By Seyoum Teshome (MBA)
Before you start reading, I say: “If you are not ready for the truth, just don’t read it!”
A superb work titled: “Mik’lol” (ሚክሎል), has made an imposing query “why we Ethiopians destined to live a destitute life? In an effort to review the political economy of modern Ethiopia, Alemayehu Geda identified the institutional legacies of conflict and militarization as the major internal constraints that obstruct growth and development in the country ensuing poverty to reproduce itself over time. According to Alemayehu (2006), the internal conflicts are incited by religion, regional location, ethnicity, and nationality each serving as focal points in the contest for power and control over economic resources. In the meantime, during the last three decades of the 19th century, the country came to grip with four powerful external forces: three times with Egyptians, four times with the Dervishes, five times with the Italians and once with the British (Bahru, 2001). However, these are constrictions during the last two centuries which does not give us an answer on how exactly we ended up like this. In this essay we ask why Ethiopia’s advancement utterly stagnant for thousand years to the extent that every aspect of life haunted?
Of course, such imposing inquires are not meant to be answered by the science of economics, nor politics other than by and from a substantial philosophical insight. Because, hierarchically, the science of economics is a derivative, which succeeds philosophy; since economics presupposes politics, it also presuppose morality and, beneath that, metaphysics and epistemology (Peikoff, 1991; p: 379). Thus, instead of economical problem, the situation divulges absence of an epistemological progress. Hence, I am arguing that the advancement of our country has been curtailed for more than millennia only if the standing hindrance is entrenched in set of values that guide our actions and behaviors.
Abdi (2006) indicate that irrespective of what country or society they are developed in, all philosophies address the design and the variegated implementation of the basic principles of general philosophy i.e., love of wisdom and overall cosmological inquiries about life. Hence, in any society there is an incessant discussion on philosophical essentials: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics. These are deliberations about man’s existence and nature itself; how conceive existence and the way cognize; the values and virtues that guide our actions and choices; and about the appropriateness of an existing social system. And, when our country is tumbled from being ‘next to none’ to be ’next to least’; declining from the Axumite civilization to the present state would not be possible unless we lose the virtues of providing and preserving good things.
Certainly, Ethiopia has been stagnant for millennia, only because it has failed to maintain the virtues of providing and preserving the good things of the Axumite Civilization. But, specifically, what is that crucial element of progression we failed to sustain? To identify this element we have to scrutinize the difference and similarities of those cities or nations which were once center of civilization in their respective region before and after Axum. Thus, first let’s see the common features of the major centers of civilizations including the European cities or nations such as the Greek cities, Italian republics, the free towns of Flanders and Germany; and the centers of the Oriental civilizations such as Axum, Egypt, Persian and China.
In his book, ‘On Liberty,’ John Stuart Mills ask: “A people, it appears, may be progressive for a certain length of time, and then stop: when does it stop?” and he replay: “When it ceases to possess individuality.” At their heydays all the aforementioned cities or nations had one attribute in common, “the spirit of liberty or of improvement”. The European cities such as the Greek cities, Italian republics, and the free towns of Flanders and Germany, particularly, since the inception of the European ascendancy in 1350 AD (Abdi, 2006), i.e., for more than 650 years they successfully sustained their progression. On the contrary, the whole East including Axum, Egypt, and China has become stationary, which remained so for thousands of years until 20th century. John Stuart Mills demonstrate that the Egyptian hierarchy and the paternal despotism of China were very fit instruments for carrying those nations up to the point of civilization which they attained.
Oriental Civilizations including Egyptian, Axumite, and Chinese, having reached the highest point of civilization, they were brought to a permanent halt for want of mental liberty and individuality; requisites of improvement which the institutions that had carried them thus far entirely incapacitated them from acquiring; and as the institutions did not break down and give place to others, further improvement stopped (Representative Government, p.23). Thomas Paine asserted that the oriental style of antiquity disdained any further improvement by being despotic to principles that attempt to become immortal and precludes consent. These laws and principles destroy the right which they might have, by grounding it on a right which they cannot have; immortal power is not a human right, and therefore cannot be a right of the [state] (The Rights of Man, p.13). Therefore, the despotic principles of the state, the standing hindrance to the development of the nation, had their original establishment too deeply rooted which becomes abominably filthy to be cleansed.
