Cultural Transformation Before Ethiopianity By Teodros Kiros

April 16th, 2014 Print Print Email Email

Our able thinkers, Professor Messay Kebede and Dr. Tesfaye Demelash, have recently written two eye-catching articles challenging article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution by arguing that this article justifies the division of Ethiopia into ethnic enclaves. Â I will call this proposition A, which I would like to contrast with proposition B which states that A can be transcended only after all of us Ethiopians become culturally transformed and cleansed from the DDT of destructive ethnicity.

The possibility of A is ground on the foundation of B, or else, all the writings are empty dreams. Â Aristotle, the great Athenian thinker once remarked that virtue is nothing more than the activity of the soul in accordance with excellence, or at least, not without it.

The two key terms in that remark are Virtue and Soul. Virtue and Soul are not foreign to classical Ethiopian moral imagination; they are only becoming increasingly uncommon to contemporary Ethiopian cultural life and thereby causing the prevalence of cultural decadence, as I argued recently in “ Cultural Decadence” (Abugida, Ethioquest, Ethiopian Review, Ethiosun, Addis voice, Ethioguardian, Quatero, Teoclahagos, Jan 14,2011).

Infact our historic Christian sensibilities preach the relevance of virtue and soul. Unfortunately, the message has not been internalized. The churches push the message but ordinary Ethiopians have not made the practice a living part of their everdaylives, and this is a serious problem, which needs to be solved.

The first step of cultural transformation is the moral organization of the self. The care of the self demands that the individual attends to her soul by developing an internal relationship between self and self, and not self and the church. The latter relationship is remote and external to the soul. The soul must be activated from the inside and the relationship between self and self is internal to the soul. The activity of the soul is a conversation that the self enters into privately, as a conversation between the creator and the lost soul, or the soul, which wishes to become virtuous, become good. The internal parts of
the soul, which must be activated, are reason, the desires and spiritedness.

These three are the engine of the soul. Should we want to be good we must cultivate the relationships between these three parts in accordance with the foundational principle of conversing with our creator.

Modern Ethiopian politics is infested with ethnicity. Â The existing regime did introduce this ethnic disposition to its mode of governance; ever since then, thinking ethnically has become as natural as drinking Ethiopian coffee. Â The learned might not openly avow it but their visions are marred by it and their practices have cemented it. Â Until after all of us Ethiopians examine our individual souls deeply no new party is going to cleanse us from this disease.

As in the medical situation prognoses must be preceded by accurate diagnoses and my personal diagnoses of the Ethiopian condition is that our souls are in cultural crises and the crises must be attended to by individual Ethiopians by developing a new culure of self-examination.

Teodros Kiros
Professor of Philosophy and English (Liberal Arts)
Berklee College of Music

  1. aha!
    | #1

    Prof. Tewedros Kiros, I do not know what Dr. Tesfaye Demelash’s take on ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies, built into the constitution in terms of ethnic federalism, secessionism and totalitarianism and/or state capitalism, no matter who said what ethnic federalism, a division of Ethiopian land mass by major languages, as opposed to leaving the original provinces with assorted ethnic groups intact, served as a prelude to secessionism/ethnic nationalism, whereby Article 39 gave the right to secession up to independence, which gave precedence to the secession of Eritrean Province. Since the division of Ethiopian land mass was based on major languages Eritrea would have been lumped with Tigrai to form the nine ethnic regions as EPLF/TPLF/eprdf regime. What took place was that Eritrea was granted secession from Ethiopia at the request of the late Prime Minister along with the two ports, leaving Ethiopia land locked to say the least about the unnecessary border disputes. When the two factions can not continue to exploit the rest of the country together after the unilaterally declared independence of Eritrea, the two factions could not have continued to exploit the rest of Ethiopia under ethnic federalism, while maintaining ethnic secessionism intact in the constitution, unless they want to use it as prelude to secession of Eritrea and Tigrai as one ethnic state. In both of these scenarios, those factions with national agenda for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty of Ethiopia and Ethiopians are pushed out of the initial drafting of the constitution which gave the ruling power by ex-liberation fronts to establish the current constitution of ethnic federalism, secessionism and totalitarianism and/or state capitalism that is not amenable to democratic rather ethnic rule majority ethnic group, and precedence of group rights to individual rights. The soul searching of the individuals is not as you alluded to but to think of themselves as Ethiopian first and ones ethnicity second to pull the silent majority out of this quagmire into individual freedom, liberty and equality as well as economic freedom with individual property ownership anywhere in Ethiopia, so be able to sing song of Pete Seigger, “This land is my land from — to — ‘.

