Obama and Ethiopia: Time for new visions – By Donald N. Levine

May 26th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

At a session on African development a couple decades ago I spoke about the damage Ethiopia suffered from having imported a Marxist-Leninist ideology. One colleague, a respected Africanist anthropologist, objected: “We are not here to engage in paradigm-bashing.” Like so many American academics, my colleague simply had no idea of the enormity of the bloodshed, political repression, economic regression, and cultural derangement that that misguided Western ideology brought to a country that had been modernizing in ways congruent with its longstanding national traditions. (more…)

At a session on African development a couple decades ago I spoke about the damage Ethiopia suffered from having imported a Marxist-Leninist ideology. One colleague, a respected Africanist anthropologist, objected: “We are not here to engage in paradigm-bashing.” Like so many American academics, my colleague simply had no idea of the enormity of the bloodshed, political repression, economic regression, and cultural derangement that that misguided Western ideology brought to a country that had been modernizing in ways congruent with its longstanding national traditions.

The wholesale adoption of a Leninist creed by so many progressive Ethiopians of the late 1960s continues to have deleterious repercussions, much as the slaughter of a generation of modern-educated Ethiopians by the Fascist Italians had repercussions for the generation after Liberation. It meant that all militant progressive forces of that Generation took cover behind a worldview that considered itself scientifically corroborated, thus legitimating the forceful imposition of collectivist values by an “enlightened” elite. Besides the Derg, many have noted, most dissident movements of the time subscribed to such a doctrine, the difference being that they extended it to a derision of Ethiopia’s national history on behalf of Eritrean, Tigrayan, Oromo, Somali, and other irredentist claims.

The present regime in Ethiopia is the hapless heir of those days. This means that however much they would like to implement a liberal democratic regime-and I am convinced that many EPRDF members want very much to do so-they are stuck with certain policies and procedures that derive from their Leninist origins.

(And to make matters worse, although many who oppose them are now committed to a liberal democratic ethos, the rhetoric and tactics used by a vocal minority recall the arrogance, Manicheanism, and ruthlessness of the Leninists who indoctrinated them years ago.)

Some of this is all too familiar to those of us who have lived in the United States during the Bush administration. In place of Marxist-Leninist certainty, read right-wing ideological certainty. In place of the messianic vision of a classless society, read the messianic vision of a world made safe for American-business-led democracy (if not the vision of the grand Apocalypse of the Second Coming.) In place of harassment of opposition parties, read what many regard as the theft of the presidency in 2000 and possibly in 2004. In place of the imprisonment of journalists, read anxious self-censorship. In place of the wanton assassination of innocents and brutal tortures in out-of-the-way prisons, read the monstrosities of Abu Ghraib and Guantanámo.

In place of an invisible inner politburo, read an invisible White House clique. Yet it is easy to focus on miscarriages of liberal democracy in the United States in order to deflect attention from Ethiopia’s failure to move faster toward liberal democracy and then, after a glorious springtime of freedom, to regress in crucial respects afterward. Or else, to give up all hope. When I spoke in Addis Ababa in January of this year, in a talk entitled “The Promise of Ethiopia: Public Action; Civic Forgiveness; Creative Power,” a group of journalists I met with asked, “Is there any promise for Ethiopia?” Since then, leaders of parties who sincerely wanted to conduct themselves as a loyal opposition felt constrained to withdraw from local elections due to a parade of harassments and worse affecting their followers. Meanwhile the EPRDF leaders, in some respects like the Bush regime, find themselves embattled at home as well as mired in a war against perceived terrorist enemies. In this worsening political situation, can we find the Audacity to Hope?

Barack Obama’s message has appealed awesomely to a majority of Democrats and numerous Republican voters in the U.S. and to citizens all over the world. Ethiopians in the U.S. responded with enthusiasm to calls to action from the likes of Mike Endale and Yohannes Asssefa, Emebet Bekele and Teddy Fikre. Like other nationals, they resonate with Obama’s call to stop endless rounds of animosities old and new, of blame and counter-blame, and get on with solving the world’s compelling problems: poverty; disease; famine; overpopulation; environmental damage; gender violence; loss of species; wars; terrorism.

Ethiopian culture includes many ways to move toward inclusiveness, open communication, and consensual action. Perhaps these ways can be invoked to consider items like the following:

. Diaspora Ethiopian doctors, like the many hundreds in Dr. Ingida Asfaw’s Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association, go regularly to Ethiopia to offer medical services, provide advanced training, and improve maternal and child healthcare.