But, first, what are the ‘virtues’ and ‘institutions’ that distinguish the progressives from stationeries? First let’s see the virtues of progression. In his essay, Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguished virtues as intellectual and moral: philosophic wisdom and understanding and practical wisdom being intellectual, liberality and temperance moral (Aristotle, p. 17). John Stuart Mills assert that the first question in respect to any political institutions is how far they tend to foster these virtues in the members of the community. Because, Mills argue, the first element of good government, therefore, being the virtue and intelligence of the human beings composing the community, the most important point of excellence which any form of government can possess is to promote the virtue and intelligence of the people themselves.
The argument by John Stuart Mills is that a government [state] which does promote these virtues will have better prospect of being the best in all other respects development. In the aforementioned essay, Aristotle defined that intellectual virtue as in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name (ethike) is one that is formed by a slight variation from the word ethos (habit). Aristotle asserts that neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit. He eloquent it further, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity, whereas for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.
Here, we may inquire the distinguishing factor for the European family of nations that allows them to promote the virtues of progression better than the Eastern family such as Axum and China? The factor, Mills argue, is not any superior excellence in them but their remarkable diversity of character and culture where individuals, classes, nations, have been extremely unlike one another: they have struck out a great variety of paths, each leading to something valuable. It may not be the case with China, mainly peopled by the Han ethnic group but, even during the Axumite period, the family of nations in the North Eastern Africa was more diversified than the Western Europe. At every period the powerful nations in both Europe and Eastern world compelled those who travelled in different paths. On this, the bitter truth is that the Europeans never had a permanent success while the whole East including Egypt, Ethiopia, and China achieved an everlasting success in devastating individuality. Hence, they distraught the possibility of producing something better; disposed to the customary, the standing hindrance to human development everywhere in the world.
But, our fundamental view of life, values, actions, and systems are set on the basis of prior knowledge, the specific prior knowledge available to us at a given stage. As our way of seeing the world differs from time to time, and the same to our way of doing things, thus, “how it is possible for us to be adamant for millennia?” Because, by any means, we conceive things as we know them, but conception of things as they are in themselves is beyond the range of our cognition. It’s almost impossible for us not to amend our outlook, core values and beliefs, and the social system that we live in for millennia. It is possible for our socio-political structure to be obstinate for millennia, of course, unless our ‘frame of reference’ gone astray.
Well, unfortunately, our “frame of reference” has been misplaced from the time when the Axum civilization brought to a standstill. Life shoved into stagnancy subsequent to the notion of infallibility that our social values cannot be mistaken, distorted, or departs from reality whether through ignorance or evasion. It is unattainable but for a priori cognition based on indubitable principle of truth and of understanding it – religion. Constantly on the warpath with the disparity of ideas, values and believes religion is a deficit to liberty, or that of progress or improvement. Despotism of religious customs and duties that we plunged in since the 4th century is the missing link. It is when Ethiopians ceased to consciously form our ideas and values but subconsciously imposed. Since then the society or the state are unable to drop the notion of Christianity which is imposed with no reflection into their sources, validity, context and consequences.
Earlier we have discussed that we have lost the virtues of progression of the Axumite civilization; the moral and intellectual virtues of providing and preserving good things. In the following section we will see how the religious institutional hierarchy and its moral virtues converted into a well-built impediment to the advancement of the country for thousand years to come. But first let’s see how the religion – Christianity is promoted to be the strongest power in society and obtains the governing authority of both the state and the people’s everyday life.
Generally, the case with virtues is that by doing the acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or unjust. Interested by the characters and good manners exhibited by the then Christian missionaries, King Ezana converted into Christianity. Actually, the Orthodox Christianity comes to Ethiopia in exactly the same way that Islamism, Catholicism, and even the Protestantism entered into the country while the former preceded all and tainted distribution of social power to itself. Aristotle discuss as it makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from the very [beginning]; it makes a very great difference or rather all the difference (Nicomachean Ethics, p.17 – 18).
The time is when human affairs are not as such complex and complicated as of today’s world. It was so simple to set the desirable moral virtues and characters. On promoting moral and intellectual virtues by state legislators, Aristotle wrote: “for legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.” Therefore, the activities frequently exhibited by the state, particularly by those in possession of government such as King Ezana determine the moral and intellectual virtues of the state. Hence, when the King is converted to Christianity he was directly promoting the moral virtues of the religion.
