Ethiopia News and Opinion
by Dimetros Birku
A few days back, I reacted to a status update of a facebook friend. As it turns out, I was in fact reacting to an excerpt from an article entitled “campaign against dysfunctional behaviors [of Ethiopians]” by a different writer. The counter-reaction on the part of my face book friend was only to get the whole thing on my face book page. I found the article to be interesting to me at least for two reasons. Obviously one of the reasons is that it’s is directly related to Ethiopia. The other is that it is related to issues that matter most to me albeit the approach to the issue was from a different trajectory for which I have little understanding of. However, neither the approach, which appears to me much like psycho-social analysis and a bit of “global citizenry” trajectory, nor the issues addressed therein are the reasons to repulse the sense of credulity. Credulity outside of the realm of faith has little or no appeal to me.I had to read the article with utmost critical approach. However, this article does not represent an effort to offer a response to every single point the writer touched upon in an effort to substantiate her position which reads something like –the reason for ‘intra-group’ conflict among Ethiopians, both at home and in the Diaspora, – is “dysfunctional social behavior.”
The point related to how conflict retards development and the emphasis on the importance of building up conflict resolution mechanism are points well taken – I’ve no dispute on that. What I consider wrong (very wrong!) is the writer’s stern conviction to Ethiopianize “ dysfunctional social behavior” and the degree of certainty she demonstrates throughout the article –which, apparently, led her to a “dysfunctional”, I believe, psycho-social analysis of conflict in the Ethiopian polity. The vital importance of historical trajectory, impact of external factors, role and motivation of political administration could have had enriched the analysis and provided a better understanding and picture of the problem. Besides even in the approach she employed (psycho-social), some of the listings of “dysfunctional social behavior” are taken without adequate and proper qualification – in a generic form.“Dysfunctional social behavior” is only dysfunctional social behavior and there is nothing Ethiopian about it.
Needless to write, conflict is an integral part of human society – and is universal both in time and space. And I don’t think that elements of human nature that cause conflict differ fundamentally from society to society. Greed for power, wealth, prestige and what have you play into the making of a conflict –and everywhere –whether it is intra-societal conflict or inter-societal conflict. Prejudice need not be discounted as a factor too. In the last elections, Kenyans experienced one of the worst conflict and violence in their history. If we are to analyze this conflict, chances are we will observe writer’s listings,to which I am reacting, (by the way the list is long !) of “dysfunctional social behavior” ,in one way or another,in all the parties that were involved in the conflict. The Irony is that leaderships in some societies, even in “democracies” in the “global north” for that matter, could exploit some or even all of the behaviors you mentioned so long as they found it essential to maintain their hold on power in the name of creating what they consider “relative stability.” How else could you maintain status quo? When there is no weakness to exploit, you create one!Think about about how Felix Houphuet-Boigny of what is now Cote d’Ivoire run a cliental and paternalistic state for well over thirty years.Why do we even have to go all the way to West Africa? Think of what TPLF leadership has been doing since its inception!Isn’t rejection of TPLF politics by Ethiopians grounded on the idea that the way it handled Ethiopian politics is unEthiopian? Did TPLF spare even religious institutions in its effort to create weakness? In politics, when you want to use an entity for your own purpose you either make it strong or you make it weak- depending on your needs.This story of creating strength and/or weakness is not just an African story.(Is Barack Obama his own political creation?)It’s a power game I believe(conspiracy theorist could tell you more on this- BTW do you consider conspirator y theorists “Ethiopian”? -as they seem to possess some of the “dysfunctional” social attributes you mentioned.)So you could see some of the attributes you talked about in any intra-societal conflict in Africa or elsewhere in different forms.
We can also consider a major conflict as an example- the Iraq War. If you are to approach it in a psycho-social analytic approach, it is likely that you will observe at least some of the things you mentioned as “dysfunctional social behavior.” Mistrust, suspicion, prejudice, arrogance, greed (for power and probably wealth too), ego – and what have you were ingredients of the leadership ( not just Bush jr) that declared the war. And how many Americans supported this war? Do you spare them from ,at least some of, the behavioral patterns you described? As it turned out there was no WMD. Again, my point is that there is nothing Ethiopian about the attributes you mentioned.
In fact, one of the examples you provided, Ethiopian Orthodox Church to be specific, testify otherwise. The wrangle and division within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the diaspora is not Ethiopian at all. The point I indicated above to make external factors part of your analysis is worth mentioning again. It is part of recorded history that the church attracted the attention of outsiders. At some point in the past, there was a misconception, among outsiders, that the Ethiopian church is weaker than the Ethiopian Monarchy. The strategy they opted for to change the Ethiopian Church was to manipulate the monarchy. It didn’t work. Orthodox Church proved that that was not the case. And in its very long history, the church survived, and successfully in fact, numerous sabotages ranging imposition of new creeds to creation of schism. There was a time when outsiders managed to make (I am not sure if it is no longer the case) it to the very core of monastic communities with the pretext of spiritual revelation (ማርያምን በህልሜ አየኋት)only to gather the information they need. As it turned out, the case was that of espionage by “sociologists” and researchers in other Fields of study wearing a mask. But they did not get much of the things they needed. The story of James Bruce, the only European who managed to enter the country during the closed door policy of 150 years with the pretext of “studying the source of Nile”, was in fact motivated by researching in the realm of theology in Ethiopia. Graham Hancock, in his book the “sign and the seal”, has numerous clues about research efforts.
