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Interview on Contemporary Ethiopia: Lessons Learned

By Desta, Asayehgn Ph.D.
Jan. 27, 2012

On January 17, 2012, I read an interesting interview given to the Ethiopian Observer website by Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia. Generally, if we look at it from the standpoint of art, a discourse between a journalist and an interviewee is very intriguing.  But, what was amazing to me was the    relevance of the  questions used by the interviewer (Ethio-observer). They caught my eyes,vibrated my brain, and highly motivated me to read and examine the content of the interview process and learn from the interviewee. Though the interviewer didn’t give out to his readers the interviewee’s educational background, institutional affiliations, past writings and experientially background, I know that Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia is a graduate of the most prestigious Columbia University and the author of innumerable books and articles.

The types of questions used by the interviewer were very instructive, well prepared, and objectively designed to elicit the expert views of the well-known and highly respected historian and political economist, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia. In short, the questions were well researched and the interviewer seemed to have read the enumerable articles and books authored by Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia.  I am sure that the interviewer must have contacted Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia earlier to prepare him and let him know that he would be asking him about subjects very much related to the history and the current political and economic situation of  theEthiopian state. Also, I am assuming that Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia had verified the content of the interview process before the final text was posted.

Concerning the history of Ethiopia, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia has fully documented that the three thousand-year old of history Ethiopia is a reality not a myth, as claimed by some pseudo historians who say that the  “history of Ethiopia is just a century old.” As succinctly discussed by Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, during Aphilas in the last quarter of the 3rd century AD and during Kaleb in the first decade of the 6th century AD, ancient Ethiopians exercised hegemony over Southern Arabia, and he demonstrated that the historical account of Yemen reveals that the country was a colony of ancient Ethiopia. Though brilliantly and chronologically explained, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia could have gone one step further like Churchward (1993) to expound to his readers that Ethiopia is the birthplace of man-kind.   Its peoples wandered along the Nile valley to present-day Egypt, and subsequently dispersed themselves to all parts of the world. Also, being in the same kingdom and as a result of commercial interaction, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia could have ascertained that the Sebaeans from Southern Arabia (who were described by Herodotus as men of stature or uncommon size) carried on commercial activities in Meroe, the most important commercial city in ancient Ethiopian kingdom. . 

Regarding the current political divisions of Ethiopia, based on regional and thus predominately on ethnic demarcations, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia seems to prefer to see a regional arrangement of Ethiopia that is based on the Southern Ethiopian Peoples Regions where Amharic is used as the lingua franca for communication, education, and business activities. According to Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, this would bring about unity, with healthy diversity, and stability.  If further questions were asked about Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution,  I am sure  Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia would have gone one step further to analyze the weaknesses of Article 39, which in an era of globalization has confined the Nations, Nationality and Peoples of Ethiopia into water tight compartments. Relating to the amalgamation of Walkaite and Woldia-Almata to the Tigarai Region, using secondary data from Manoel Barradas of 1934 edited by the well-known historian, Richard Pankhurst in 1996, a specialist on Ethiopian Economics, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia has demonstrated that since the 17th century Walkaite and Waldia were part and parcel of the Tigrai region of Ethiopia. However, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, seems to be of the opinion that if Ethiopia needed further restructuring, a referendum could have given the Ethiopian people a voice in the creation of the regional Ethiopian states rather than as it is currently, left to Ethiopia’s ruling regime to decide by fiat.

In short, as I previously pointed out (Desta, 2011), in order to achieve internal harmony among distinct and irreconcilable ethnic and various groups, policy makers in Ethiopia need to include all stakeholders in designing plans for the nation’s federal development. But, the inhabitants in the Federal State of Ethiopia should have the right to travel and settle within any region of Ethiopia.  Also over the years, since the country has already invested in the expansion of the Amharic language, with the increase in teaching of local languages in each region, the teaching of the Amharic language is crucial for a pan-Ethiopian federal language of communication throughout the country.

Concerning the assertion by the Diaspora that since the Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) exclusively dominates the political scene in Ethiopia and the TPLF is amassing the wealth of Ethiopia to harness projects in Tigrai, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia seems to be of the opinion that like many other cities in Ethiopia such as Bahr Dar, Adama, Hawasa, Harara, that Mekelle should have its fair share of the development process.

As to the 2005 and 2010 election processes, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia believes that the elections were not free and fair because the people in general and the opposition parties in particular were not allowed to freely express themselves. According to Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia it is regrettable that “ …after the butcher regime of Mengistu Hailmariam was done away with, unlike his expectations the Ethiopians were not enjoying at least a modicum of democratic rights, tolerate one another, and build a new Ethiopia together.”   In short, according Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, the overall trend and political atmosphere in Ethiopia does not seem to favor democratic transition. Thus based on this statement, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia,believes that Democracy in Ethiopia is forestalled at least for now. However, with a constructive criticism, Dr. GhelawdewosAraia suggests that if democracy is to exist in Ethiopia, “…Ethiopians must adjust their psychological makeup to tolerate one another and lay the foundation of a political culture in which democracy thrives.” 

Unlike the tunnel vision common among a number of Ethiopian Diaspora, the most impressive lesson that we can learn from the interview of Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, the distinguished political philosopher and seasoned writer, is that instead of attacking the personalities of the members of the Ethiopian ruling party, it would be healthier if the Ethiopian Diaspora would analyze the viability of the various policies set by the ruling party in Ethiopia.In conclusion, this interview was grounded in current research related to Ethiopia’s history and political economy and included relevant insights from first-hand reflective experiences. I found that it was organized logically. The publication is not technical but aimed at both specialized and general readers, and is very suitable for open-minded Ethiopians seeking a better understanding of the current Ethiopian situation. To policy makers in Ethiopia, I hope the genuine views expressed by Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia are taken seriously as they make fundamental transformational policy changes within the Ethiopian system.

Churchward, A. cited in a. Atiemo, (1993). Africa Revisited: A Journey into The Glorious Past. Portland: Alphia  Production Company.
Desta, Asayehgn (2011). “Federalism in an Era of Globalization: Reflection on Ethiopia”.

Ethioobserver Interview With Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, on contemporary Ethiopia

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