. Dr. Sisay Assefa has initiated an organization of social science professionals-from ye-bet agar, ye-wutch agar, and ye-cyber agar-to develop and exchange critically tested ideas regarding Ethiopia’s development potential.

. The Government has undertaken big initiatives on long-standing issues like expanded schools, health clinics in each village, vast road projects, expanded power generation, and now, forced marriage of young girls.

. Opposition political parties are taking a long view and rebuilding their strength.

. The quest for a free press and fair elections has suffered severe setbacks but still goes on.

. After decades of abuse and decay, Addis Ababa University is striving to regain and surpass its the high quality it achieved as HSIU. Under the leadership of Dr. Abye Tasse and Prof. Tsige Gebre-Mariam, AAU has just embarked on a multi-national initiative, directed Dr. Abye Tasse to provide highest-level training for new cohorts of Ethiopian academics.

. The millennium celebrations stimulated some serious initiatives. In Addis, the InterAfricaGroup organized two symposia on ways to promote communication among Ethiopia’s different constituencies. In DC, Abiyu Berlie and Samson Teffera organized a video conference on Information and Communication Technology for many kinds of IT professionals in Ethiopia and the United States.

You tell me more.

Tadia, yagere sewotch, min zefan yishalal:
Al-chalkum! weynim menalbat, YICHALAL?

  1. one ethiopia
    | #1

    Stop being fool. Fascist meles and He’s supporters like to see OBAMA in white house since obama doesn’t know or doesn’t care what fascist Dictator and terrorist do. How many of you stupid Ethiopians know that OBAMA was voted against the removing of fascist dictator sadam Hussein. Obama was said that there is no enough reason to remove sadam from power. But this (stupid ignorant) so called obama did not even know that sadam jailed and kill more than 1 million Iraq’s. What kind of reason obama went more than that? Late me tale you at that time the people of Iraq doesn’t need a reason or doesn’t care sadam has WMD or not they gust went to be free from his fascist rule for 35 years. Because Iraq is in bad ship right now doesn’t mean removing sadam from power is wrong. You Think obama will say the same if one of his family member killed by sadam? I don’t think so. Some one even here tailing me I have to vote for obama because he is a Blackman. Look all of you (stupid and ignorant obama supporters) I know I am black but I will never vote for OBAMA. The obama I know who voted against the removing of killer Sadam. The obama I know who like to set down unconditionally with fascist killer like meles zanawe. The obama I know who like to set down with terrorist and talk. Anyway why he likes to set down with those (shetam arbes the father of shabiy) I think he went to have some camel milk. Fascist leader and terrorist don’t understand peace full negotiation their only language is gun.turest me if you set down with them you will loss. If you don’t believe me ask the kingit (cud) lieder who tray to set down and talk with fascist meles zanawe end up 10,000 their supporters killed and 100,000 thrown in to jail. So gust because obama is a black man you went me to vote for him? I don’t think so I am not ignorant like you. You hypocrite attacking bush the war in Iraq but you never say anything about OBAMA who tray to save sadame. Anyway what is the deferens between fascist lieder and the person who like to see them stay in power?
    Finally I gust went to ask those ignorant obama supporters some simple question
    1, what kinds of reason sadam or meles have when they kill and jailed civilians? If they don’t what kind of reason you need to have to remove those fascist lieder from power?
    2, how many innocent civilians have to be killed by fascist lieder tile stupid OBAMA say enough is enough?
    3, do the fascist have to kill one of your family’s to change you stupid mind?
    4, OBAMA stand for YES WE CAN, HOPE, CHANG, what the f**** it mean
    Anyway? since you are stupid you are not going to give me the right answer.
    And you will say obama this obama that then bla bla bla.by the way what happen to my Ethiopian people you use to be the most conservative almost on everything when did you became supporter of loser democrat you most start believing gay married.

    | #2

    one ethiopia, first you neeed to learn english, before you insult somebody’

  3. Aha!
    | #3

    US administration comes and goes through peaceful election process in a fair and transparent, how dare you suggest a policy to maintain a status quo of tyrranny, lack of tyrrany and freedom to prevail and suggest volentary aid to continue as if the current government is not receiving non-humantarian and humanitrian aid it receives is not enough.