Figure 1: Axum Tsion Church Standing on the Fallen Obelisk
Source: Own (July, 2013)
Although, during the conversion the Christians were a tiny minority of the people in the state, who had neither the preponderance in property nor the superiority in intelligence, but once they converted the King, they were able to subjugate the whole nation for millennia. Because by converting the King, thus, organizing with those who are in possession of the government or state, the tiny minority make their power politically influential. But how this religious institution can enact itself from social to political power, or from merely a passive power into an active power to exert preponderance in property and individual intelligence of Ethiopian people? As John Stuart Mills assert, such a much weaker party in all other elements of power may greatly preponderate when the powers of government are thrown into the scale; and may long retain its predominance through this alone: though, no doubt, a government so situated is in the condition called in mechanics unstable equilibrium, like a thing balanced on its smaller end, which, if once disturbed, tends more and more to depart from, instead of reverting to, its previous state (Representative Government, P.18). Thus, beside the absolute monarchy of the Axumite state, or according to Aristotle, Oligarchy, the Christians organized an institutional hierarchy which subdued us to industry and order, and gave us a national life.
Once Christianity is promoted to the extent that it controlled the governing authority, it becomes obvious that any change in the political, economic and social aspects is impossible; consequently it curtailed the advancement in every aspect of our life. However, in contrast with China and Egypt, the character afforded by another oriental people – the Jews, resembles with case in Ethiopia. Instead of being stationary like Ethiopia and other Asiatic nations, as Mills indicate, the Jews were, next to the Greeks, the most progressive people of antiquity, and, jointly with them, have been the starting-point and main propelling agency of modern cultivation. Mills discussed the role the Jews religion in sustaining the virtues of progression:
“The Jews religion, which enabled persons of genius and a high religious tone to be regarded and to regard themselves as inspired from heaven, gave existence to an inestimably precious unorganized institution- the Order of Prophets. These Prophets were a power in the nation, often more than a match for kings and priests, and kept up the antagonism of influences which is the only real security for continued progress. Hence, religion consequently was not there what it has been in so many other places- a consecration of all that was once established, and a barrier against further improvement.”(For further reading, see Representative Government by John Stuart Mills, Chapter 2).
Of course, considering prophets such as Abune Aregawi, Abune Tekel-Haymanot, Kedus Yared, etc implies the similarity of their structure between the Ethiopian and Jews religion by the reverence of the prophets and their presence both in the church and state. In addition to this, due to the higher interpretation of the religion forthcoming from the abovementioned and other prophets, the Ethiopian religion immensely diverges from that of the Gospels. For instance, there are many religious books written by or about these prophesies that are heavily diverges from the Holy Bible; the works of Kedus Yared is functional more than any other; still in Tigray and Northern Shewa, Abune Aregawi and Abune Tekel-Haymanot, respectively, are worshiped more than any other name mentioned in the Gospel. Therefore, structurally, the Jews religion is almost similar to that of Ethiopia’s, but in terms of restraining improvements in the political, economic, and social aspects of the nation, the institutional hierarchy of the religion in the later country is as overwhelming as the Egyptian hierarchy and the paternal despotism of China. Despite the similarity of the institutional hierarchy of the two, the morality and religion of the Ethiopian Prophecies were not a propelling agency for progressiveness. Why?
The answer to the above question show us the way to the only possible difference between the institutional hierarchy of the Ethiopian and Jews religion. The reason that, unlike the case in Ethiopia, the Jews religion have not been a barrier against further improvement, John Stuart Mills tells, “because, that the Prophets were, in Church and State, the equivalent of the modern liberty of the press; by means of which, the canon of inspiration never being complete.” Consequently, he adds, for the Jews people, neither their kings nor their priests ever obtained the exclusive molding of the character.
The case in Ethiopia was that those persons of genius and a high religious tone were in the Church but not in the State. While the local religious scholars were limited in the church, the main religious figure of the state is an Egyptian patriarch who is assigned from Alexandria. And, the canon of inspiration has been completely in the hand of a person who had no reason at all to strive for the improvement of Ethiopians life. The power of the Egyptian Patriarch has been all-inclusive in sense that it has been an indisputable power in the political, economic, social or even physical aspects of life. Effectively, grin and bear it, Egyptian patriarchs were solely ruling the country, and Ethiopia has been colonized by Egypt until the 20th century. I try to answer the “how,” but before that some admiration to our “Masters – Egyptians!”
Herodotus indicates “Sesostris” was last Egyptian monarch who ever ruled over both Ethiopia (The History of Herodotus, p.163). After conquering the areas ranging from Syria to Ethiopia, he took multitudes of people from the conquered countries. By these forced labors Sesostris changed the entire face of Egypt by digging extremely numerous canals that are used to supply Nile water to the inhabitants of the towns situated in the mid-country, after the subsidence of the floods, to drink brackish water which they obtained from wells. He also made a division of the soil of Egypt among the inhabitants, assigning square plots of ground of equal size to all, and obtaining his chief revenue from the rent which the holders were required to pay him year by year. According Herodotus, when the river (Nile) carried away any portion of a man’s lot, the loss would be measured in an exact extent through a practice which resulted in the science of “Geometry,” whence it passed into Greece (History of Herodotus, P. 108 – 118).
