Cultural Politics and Education in Ethiopia: A Search for a Viable Indigenous Legend

Article excerpt

Abstract

The history of modern education in Ethiopian is short. What is not so short, however, is the history of traditional education, temehert. It goes back as far as the introduction of Christianity to Ethiopia - fourth century EC. Since its inception, education had a close, if ambivalent, relationship with different ideological tenets, and each tenet trying to formulate its educational philosophy around its own unique narrative. While some narratives arose from indigenous legend, others are imported (and domesticated in some cases) from abroad. In this essay, I do not intend to discuss educational policies per se. I, however, intend to show how a deliberate, or unwitting, de-link with indigenous legend would affect the trajectory, and also the success, in educational system in Ethiopia. After a brief paradigmatic characterization of two ideologies and their underlying narratives, I will critically unravel the ethno-federalism educational philosophy of Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its undergirding ethnic legends. I focus on ethno-federalist system because it is an incumbent philosophy. After discussing a nascent remedy proposed by MaimireMennasemay, vis,.the notion of tezeta, I intend to argue for the primacy of the notion of qal-kidan as a better alternative. I will base my argument on the cultural prevalence, but also conceptual credibility.

Keywords: Education, Politics, Ethiopia, Tezeta, Qal-kidan, EPRDF

1. Education and Ideology: A Brief Background

Education was (is still) taken in Ethiopia as a hermeneutical journey. Both the State and the church, especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), were aware of the fact that education involves providing students with interpretive tools to understand reality surrounding them. However, unlike scientifically positioned hermeneutical methods which aim to avoid defined biases, the educational hermeneutic in Ethiopia was and is willing to embrace intentional biases, pre-conceived assumptions and pre-determined outcomes. This is because the trajectory and the outcome of education are supposed to be true to the established legend or imported ideological narrative. I will here discuss traditional educational system (also known as Ye KoloTemhert Bet) and the educational system under the Dergue (Ethiopian Marxist regime). The former takes indigenous legend as the point of departure. The legend in this educational paradigm is that Ethiopia is a 'Christian island' and the nation of covenant. Accordingly, largely dependent on the church for educated man power, the monarchs during this time also intended to produce 'god-fearing' individuals. In fact, the biblical verse 'The Fear of God is the Beginning of Wisdom' was a well-known maxim of traditional school.

This schooling system has some remarkable success stories: architected of Fasilidas in Gonder, basilica of Axum, unique literary system, inimitable alphabet and number, the art of St. Yared and the philosophy of Zar'aYaeqobhavetheir roots in this system (Mercier 2001: 45-6). Besides, it built one of the oldest nation states in the world, and formulated fluid and functional bureaucracy. Socially, it created and maintained highly regarded social norms and ethical concepts such as fereha-egziabiher (fear of God). However, this early promise of innovativeness was not sustained. The reason for the discontinuity of this innovation, I have to concede, is contentious. Nevertheless, I, in what follow, will try to delineate the reason for the discontinuity of innovative attitudefrom a philosophical point of view.That is, as time goes on, the 'fear of God' in this philosophical paradigm was mainly understood as a strict spiritual discipline, especially, exhibiting little or no interest in the material order. Tigab (satiety), therefore, was taken as a sign of rebellion against the divine order. The schooling system and conditions were tuned in such a way as to equipstudents to insulate themselves from the pursuit of material wealth (Bushell 2002: 553). …