the more rural areas? Do we not worship the same celebrities worshipped in [Addis Abeba]? Do we not mock or denigrate traditional values?”
In other words, which is the predominant cultural reference in Ethiopia at the moment both in the urban and the rural part of the country, is it Teddy Afro or Kanye West? And what could be considered as being “native”: Teddy Afro, the quintessential Ethiopian superstar, or the Ethiopian radio DJ that just happens to play Kanye West because it’s what the rest of the world also listen to?
Aha, let me try.
ui am baffled the writer dwells too much in unnecessary explanation fi it is Amhara colonised Ethiopians might be true and then who is Ethiopian and who is not.
As an eritrean colonised by Ethiopia and schooled by Ethiopian education system who ever was in power has played a political role on the schooling. I have attend or down the same a st eh writer in fact Amharic was thought all the way from grade 1 -12, the later years i.e, 9-1 was somehow specialised in Amharic language what happen to the other ethnicity languages is bewildering and to add to it insult in history we studied the Reunification of Germany, Yugoslavia history and Ethiopian history was shrouded in mystery, that is it, mean to say AMhara colonised the rest of Ethiopia by force, forcing the their language and culture to other ethics so AMhara has been and is the most brutal system of colonising power by confusing history with patriotism.
The writer of this blog confuses colonialism with what some might consider “cultural imperialism”. If he thinks that the difference between the two is a distinction without a difference, then all I can say is he needs to be educated about the brutality of colonialism from Algeria to South Africa, from Vietnam to the Americas, where tens of millions were exterminated. Although the attention grabbing headline “Ethiopia Was Colonized” might be offensive to many Ethiopians sensibilities, I think it is more offensive to people who actually suffered colonization. It is why we don’t call every mass-murder a “genocide”.
The blogger’s main beef is the use of the English language as a medium of instruction starting in high school and his blog was written as a supportive review of a book by Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes’, Native Colonialism: Education and the Economy of Violence Against Traditions in Ethiopia, who according to the blogger has concluded “that Ethiopia was “self-colonised” and that education played a big part”.
Although, there are some valid issues raised in the blog, they are mostly lost because of the over dramatization of certain factors, use of meaningless terms like self-colonization (I think he is just trying to be hip and not use some old fashioned term like cultural imperialism), and the shallow assumption that the root cause of such “self-colonization” is the use of English as medium of instruction. I say, shallow, because you don’t need to be a social scientist to know it is much more complicated than the use of English as medium of instruction that causes the ills he identified in the piece.
Lastly, I find it interesting that both the blogger and the author of the book use their grandfather’s name as their last name instead of the traditional Ethiopian way of using your fathers first name as your last name. Now, I wonder who is self-colonized……..look in the mirror my friend.
I don’t think that the writer knows the real Ethiopia. Ethiopians know well who killed the local culture of the people, it is not the Europeans but the local colonizers. As English is the widely spoken language in the developed world, learning in English has benefited us. I have scored A in Amharic and B in English (ESLCE). I would have been more happy if i were scored C/D in Amharic and A in English.
Some geniuses didn’t go unnoticed. This is one of them. She know what she is talking about. The writers has a separate view of English as a communications language and English as a medium of instruction. Most of the comments confuse the two. We can’t move up the value chain from simple manufacturing (if we have any) to advanced ones by using a language that more than 50% percent of high school graduates can not even read. To create knowledge and technology you have to communicate naturally with out any hindrance. Most of the concerns raised in the comment section can be addressed if we just keep English as communication language.
Interesting article, but lack research and understanding of the Ethiopian context. You are arguing English vs Amharic, I can argue Amharic vs, other Ethiopian languages. You seem to be biased toward Amharic. Moreover, for someone who seems to disdain its English-based education, you sure do pursue it aggressively for your degrees. Let’s practice what we preach.
An excellent analysis;but shouldn’t give the impression of an anti-English argument.English is needed by Ethiopia and the whole of Africa as a tool of modernisation;but it should not eclipse African languages the way it does now.The Indian example is worth studying.
One addition.Ethiopian Christianity is different from Christianity in other African countries(e,g, South Sudan)where the religion was introduced by politically motivated colonial missionaries ,bearers of colonial agenda ,intent on wiping out the indigenous culture and languages.