  2. aha!
    | #2

    On second thought, I agree with you that the Ethiopian politics is infected with ethnic and secessionist politics inscribed in the constitution, which implies that that the constitution need to be ratified voluluntary by the TPLF/eprdf regime or by non vilent uprising of the silent majority of Ethiopians, the tax payers to whom the elites should show loyalty to but not to TPLF/eprdf and/or OPDO/Medrek/EFDF/fdre and/or AFD2 of Ginbot 7.

  3. Tecola Hagos
    | #3

    Prof Teodros, thank you for this lucid and timely piece. I am most glued to your last statement wherein you said, “As in the medical situation prognoses must be preceded by accurate diagnoses and my personal diagnoses of the Ethiopian condition is that our souls are in cultural crises and the crises must be attended to by individual Ethiopians by developing a new culture of self-examination.” Our problem is that we have come to the last degenerative stage where we are now engaged in targeting truth as in a “moving bull’s eye,” where we never admit our mistakes or errors, for wherever we strike is the “bull’s eye.” {I hope Blackburn will forgive me for using his noble phrase to make a political point.} The beginning of true enlightenment is self-examination. Thank you for being our moral compass, reminding us where to start in healing ourselves and our country, our beloved Ethiopia.
    Tecola W. Hagos

  4. Teodros Kiros
    | #4

    I write to Aha for the gentle, intelligent, unmarred by the DDT of ethnicity. This is precisely the kind of dialogue I look for – head against heart, heart against heart organized by intelligence and pure Ethiopianity.

  5. Dawi
    | #5

    On this point I like to paraphrase Aristotle who said, only a wealthy society in which relatively few citizens lived in real poverty could a situation exist where the population could intelligently participate in politics and avoid ethnic demagogues.

    So the present tribal thinking of East Africa that includes the act of land locking of Ethiopia is Tribal, medieval, primitive state of minds of the existing situation and leadership in general you ask me. There is no other justification for it.

    In order to lower that primitive mentality of ours, we need to do a rapid economic development where we become a middle income country fast and few citizens live in poverty. Eliminating poverty would make folks think “intelligently”. I guarantee it!:)

  6. Teodros Kiros
    | #6

    I write to thank Aha for the gentle, intelligent and informed response, unmarred by the DDT of ethnicity. This is precisely the kind of response I look for, head against head, heart against heart, organized by intelligence and pure Ethiopianity. Note that no reference to my ethnicity is mentioned. Aha’s guide are intelligence and honesty, two classical virtues I admire, as all human beings should. We must learn how to disagree with one other without the prism of ethnicity, a natural condition which we cannot and did not choose, but to which condition we are born; nor do we need this natural condition to think critically. The cultural transformation that I invoke begins, right at this tangent, where truth confronts itself.

    Enough said.

  7. Garo
    | #7

    Mr. Kiros.
    Well,well,well. Which Ethiopia are you talking about? To you Ethiopia is only certain groups of people. You talk about our politics being infested with ethnicity. How about yours that is infested with ethnicity and some more like mentioning Ethiopia and one religion one culture or one psychological make up. It is easy to see which Ethiopia you are talking about. It is the Ethiopia that ignores the great majority that is not the traditional Abyssinia. No wonder your camp is going bankrupt.

  8. deriba Gotchu
    | #8

    When it comes to policies advocated by the so called political groups of the various colours, the trouble we have is the complete lack of originality in our thoughts. Ideas put forward are badly doctored with Stalin’s gibberish, not surprising as many of these political groupings were put together and led by people of the last fourty to fifty years at the time when it was fashionable to doggedly follow Stalin’s and the likes pesky thoughts; and at times worship him as a so called “intellectual???”. In actual fact his policies for his invention of so called Nationalities and Nations within a NATION were extreme model of simplicity to what seems to be a more complex issue than his portrayal. It clearly showed he didn’t have the necessary capacity to deal with complex issues. People to people relationships are dynamic, bonded and cemented with emotions various descriptions which couldn’t be overlooked or put aside which needed rigorous thought. Stalin’s solution was simple and Mechanical. If you don’t like it you can dismember yourself. There was nothing intelligent about this. It was simply a cope out. It came from a person who was unable to deal with difficult national issues. It was just like falling to the fact that if I can’t rule the NATION, I could invent my own home land, Georgia and rule from there so can you, which would have been an attractive proposition for aspirants like him. This, as a pre-conceived idea of his during his formative years can’t be over looked. No doubt it was a manifestation of utter irresponsibility. Clearly it came from someone who had no confidence to be a NATIONAL leader. Unfortunately, this bankrupt fallacy has been carbon copied by some political groups of ours as well as the government itself which continues to cause pain on our people. This is a manifestation how subtle and engrained Stalin’s pesky fallacy has been such that to the extent of having a major influence in modeling political decisions regarding how the country is led. As mentioned, his ideas were deeply rooted in Ethiopian Students of early days and never seem to have been gotten rid of. Some of nationals have not been able shake off his gibberish and persist with it; at least one knows it is lurching in the background and impacting on their thinking processes.
    • Sometimes one gets the feeling of re-leaving the Pan African freedom war days’ of the 50’s and 60’s. Even our vocabularies are stuck in time. We constantly talk of armed struggle, kill and killed, etc. It is just like intending to put our people through a never ending perennial doom and gloom scenario. We should ask ourselves do I really have that right to do so. That is the right to preach endless struggle and perhaps ending up sending someone’s sons and daughters to battle fields whose outcome is not guaranteed. It is important to take up this advice ‘Snap out of this derision and get engaged.’ We should stop advocating the idea of ‘destroying the present and re-building from the ground level up’. The responsible thing to do is to build on what you already have and not starting up from the scratch.
    • Strive to expunge simplistic Stalinist demagogue and come up with new and ORIGINAL creative and civilized concepts to move the country forward. One should better come up with some home grown innovative ideas.
    • Start taking personal and collective responsibilities for ideas one advocates.
    • Stop from the irresponsible and selfish act of flirting with inventing your own home land that only you can rule and rather engage and focus on the bigger picture of taking National magnitude. One must be reminded that in continental Africa, people to people relationships are both dynamic and strongly unbreakably bonded. The same is true of the languages, as well. You may try to break the bond by exaggerating differences starting conflicts if one is lucky. Then it means kill and kill. Is that what I stand for? One should ask oneself.

