Intellectual Genocide in the Making?: The
Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Ethnic Inequalities in Ethiopia
By Prof. Girma Berhanu
January 10, 2017
Ethnic inequalities in all sectors of life in Ethiopia have increasingly become serious and pervasive. Access to higher education (including scholarship grants) and most sought-after disciplines appear to be disproportionally distributed along the multitude of ethnic groups in the country. In this paper I argue that intellectual genocide manifests in three different forms: (a) systematic discrimination against certain groups with regard to educational opportunities, e.g., higher education and scholarship grants; (b) brain drain, that is, the movement of intellectuals and young skilled Ethiopians out of the country; and (c) cultural genocide, the action of the system which has the aim or effect of dispossessing the people of their lands, territories or resources, cultural values, language, and historical/religious relics and heritages. The philosophical foundation/ that undergirds this study is a critical theory with elements of poststructuralism and ‘postcolonialism’. The strategies used to collate and collect data are meta-analysis (data synthesis), discourse analysis, personal accounts, and a limited amount of sociological introspection. There are a number of reasons or mechanisms that lead from ethnicity to violence. Evidence shows that there are already some patterns and discourses that might precipitate or crystallize the ‘mechanisms’ in Ethiopia (see Straus, 2006). The study shows that it is high time to stop the madness and redress the chronic and pervasive disparities within and between groups. It is imperative that we focus on our similarities and common destiny. “The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” It is about Ethiopian people. It is just unacceptable to seek self-aggrandizement for ourselves— or for our specific ethnic group and increase power and influence to draw attention to our own importance— and forget about progress and prosperity for the multitudes of ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.
The Road Forward
My overarching investigatory theme has been intellectual genocide operationally defined as three-pronged. First, structural and systematic discriminations favor a specific ethnic group with regard to to educational opportunities, higher education, and scholarship grants. There exists a system of streaming, tracking and differentiation which favours the haves, the elites, and the favoured ethnic group in subtle manners. According to available information, higher educational opportunities, in particular scholarships abroad, appear to be distributed unevenly along ethnic lines.
The degree of educational inequality is associated with the ethnic structure of the national education system. In addition, rigid systems with dead-end educational pathways appear to be a hindrance to the equalization of educational opportunities, especially if the national assessment of students occurs early in the educational career. Secondly, the term refers to brain drain — that is the movement of intellectuals and young skilled Ethiopians — has increased under the TPLF regime. Some observers believe that Ethiopia has become a substantial net exporter of academic talent. Third, the term refers to cultural genocide and acts that have the aim or effect of dispossessing the people of their territories, resources, cultural values, language and historical and religious relics and heritages.
I tried to collate evidence and outline critical and reflective accounts along these three lines. My strong recommendation is that it is high time to redress the chronic and pervasive disparities within and between groups. It is an imperative that we focus on our similarities and common destiny. Because “the basis of democratic development is therefore the demand for equality, the demand that the system of power be erected upon the similarities and not the differences between men [sic]" (Laski, 1965:10). It is still within our capacity to reverse this “monstrous racial ideology”. Historians attribute a number of reasons or mechanisms that link ethnicity to violence. According to Straus (2006: 36) one is dehumanization. Whether because of prejudice or ideological indoctrination, individuals may degrade people in a different ethnic category; such degradation in turn facilitates violence. Another mechanism is antipathy: individuals commit crimes because they distrust or abhor members of another ethnic category. A third mechanism is ideological commitment: individuals commit violence because of their strong political beliefs and desires. A fourth mechanism concerns ‘media effects’, in particular how propaganda indirectly or directly conditions people to kill. Some claim that propaganda “instills” dehumanizing stereotypes of ethnic others; still others claim that the propaganda “brainwashes” the perpetrators. There are already some patterns and discourses that might precipitate or crystallize the above mechanisms in Ethiopia.
This is a wakeup call for Tigreans as these are matters of very real and of growing concern to people living in Ethiopia and beyond. Nonetheless, all Tigreans should not be held collectively responsible for the crimes of their elites. They have, however, a moral responsibility. The key components of the basic notion of moral responsibility, as David Risser accurately argued, are deeply rooted in the fabric of every society and are constitutive of social life. Without some conception of moral responsibility no amount of imaginative insight will render a society recognizable as a human society. While there is broad, often tacit, agreement regarding the basic model of moral responsibility as it applies to individuals; there is considerable debate about how this notion might be applied to groups and their members.
'The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people'. It is about Ethiopian people. It is unacceptable to seek self-aggrandizement for ourselves, or for our ethnic group, and increase power and influence to draw attention to own importance while forgetting about progress for the multitude of ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.
The communication – conflict and tension – between the political elites and the masses of Ethiopia appears to have reached an impasse. The only way out of this quagmire and stalemate is the establishment of an all-inclusive government which guarantees freedom, justice and democratic accountability. As George Orwell (1949) wrote in his acclaimed novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance.
Once social change begins it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.
The writer, Berhanu Girma, is Professor of Special Education at
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