    The talk for unity inspite of past animosity, political differences is a polical discourse to move Ethiopians in a democratic movement to achieve a common goal for freedom, democracy and Justice.
    The idea of Voluntary Aid is putting the cart before the horse. I do not understimate the idea, since I have a project for Revitalizing the Central Highlands of Ethiopia or for that matter developing the country by region rathe than by ethnic boundries.
    We in the diaspora need to reach a consensus to help the majority of Ethiopians to gain politcal freedom, democracy and Justice of which are non-existent for the majority. With creation of democratic institutions, and financial systems, property rights, and freedom of speech, and press follows the proper functioning of models for production, Accounting and Supply and Demand in a market driven economy.
    However grand Senator Obama’s message is which resonated with Ethiopians, which I failed to comprhend is not adequate to resolve the Ethiopian crisis to assist the democratic movement, which is wedged between two factions in a geopolitcal region stretching from Pakistan to Mogadishow, to say the least about the Oppression by its own regime.

  4. mot_lezerennochu.
    | #4

    Is this the same professor and A PERSONAL ADVISOR OF meles? No more fooling us.

    Don’t use AAU. After dismantiling the system and killing the national education standard, what are you talking? Can you say anything about those AAU instructuors who are our national treasure. They are fired by the anti Ethiopian man, your meles? Why didn’t you say anything about it or the current burning issue how he sold us to Sudan?

    Your meles and all his cliques will face justice soon. We beg you, don’t be obstacle anymore as you are all these time. Please leave it for Ethiopians. We are not asking your help, we can do it ourselves. You are providing him the machine and the money to kill the country.
    Please stop it.

  5. Guenet
    | #5

    Too bad professor Levine, you lost credibility by being the devil’s advocate. The same thing goes with Dr Abiye Tasse for working with this kind of government.

  6. Gud saysemu
    | #6

    Professor your “greater Ethiopia”has widened my horizon of understanding my country as it is.
    However Prof. it unwise and completely contradictory to your political philosophy the ethiopian gov. is damaging our country.
    What do you hear about greater Ethiopa currently from all directions.

    And you are advising us to work with such a system.

    I donot know what to say Prof.but tel you to see your paper again.

  7. | #7

    one ethiopia, you are the one STUPID

  8. | #8

    This ‘mazungi’ seems to be more Ethiopian than the Ethiopians themselves. The time has come for the ‘ferenji’ so called experts to leave Ethiopia and the Ethiopians alone. By now every Ethiopian knows that the western governments are only looking after their own self interest and not that of Ethiopia and its people.

    It might not be a bad idea to learn a thing or two about self reliance from our neighbours in the north. There is nothing more honorable than standing on your own two feet.

  9. | #9

    Dear M. Levine,
    You want so much to talk about the History of Ethiopia, but do you “really” know it? I mean do you really know History “”for”" Ethiopia, or do you just “”use”" the history to make people believe that “ethiopia need capitalist liberalism” which is the only thing you want to say in fact.
    You say complete lies – just like the Bush administration by the way- like this one: “the Derg subscribe to marxist ideology”, “the current regime is the continuation of those days”, which are completely UNTRUE.
    May you should read the brilliant book “Class and Revolution in Ethiopia” by John Markasis and Nega Ayele, a true revolutionnary of this time, not a commentary living in the US in the 21st century. You would learn that the real marxist elements in the ethiopian population (workers, teachers, students) wherre ALL the FIRST VICTIM of the regime, see Meison and the white terror for instance. You would also learn that in the first years the military dictator had in fact no ideology at all, even the United States supported him and sold him tons of weapons as is now widely known. Even Israel sold him cluster bombs against the release of Falasha. Not even to mention, the money given bu the charity industry that went directly in his pocket to increase terror. ALL your “capitalist” or “liberal” regimes were hand in the hand with him.
    And now what with Zenawi? Zenawi is the little dog of your country, whatever the regime. YOU wrote a report about Somalia which contained blatant lies (as a study wabout teh weapons has revealed), and then YOU ask to Ethiopian to die over there for you “terrorist-Alqaeda-afraidofislam “bullshit.
    That’s now more than 50 years that ALL AFRICAN COUNTRIES are listening to so-called experts of the economy, being ruled in fact by the INTERNATIONAL AGENCY SUXH AS IMF AND WOLRD BANK, which have NO other word in their mouth than “capitalism”, “liberalism”. Just like your country can not stop to do.
    Here is the analysis of Joseph Stiglitz which have worked in these international agency, and is a Nobel Prize winner in economy. Here is his conclusion about Ethiopia:
    April 26, 2002
    By: Joseph E. Stiglitz
    So much for your “liberalism” that kills around the globe NOW.
    Now I completely agree with Hillal, it’s time for those so-called “experts” to leave this country alone, what’s more when their only goal is to make of other country a copy of theirs. Ethiopia don’t need you to choose ifits future, all the possibility remains open, even the marxist one, whether you like it or not.

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