  9. Teodros Kiros
    | #9

    I thank Proferssor Tecola Hagos, for his humility in reading my modest contributions and finding values in them in light of his ext ordinary mind which tackles huge issues intelligently and courageously. I envy and respect his outputs.

    Similarly, I would like to thank Dawi for his penetrating remark that eliminating poverty is a necessary condition for the necessary and sufficient possibility of nurturing intelligence. I could not have said it better.

  10. ethiopia
    | #10

    well, i real i do not understand what you people talking about. let me tell you something that if you can understand. i’m ethiopian who has oromo, amahara, and tgriy blood on me and i’m marrid to different women out side ethiopia, if i was you i’ll try to bring peace and harmoun to the socity of ethiopia and also do not get fulled by those who trying to do someting like rwanda, because of 2 europian country, almost one million people dead. do not let this happing to ethiopian people. teach my people a great philosophy that they can have common background to defet they are enemys with great love and respect among each other to develop our country for a greater futuer where our kids grow and they w’ll never be hanger so that they can have 3 meal a day like meles said.

  11. Dawi
    | #11

    Hold your horses Deriba Gotchu!

    According to China Stalin was wrongly insulted as the source of all ills as you are doing it here; that is in spite of the “glories of socialism”‘; What followed was the Soviet Union disintegrated.

    Russian people are rethinking what happened to them? We can say Vladimir Putin is here today to reestablish pride in the country; Read Prof. Tecola’s article written a while ago.

    I say controversial leaders like Stalin, Mao, Menelik can not be just looked one sided as you are doing. You got to honor them for their contribution otherwise the whole thing goes down the tube.

  12. Anonymous
    | #12

    Unless of course, an individual is a mentally challenged person, it doesn’t take a BA, MA, MD, PHD, even a high school diploma to realize when people denied their God given rights, robbed, when their land taken away from them,and when some of their family members and fellow Ethiopians tortured and massacred by a brutal TPLF regime. Speaking the truth about the barbarous inhumane treatments of TPLF regime, has nothing to do with hatred of our fellow Tigrean brothers and sisters. Tigreans should appreciate Ethiopians for not labeling and painting all patriotic Tigreans with the same brush of ruthless TPLF mafia group.

  13. Anonymous
    | #13

    Ayeeeeeeee delusional Dawi, betam taskalehe! I’m not surprised, but for those who don’t know you by now, once again, you have proven yourself that you have no credibility.
    It certainly says a lot about you — You compare Emperor Menelik with the ruthless Stalin and Mao, and at the same time you support the most heinous criminals like tyrant Meles that died with the blood of countless number of Ethiopians and the TPLF regime that is looting and slaughtering Ethiopians! Ha!? Being courier heartless criminals, incarcerating hundreds of thousands law abiding Ethiopians, selling Ethiopia’s land to foreigners and spilling the blood of innocent Ethiopians has nothing to do with bravery and great leadership.

  14. Dawi
    | #14


    Why do you remind me of Democrat Bob Kerrey who called Obama “a delusional-liar”? Is that because he was against “Obama care”? He is your kind of fellow.

    In fact Menelik’s love for books & finance is strikingly similar to Meles; that according to the New York Times article written in 1909; it said, King Menelik was Heavy Buyer of American Railway Stocks. I think he would have sold GERD & Ethio-Rail network stock today. How about that?