All these imply that, in all of their endeavors, Egyptians, irrespective of time and space, “Nile” is the innermost object. They are intelligent, and they knew it and make use of it. As one of his Sesostris’ successor, Rhampsinitus, confirm, “The Egyptians excelled all the rest of the world in wisdom.” Even though the “Egyptian hierarchy” was failed to carry their civilization any further, the Egyptians do extremely well to use it as an instruments for ruling their archrival country, Ethiopia. It seems that Sesostris might lose the control over the physical and economic power of the nation; however, his successors were superb to control the social will Ethiopians, and they were able to effectively command it up to the mid of 19th century.
As the French revolution leader, Marquis de la Fayette said it: “For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it” (The Rights of Man, p.14). It makes you give a high regard to Egyptians, more than ever, when you learn that “social will” connotes to an indisputable power in every aspects of social life: be it political, economic, or even physical. Politically speaking, John Stuart Mills assert, a great part of all power consists in will, thus, it impossible to compute the elements of political power while omitting those who act on will itself. The physical and economic power is from being the whole of social power, those who wield the power in society wield in the end that of government. As such, colonialism, at least in the African context, was inclusively psycho-social, cultural, educational, and only after all of those, political and economic (Abdi, 2006).
To be specific, since then, we have been conceptually colonized. In view of this fact, Ethiopia has been colonized not merely conceptually, but physically, economically, and socially. Mills articulate:
“…It is what men think that determines how they act; and though the persuasions and convictions of average men are in a much greater degree determined by their personal position than by reason, no little power is exercised over them by the persuasions and convictions of those whose personal position is different, and by the united authority of the instructed. When, therefore, the instructed in general can be brought to recognize one social arrangement, or political or other institution, as good, and another as bad, one as desirable, another as condemnable, very much has been done towards giving to the one, or withdrawing from the other, that preponderance of social force which enables it to subsist.” (Representative Government, P.14)
Therefore, the moral and intellectual virtues of the Axumite civilization were both produced and destroyed by same causes and the same means. After swapping our moral and intellectual virtues: philosophical deliberations by religious contemplation, Ethiopia has been stationary for thousand years. How does the conceptually colonization tends to work to the extent that it disdain our advancement for thousand years to come? What is the justice, or sincerity, or salutary about to tie up the people’s hand which is the only tool of mankind to gain prosperity? Primarily, it is through molding the character of citizens. For instance, my father, typical Ethiopian farmer, is the most hard-working person I know. But he only works fifteen days per month, which could be regarded as average compared to some areas in the Northern part of Ethiopia where working days are down to seven days in a month. With this stance we should not be in awe by reports such as: “a typical worker in Ethiopia is 80 percent less productive than the average worker in Bangladesh” (World Bank Report, 2013).
But the above said real example does not sufficiently portray the conceptual and then the economic and physical colonization of Egypt. Rather, the question should be directed to the sentiment that sustained this type of character. Because, this question is not merely about the desirable characters of an individual but the fundamental one; it is about the moral virtues for the general good of the society. The moral virtues promoted by the Orthodox Christian church are directly against the virtues of progression in twofold. Firstly, the Church obstructed the virtues of
progression by primarily focusing on the moral than the intelligence virtues of progression, and secondly, from the moral virtues it endorsed passiveness.
According to John Stuart Mills, it is bout which of the two common types of character to predominate: the active, or the passive type; that which struggles against evils, or that which endures them; that which bends to circumstances, or that which endeavors to make circumstances bend to itself. He adds that the commonplaces of moralists, and the general sympathies of mankind, are in favor of the passive type, whereas the active type – the energetic characters may be admired, but the acquiescent and submissive are those which most men personally prefer. However, the character which improves human life is that which struggles with natural powers and tendencies, not that which gives way to them. The self-benefiting qualities are all on the side of the active and energetic character: and the habits and conduct which promote the advantage of each individual member of the community must be at least a part of those which conduce most in the end to the advancement of the community as a whole (Representative Government, P. 34).