The author will find “Decolonising the Mind” by James Ngugi(aka Ngugi Wa Thiongo) appealing
Amanuel, I appreciate your effort to clarify your point, but I suspect you are still missing the point. If your main point in writing your original response was to distinguish between ‘colonialism’, ‘neo-colonialism’, and ‘native colonialism’, then that is a futile argument about attribution of proper labels. I don’t agree, for example, that HIM was a native colonizer, either in so far as he modernized Ethiopia (Woldeyes’ argument), or in so far as he “co-opted” Amhara culture (your argument). First, you seem to be willfully ignorant of the fact that Amhara political culture had organic interdependence with Ethiopian society, beyond the “Amharanization” or “cultural subjugation” thesis you silently assumed in your post. Your focus on “Amhara” is revealing, given that the author, in each instance, simply argued for “indigenous” cultural empowerment. And for that matter, in virtually every multicultural nation on Earth, there is a dominant sub-culture that was instrumental in shaping national identity and cohesion, so it is unfortunate that Ethiopian history should be subjected to such intense revisionism. Second, let me simplify the author’s argument for you, in the hope that you will refocus your attention towards it. The emperor invited modernization. Over time, modernization came to be equated with Westernization. The English language was the social construct responsible for fusing the economic forces of modernization with the cultural forces of Westernization. In so far as the English language is instrumental towards helping young people access the global marketplace, it is not worth the opportunity cost of Westernization of a very ancient and rich culture. This is the central argument the author is making, so I will invite you, in turn, to re-read the article, perhaps ignoring for a second, the provocative title. Third, yes, I agree someone in the Ethiopian countryside might say something along the lines of your quote… what is your point?
And Denis Ekpo: “Your Afrocentric definition of Africanness is the reason our intellectuals are those misleading Africa most…Afrocentrism is not the solution to Africa’s problems, it is the root problem. How on earth can people continue to push an idea of Africa that has so monstrously failed us?” Denis Ekpo, are you brain dead? When has Afrocentrism “failed us”? Where and when have African leaders in the post-colonial era ever used Afrocentrism as the organizing principle for their economies? Are you referring to the the promise and the experimental vigor of the early 1960’s when Africans were first allowed to comprehend the promise of indigenous development? Or are you referring to every decade since the 60’s when African leaders have either bowed to the structural adjustment policies pushed by globalists or pushed top-down macroeconomic approaches to prematurely integrate their countries into the globalized market? Your idea of “Post-Africanism” rallies against an Africanist system that does not exist, and has never been tried. The fact is that Afrocentrism has always been restricted to academic circles. Otherwise, economic (and educational) policies in Africa have never sought to empower individual Africans or push an Afrocentric development narrative. In essence, you are the same as every Euro-centric development technocrat, who believes that Africans are incapable of using indigenous culture to propel development. Here is my advice to you: if your particular country has no indigenous culture that is of value to the economic empowerment of your people, then speak only for your individual country. Leave Greater Africa out of your deluded theories. You will find through simple historical research that many African cultures (including Ethiopia) are enterprising and relational by nature, and more than capable of competing in the global marketplace, if given the freedom and platform to do so.
In multilingual societies like Ethiopia, language policy requires a critical attention. The argument by the writers (both the book and the article) is one-sided and did not take into consideration the realities of Ethiopian societies who have multiple epistemology, cultures, and languages. For me, imposing any of the local languages as a medium of instruction in schools for Ethiopian children is not fair and seems native colonization like the writers used. In this case, adapting English as a medium of instruction is wise of the then rulers. In my view, this was the only good thing they did for this country. Even the best language solution for Ethiopia is to adapt English as not only medium of instruction but also official and working language for the federal government. This will solve the language claims and complaints that the nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia are suffering from currently. This cannot be considered as colonization but seeking a lasting solution for a troubled country like Ethiopia.
The author used the term colonization out of context. She used it to hipe readers. She denies Ethiopia her true identity. She underestimated & handed an insult to our forefathers who died to preserve our freedom. Traditional language & way of life is nessesary but to compete in the global economy wesrern education is nessesary. Every single country in the world offers a globally standardized education- mimicking the western way. Nothing is wrong with Western education if it doesn’t replace traditional education like it has recently.
Most of the new comer countries in the world who were better in adopting foreign technology, producing new technologies or efficient way of production, improving the quality of life of their people are those who borrowed advanced languages as medium of instruction such as Japan, south Korea, India and lesser extent china.
Leaving politics aside, many of us definitely benefited from the Westernized Ethiopian educational system. The Ethiopian traditional wisdom and religious teachings may be of no value for those of us who live in the West. I also believe that lack of curricular connections to students’ local and real-world experiences, especially in the early years of schooling, is such a colossal mistake. Whether this mistake is caused by “Native Colonialism” or lack of educated man power to collect local instructional materials may need to empirically investigated.
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An absurd & highly misleading title to tell an important aspect of an undue influence on the people of a proudly independent nation; Ethiopia.
There are many ways in which countries can be colonized. Mastewal was right, when we pay attention to the details she gives, it was mental colonization. As there is a tendency of ‘ferenj amlakinet’ in Ethiopia, it is true.