Ethiopian history must not be underplayed but reconstructed for all inclusiveness

September 20, 2018 Africa , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

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Alem Hailu G/Kristos



Obviously, moving a few steps back helps to surge forward. To outstretch branches towards the sky, a seedling having to send deeper roots into the ground. By the same token, to actualize a renaissance, a nation that was once great has to fathom its rooting. But sad as it may sound, the Ethiopian History courses were underplayed for close to three decades. In cognizance of this fact, This journalist approached historians and celebrities about what is the significance of digesting one’s history and repercussions in underplaying it as well as ways forward.


Costantinos Berehe, Chief Scout, Ethiopian Scout Association started an explanation about the issue quoting Peter N. Stearns of the American Historical Association; “History wants us to understand people and societies as well as the importance of history in our lives. History contributes to moral understanding, history provides identity, studying history is essential for good citizenship and history is important in the world of work.”


Regarding the stoppage of the common course in universities and high schools in Ethiopia and attempts made to downsize it from three thousand years to a century, he said “Historical narrative of this great nation such as that of Axum, Adwa, Gonder, Harar Lalibela, etc, written well, serve as our practicum that generate information of our past and teach us where we came from and as our most dynamic evidence in the unavoidable quest to figure out where we are.”


He added, “Ethiopians have common folklore, legends and battle narratives through which they have invested in their culture with meaning and value. The bygones causes the contemporaneous and so the forthcoming.”


He noted “Historical narratives teach us real resolve on our current level of comprehension, narratives that unpack how our ancestors kept the nation in one piece, thrived despite internal and external wars and inform us how these ancestors lived in various epochs of Ethiopian History. Hence, it is a grave error not schooling our children with this fact in mind.”


According to Costantinos historical narratives provide a terrain for moral contemplation. “Reflecting on the stories of individuals and situations in the past allows our children to test their past. It also allows our children to test their ancestors and how the founding fathers built this great nation, how the conventions they created were formed and about how they have changed while retaining structure.”


Brushing aside ethnic and religious differences and closing ranks, how Ethiopians annihilated invaders is a great historical narrative that is vital for good citizenship today. The fact that the 1974 popular uprising against the regime was not attended by any opposition even from the nobility of the time is evidence of the unity of Ethiopians across religion and ethnicity. The fact that Ethiopians rose in unison against the Dergue was not because of its ethnicity, but of its megalomaniac character, killing millions in famine and terrors.


He underlined the rationale behind teaching and studying Ethiopian History with If this is not a justification to teach history of a nation built on blood and sweat, a clinic of human experience and of informed citizenship, to our children, then what is?”


Getish Worku was a History and Ethics & Civic education teacher. He is a journalist now. He said like other disciplines, history is not simply a course that is delivered at colleges or universities for the sake of teaching and learning process. It is beyond that. For a country with a three thousand year history, every student must know the value of the subject. History is not all about learning the past. It is a mirror of the past to see a better future. Nations of the world, which gave value to history, have still kept their economic and political position. Those countries that learnt well from their history have become lands of tolerance and their economies have flourished. Ethiopia is a land with lots of history.


“Whenever we hear the ancient civilization of Rome, Greece or Egypt mentioned, Ethiopia’s name is always there. This implies that the more we capitalize on the history of the nation, the more we can build better Ethiopia. This is especially true for the generation in the pipeline that wrongly prefers to know more about the history of the West instead of theirs.”


Dr Johachim Persoon, Assoc Professor Art School of Fine School said: “I had heard that the history department here is almost closed and there is hardly any student studying history. I understand the introduction of the federal system of administration has caused issues and challenges for teaching Ethiopian History. So, I think it is obvious that the teaching of history is a little bit problematic. It needs to be rethought. History is very important for citizens to understand themselves and the society. It is a big mistake not to teach history. The fear of controversial issues may have been a factor in not teaching Ethiopian History. When it comes to the Ethiopian context they should teach history. They should rethink how to rewrite it.”


Responding to the question why to rewrite it he said “In any case, normally history is not finished. There is a continuous process of reviewing. Every country rewrites its own history from different perspectives. We are in the post modernism era. We have to deconstruct history to reconstruct it. The important thing is not undermining the existing but enriching the narrative from different perspectives. Ethiopian History is full of warriors’ chronicles and a history of churches. There are a lot of elements of history not explored. So it is important opening new ways of viewing it from different perspectives. Traditionally there were hegemonic political systems in which the centre determines everything. As such the peripheries used to be neglected. There is a call for doing more research on this to shed light on the peripheries and to make history all inclusive. The historic discourse should take into account the contemporary political situation, administration and ways of government. Ethiopia now has a federal ethnicity system of government, the way of relation to this should take into account giving some reference to different ethnic cultural and sociocultural history.”


Responding to the question the EPRDF had opted to replace it with civic courses. How do you see this? Must the two courses be given parallel?


Getish said on the other hand, when we talk about Civic and Ethical education we are talking about creating morally responsible citizens. But, the problem is the subject had been misused to promote the agenda of the ruling political party instead of promoting genuine moral and ethical principles.


History and Civic & Ethical Education have to go hand-in-hand. A Civic and Ethical educator who does not properly know the history of his/her country cannot properly convey messages to his students.


This is especially true in times where teachers’ activities are dictated by political cadres in the school or college. If a given civic teacher has no concrete foundation about the history of his country, s/he could not build a strong, patriotic and morally responsible students. If s/he cannot balance what s/he teaches s/he will kill a generation.


S/he has to tell students both good and bad sides of the past regimes. For instance, in order to build the image of a ruling party, the previous regime must not be portrayed as a monster. In this regard, it is my firm belief that both History and Civic & Ethical education have to run in a balanced manner.





Alem Hailu G/Kristos

A published poet, novelist, editor, translator of masterpieces, literary critic, playwright and journalist from Ethiopia. M.A holder in literature, Addis Ababa University.

Looking for a traditional publisher of a collection of poems. My novel: ‘Hope from the debris of hopelessness’.

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