Ideas and Authors By Teodros Kiros:
Ethiopian Discourse is afflicted by a disturbing obsession with ethnicity, as if ethnicity is not merely a contingent appearance, which really does not hold a serious essential characteristic in the understanding of the human. In other words, ethnicity, an apparent description of an author’s origin, is nothing compared to ideas, which are essential activities of the human, as the human deals with the contingent world of appearances. Ethiopian writers and their readers continue to suffer from the sway of ethnicity by failing to decouple ideas and authors, as if they are the same.
I will develop this argument in three parts. Part I, analyzes ideas and authors; part II applies the distinction of ideas and authors to a grounding in possibilities and conditions, and part III pursues the discussion to the ongoing debates concerning the Dam project.
Ideas have two dimensions, which I dub the Factical and the Transcendental. Ideas are factical because they have human authors and the authors themselves are biological beings. They are born at a particular time, to a particular place, from a particular family and within a particular region or geographic location. Authors have no choice in these matters. Thus a given Ethiopian is born at a particular time, to a particular place, from a particular family, and a particular ethnicity, nationality and language group. Again, such an Ethiopian does not have any choice in this matter. These matters are the Factical dimensions of human existence.
Ethiopian discourse however, continues to treat the factical as if it could be changed, as if humans can choose their biological makeup. Authors of wonderful ideas are being linked to their factical origins and being continuously assaulted ideas and their ideas as invaluable contributions to advance the common Ethiopian good shunned. The purveyors of this destructive tendency are Ethiopian academics, themselves, who should know better. There is no need to mention names for the authors know who they are.
Ideas, however, are also Transcendental mediators of visions, imaginations and policies. Ideas, in contrast to authors, are homeless. They originate in a given authors passions, intelligences and gifts. Their nature is universal. Although, ideas like their authors originate in the factical, their applicability is universal. They belong to the human condition, although they may target the Ethiopian condition. They are particular articulations of universal possibilities.
Ideas and authors also develop as Possibilities under suitable Conditions. Ideas of course belong to their authors. They do not create themselves. They are the creative outcomes of authors. There is no such a thing as a self-creating idea without an author. Ideas, however, are possibilities that are born, grow and mature in the womb of time. Conditions are precisely the wombs of time. If the conditions are oppressive and the times are turbulent, they stifle the creative power of authors to originate possibilities for us humans and for the cosmos. Negative conditions lead to the arrest of growth and the freezing of imagination. Modern Ethiopian politics is therefore, not providing thinkers to draw from their inner resources. Instead they produce ideas for a tyrannical regime, which hires them, rewards them and bribes them with money, houses and cars. These conditions are not conducive to the birth
of original ideas; rather they fuel the ethnic engine of a regime, which uses ethnicity to stifle the growth of transformative ideas as possibilities of intelligence.
The ongoing debates on the Dam project call for revisiting through the tropes of Faticality, Transcendality, Possibility and Conditions.
It is true that ideas do not grow in a vacuum and that when the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi run the tyrannical regime, I consistently opposed the Dam project by arguing that regime change must precede a national project and that the tyrannical conditions were not conducive for undertaking a major project.
Sadly,regime change did not occur and the project took off. Now that the project is underway, as Professor Tecola Hagos is ably arguing, the new Ethiopian condition forces us to think equally anew. Conditions without possibilities are empty and possibilities without conditions are blind. I am readjusting my thinking and I hope others do the same.
The Dam project is indeed the property of the factical activities of authors. But the Dam project is first and foremost an Idea, an expression of a possibility with a Transcendtal characteristic, which seeks to solve a developmental Ethiopian condition.
It is irrelevant that the existing regime is manned by Tigreans. What matters is that the idea is Ethiopian, and it belongs to us all. The regime in power is not forever. No condition is permanent. The idea of the Dam, however, has an intergenerational feature, which we must support. At this point our duty is to see to it that the Dam is built by the standards of excellence, so the cynical attitude of Professor Messay and others does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.