    My comparison was made because they were all great leaders of nations with controversial history. Stalin’s greatest achievement is the Soviet and Allied victory over Hitler. Menelik’s was against Italy. Mao’s was probably the long march and the consolidation of China.

    Go ahead and add Meles to that least. It is not just Dr. Susan Rice who called him a leader with a “world class mind”!

    You know….. his vision is what Ethiopia’s rapid development is associated with today.

    Having said that, no one is denying their short comings as great leaders.

  15. Anonymous
    | #15

    You are indeed Delusional-Dawi! Thanks for proving me right. BTW, you forgot to mention Adolf Hitler, Edi Amin Dada, Benito Mussolini and the likes as your heroes. But unlike the heartless godless tyrant Meles, these evil demented people, never gave even an inch of their land to foreigners. Unfortunately, because of people like you, brutal evil dictators stay in power to torture and massacre innocent people. Sad indeed!

    The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.~John E. E. Dalberg, Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, [1877].

    “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ” ~ Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey

    “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

  16. Dawi
    | #16

    Continuing on Menelik and Meles similarity, they both signed off Eritrea for different strategic reasons; the former for Italy and the latter for a local warlord called Isayas. Menelik signed off Djibouti to France as well. Among other things he built the first rail road, telecom etc. He mobilized his people, made the necessary military preparation and defeated an European Colonial power; probably for the first time among colonized people of Africa and Asia.

    Meles developed the Developmental State Theory for the African setting, built the strongest military in the region before he laid the foundation for GERD, initiated Ethio-national & light rail projects among other things.

  17. Teodros Kiros
    | #17

    I wish that readers would directly engage the arguments of the article directly, as Professor Tecola, Aha and Dawit did, so that we can benefit our motherland, Ethiopia.

  18. Anonymous
    | #18

    You are not alone Dawi, the world known dead evil Hitler still has shameless admirers too. As I said, creating division among Ethiopians, locking up, torturing, slaughtering hundreds of thousands law-abiding Ethiopians, leaving Ethiopia landlocked and selling Ethiopia’s virgin-fertile land by misplacing Ethiopians in various places and massacring over 400 Gambelans has noting to do with great leadership, but being a heartless evil coward! Whatever that hateful, racist, dead rotten rat brutal dictator developed, it has only benefited himself, the mother of corruption, his wife Azeb, his birth place, the rest of his few shameless rotten rats buddies like himself and some shameless foreign billionaires, period!

  19. Dawi
    | #19

    [[..As I said, creating division among Ethiopians........, slaughtering hundreds of thousands law-abiding Ethiopians...]]


    It seems you have found in Meles something that gives you a sensation for having solved Ethiopia’s problems but you haven’t really understood the cause and effect of it at all. Sure, the anger you have must be an exciting feeling and has blinded you to see other shades. Whether you admit it or not Ethiopia had a problem before Meles came in the picture.

    For me, when you write how awful Meles was, I associate the negativity to you rather than the person you’re describing. Maybe you should take control of your life by blaming others less.

  20. Teodros Kiros
    | #20

    Again, may I remind readers to direct their remarks on the article they have read, and not against one another. This is a bad manner and ultimately useless. Let us learn how to benefit from each others insights by commenting on what we have read, or what we should read, and not what we think we have read.

  21. Teodros Kiros
    | #21

    I am disappointed that we are not addressing the suggestion I made. Search your souls before you write, or else, it is all vanity.

  22. What is this solidarity about ?
    | #22

    Dear Prof
    Your diagnosis is correct to some degree, but:
    a. Blames the victim

    The diagnosis fails to explain why people organize based on ethnicity, class, gender, …

    There are reasons for people to organize themselves on ethnic, religious, language, or class basis.

    They organised themselves to fight against inequality or injustices
    We cannot judge because of the way they organised to defend themselves from whatever threat they are facing.
    Issue is not how they organised.

    b. Diagnosis lacks giving consideration to the role of foreign actors –
    Foreign actors want to see weak Ethiopia because they want to use the resources for free or strategic purposes

    Woyane or TPLF are supported, funded and armed to be in power by foreigners. Woyane does not represent Tigray people leave alone the rest of Ethiopia.

    Foreign actors play decisive role in giving legitimacy to any political organisation in Ethiopia if it wants to become a government of Ethiopia.

    Take for example what is happening in Ukraine. You think Ukraine wanted to kill Russian descents just because they are Russians. or Russians wanted to kill the Ukrainian because they are Ukrainian

    I believe people always want to leave in peace and want security and prosperity and justice. what is really

  23. Teodros Kiros
    | #23

    This addresses my concerns directly, which I will address in a future article. Thanks for rising to the call, unlike the experts who specialize in ignoring their critics, a special Ethiopian disease of academics.

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