Despite this fact, all religions, primarily Christianity favor the inactive character as being in harmony with the submission due to the divine will. For instance, this is how the passive character is sorrowfully taught to a young man who asked: “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:20) and Jesus said unto him, “If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Then passiveness is asserted when Jesus said to his disciples: “…Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. …And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23 – 24).
Abstractedly from religious considerations, a passive character, which yields to obstacles instead of striving to overcome them, may not indeed be very useful to others, no more than to itself, but it might be expected to be at least inoffensive. Although, contentment is always counted among the moral virtues of all religions, it is a complete error to suppose that since it will have mischievous moral consequences. In proportion as success in life is seen or believed to be the fruit of fatality or accident, and not of exertion, in that same ratio does envy develops itself as a point of national character. Such a mind which does not potentially possess them by means of its
own energies is apt to look with hatred and malice on those who do. To typify the case in today’s Ethiopia, this is why we like better to chitchat about the “greediness” of businessman than his “Greatness”. This is the psycho-epistemological result of the conceptual colonization.
Because of the preference of the moral virtues over the intelligence, and even among the moral virtues inclination onto the passiveness immensely curtailed the human advancement of the nation for millennia. The worst damage that Ethiopia suffered from the conceptual colonization is signified by its abysmal intellectual tradition. Evidently the religious prone intellectual tradition that we sustained since Axum can only have one exceptional philosopher, Zere-yaqob (ዘረያቆብ) who effectively tried to defy such a colossal misconception of reality by narrating his epistemological crisis. Other than the gutsy shot by Zere-yaqob, our frame of reference has never been refreshed but despised by obstinate religious views; our advancement never went further than building churches and gorgeous palaces.
Of course, except for the Greek Cities, Western Europe is short of indigenous civilization. On the other hand, the continent is immensely benefited from its’ geographic location, particularly in land linkage with the major centers of civilization. For instance, the most vital know-how of their advancement –boat sailing was first learned by the Spaniards from an African tribe who were living in today’s Morocco. The Aristotelian logic, augmented by the Egyptians’ Mathematics, has been attributed as the foundation of every civilized achievement of the West. On this, Ayn Rand, acknowledge that:”at the root of every civilized achievement such as science, technology, progress, freedom – at the root of every value we enjoy today, including the birth of this country [USA] – you will find achievement of one man, who lived over two thousand years ago: Aristotle (Rand, 1974).
Well, the Americans recognize the contribution of Aristotle to the birth of a country though he wrote his essays without the whereabouts of USA. Rather we Ethiopians owe Aristotle very much as he criticized the form of government in the then Ethiopia as “…a government in which the offices were given according to stature,…an oligarchy” (Aristotle, Politics, P. 75); discussed a variety of geographical and metrological issues (Aristotle, Meteorology, p. 18- 39); moreover, the superb philosopher amends the misapprehension of Herodotus that “the Aethiopians eject black sperm” (Aristotle, History of Animals, P. 69). We had lost the sprit of liberty or of
improvement in politics, in education, and even in morals, thus, since then, we never been progressive or changeable.
The absence of epistemologically conscious intellectuals implies the dearth of human advancement in every aspect of social life. Since epistemological crises are subsequent to philosophical discussions through which that individuals notice potential problem on the rational justification of inferences they are conducts of seeking solutions for existing problems through different way of seeing things. It is a disposition that aims at something better than routine and a means to satisfy the need of man’s consciousness – a rational cognition. Epistemological progresses that are inflicted by such intellectual tradition are indispensable to overall human development. That is why I argue that our intellectual tradition without an epistemological inquisition unswervingly specifies the absence of progressiveness.
Philosophical inquires are antagonistic to a stagnant way of life; to the sway of traditions. However, John Stuart Mills assert, the intellectual culture of the nation developed after the coming Christianity is compatible with the passive type of character which is of that feeble and vague description which belongs to a mind that stops at amusement, or at simple contemplation. Where that purpose does not exist, to give definiteness, precision, and an intelligible meaning to thought, it generates nothing better than the mystics. The test of real and vigorous thinking, the thinking which ascertains truths instead of dreaming dreams, is successful application to practice. To conclude, if anyone wonders why we Ethiopians trapped in an archaic way of life where every aspect of social life is haunted by unrelenting poverty and deficiency of knowledge, simply, it is due to the sixteen hundred years old [evil] conceptual colonization by a stagnant religious tradition.
What happened after the Egyptian patriarch thrown out of Ethiopia? Aren’t we independent yet? Not really! Again, we willfully surrendered to another conceptual colonizer!
Who? ….. How? …… When…TO BE CONTINUED