Now, we are even hearing a story, even from our own people, that the Ethiopian church is “international” “ዓለም ዓቀፋዊ.” I am not sure if this is a line up behind the thought that “religion plays a vital role in globalizing the world” as put forward some politicians and academics. Seemingly, unlike the unflinching courage and conviction of prelates and other servants of the Ethiopian Tewahdo orthodox faith in the past, the conviction is now eroded with “opportunity”- in its economic or political form. And the government in power was part of story for the division and weakening of the Ethiopian Church. So the division in the church is by no means Ethiopian in nature. It may, rather, represent weakening of spirituality of the emerging generation. Embracing spirituality is crucially important to arrest greed in all its forms, which I believe is a significant contributor in the creation of conflict.Transcending the needs of appetite and greed is important to embrace faith, principle and patriotism. These qualities are unlikely to be a breading ground for the “dysfunctional” attributes you mentioned.
I am of the view that “dysfunctional social behavior” you mentioned could, to a great extent, be explained by attacks inflicted in the realms of spirituality, social norm and culture of the Ethiopian society. As in other society, conflict was a part of our past. Yet, we used to have efficient conflict resolution mechanisms that are of spiritual and social nature. The very practice of Shimgelina (ሽምግልና) through the agency of institutions like Mahber and Edir were proven effective. While Mahber is both a spiritual and social enterprise, Edir transcended religious divide and capitalized on social capital. When people get together investing their time and resources to share and console grieved member of their community, it is not just an act of putting oneself in the shoe of others. It is an expression of sense of loss of member of the community. The entity is social but the act sounds not only social but very spiritual. That is why the institution Edir wielded power capable of influencing social change when the need arise. It was capable of conquering the things you mentioned as “dysfunctional social behavior.” Now, all that seems to have matter least and obviously it may not matter at all in the course of time.
What matters for many members of an idiot and credulous generation of mine and even the younger ones(I am not sorry for this expression), is “modernity.” What “modernity” – which actually is capitalism- inculcates young minds with is the fantasy of “better life” and hedonism. In the history of Ethiopia, we have now a stripe club in the country, we have now students of higher institutions who seem to have no problem of embracing prostitution so as to quench their lust for hedonism and fantasy. This are,rather,”dysfunctional social behavior” in the real sense of the phrase. Economic value matters most and Edir is being criticized as one of “the most backward social institutions.” In consequence, we are yearning for commercialization of social institutions. We are yearning for “funeral companies” – because it’s “fast, efficient and “modern.”
In the process, we are not just losing the social values we used to cherish, we are also loosing the institutions with which we used to resolve conflict and foster a sense of community. This tendency manifests itself in other aspects of the societal life. Isn’t it the “enlightened, educated and modern” politician that dragged the country to political disability the country has never seen in its modern history? Did the old forms of parochialism hampered Ethiopia from defending itself and maintain its independence? Didn’t Ethiopia defended itself, like what proud people would do, even at times when its leader became Diaspora during the Second World War? Isn’t it the “modern, rational, western educated” Ethiopian that sold out his faith, principle and country at the same time for the sake of needs of the appetite and greed–“better life”?? The dysfunctional behaviors you talked about beget from these tendencies, which are not Ethiopian by no means.
What is one of the issues that is ravaging the Ethiopian Orthodox Church? Isn’t it the “modernization” agenda of those who think that the “Ethiopian church should be modern and drop some of its creeds and dogmas”? Who is fighting their fight within the church and where did they get this “modernization agenda” from? I was reading Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens’ debate on religion. Blair was for and Hitchens against religion. But at one point Blair was using expressions that it is not possible to get rid of religion out of the world but only to make them a force for good- which implies to me that he had an ambivalent position. In fact, Blair was converted to Catholicism after he led the ravaging war in Iraq alongside former US president George Bush. Ironically, or not ironically seen from the sham nature of international relations, Blair became a peace envoy in the Middle East -the part of the world he supported to be at war less than a decade ago.
To make it short, you are right in that intra-societal conflict, for that matter conflicts of any kind –whether intra-societal or inter-societal- impairs efforts to influence change in terms of development in its desired form be it economic, political or otherwise. But the definitive explanation in the form of psycho-social analysis does not entirely explain the matter.It is even wrong in most cases. It does not even give a clue as to where the origin of the impediment is. The “dysfunctional social behavior” is not Ethiopian by identity and there is no historical evidence to support it. One of the famous Jewish historian, Hagai Erlich, used an expression of “mysterious magnetism” while trying to explain why Ethiopians managed to stand taller in trying times midst internal conflict and power struggle of feudal nature. I say the mystery is that Ethiopians used to act selflessly and we were not used to trade off loyalty and patriotism, I don’t mean there were no “bandas”, for personal gain or selfish interest. The mystery was spirituality. Besides, we used to have stunningly effective conflict resolution mechanism. The things you are talking about are not things of Ethiopian origin. They are acquired behaviors- I would add of opportunists.
Join the conversation. Like borkena on Facebook and get Ethiopian News updates regularly. As well, you may get Ethiopia News by following us on twitter @zborkena