“Addisitu” Ethiopia Facing Double Crisis: A Reminder By Fisseha Tadesse Feleke

August 14th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

This is not urgent, especially for active players in the field of realpolitik. Maybe it is. What I want to say in this piece is in fact not urgent in the sense that it doesn’t ask, let alone propose, as to what ought to be done about what could currently be perceived as a burning issue. But I think it is extremely important in that it tries to evoke thinking about what needs to be thought, in order once for all to encounter our (burning) Present face-to-face, even before posing the aforementioned question: What needs to be done with respect to this or that specific problem.

Understanding the nature of the overall crisis we find ourselves in is the necessary condition to propose the type of diagnosis to any of our specific problems. My intention here is therefore to call for a direction of our attention toward developing a particular perspective from which we may gain a proper understanding of the overall crisis that has befallen us ever since we are said to have belonged “to the bloc of our [the Western] modern world.”

Let me first state the obvious: we are in crisis—in a self-decentering crisis.

No doubt, we are not alone in this. Since modernity in itself generates crisis, the modern world as a whole has all along been in crisis. One German sociologist identifies the crisis in the loss of rationality of the early 20th Century that gave food for Freud’s and Weber’s thought as “difficult modernity,” and the situation between the two great world wars with which such radical thinkers as, inter alia, Junger and Bloch, Lukacs and Schmit, Reich and Gehlen were engaged as “un-beloved modernity.” He goes on to describe modernity—at the center of which lie The Gulag Archipelago, Auschwitz and Hiroshima—as “catastrophic.” Who can deny this? It indeed is catastrophic! For which reason, some notable scholars have been in pursuit of what they call a second or reflexive modernization: modernizing the modernized.

Let me now try to express what may seem to be unobvious: ours is a double crisis.
That “Ethiopian modernity,” if this phrase makes any sense at all, is not in the slightest degree on the way to become “reflexive,” and was not even neatly “simple” from the beginning, but has for the most part been problematically “imported” modernity, doubles the crisis for us. What is more, one could even add other factors and redouble the whole thing so as to speak of a “triple” or “quadruple” crisis. But I don’t want to engage in duplicating problems. We have more than enough of them!

Let me ask rather: why is it that modernity “is inherently crisis generating”? This is a very interesting question and it has taken the unswerving devotion and relentless effort of a whole bunch of “crisis thinkers” from diverse schools of thought to analyze it. However, I do not want to dwell on this but to simply mention that there are certain natural consequences of modernity’s crisis that trouble us at all levels (personal and societal; national, sub-national and supra-national) especially when we buy its ideas in toto.

Here is a similar question worth asking: why do we still rely on importing ideas? Indeed modernity involves emulation and borrowing. And this only confirms the wisdom contained in our own traditional sources long before the birth of modernity: ምንት ብከ ዘኢነሣእከ እምካልእከ? (what hast thou that thou didst not receive? [the Geez version specifies and says:]… እምካልእከ = from your “other”/your “friend” [Look: in Geez Mind, the other is primarily conceived as a friend!]). This doesn’t mean, however, a passive reception of whatever comes from those who are deemed to be ahead of us.

Even when we emulate or borrow, I think we should nonetheless try to go beyond oscillating between old “ism-tricks” and new “neo-retro-games” so as to creatively appropriate whatever is good for us without having to leave our own standpoint. What makes a certain system “German” or a certain theory “French” etc.? (German Idealism, French Theory, for instance) Can’t there similarly be something “Ethiopian”? You may want to reply: indeed there can be! Or you may even say: we had had our own ሥራት/ሥርዐት! Do you see that even a positive rejoinder remains somehow short of satisfying us in that you will be forced to put it either in (an undeterminable) future or in (a dead) past tense? A mere wishful thinking about the future and an equally mere pride about the past expose the actual nature of our present: a present that is disconnected from the past out of which it emerged and from the future towards which it is supposed to be oriented. Beware thus: the issue comes down to this: do we still have a characteristically Ethiopian standpoint intimately connected both to our past and future, however wanting it may be in transformation?

A 19th Century Russian writer once said: “for the most part, I curse, praise and describe that which is Russian.” Either to curse or praise or describe, or to go beyond curse, praise and description toward an engagement in genuine transformation, I think we need to honestly recognize the richness, and strongly will the continuity, of that which is Ethiopian.

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