PAPER

Reconfiguring the Ethiopian nation in a global era 1
Donald N. Levine - University of Chicago
With the assistance of Adam Mohr: University of Pennsylvania
August 19, 2003
Renewed scholarly attention to nationhood and nationalism in the 1980s produced a rich harvest of interpretations.

Some analysts viewed nationalism as a political ideology that galvanized a social movement (Breuilly 1982). Some saw it as a cultural glue for the new kind of society associated with industrialism — one driven by economic and scientific growth, impersonal, and built with mutually substitutable, atomized individuals (Gellner 1983). Others took nationalism to be a symbolic form created to replace discredited religions, a symbolism, dispensed through printed media, projecting “imagined communities” of nations through which a sense of immortality could be evoked and with which otherwise anonymous individuals could identify (Anderson 1983). Hobsbawm (1983, 1990) defined it as a historically novel form, ministering to doctrinal needs so intense that rising elites felt compelled even to invent an ancient past through which they could claim historical continuity.

However diverse their viewpoints, these authors shared one crucial assumption. They assumed that nationalism is an essentially modern Western phenomenon, a byproduct of, if not midwife to, the democratic and industrial revolutions of the late 18th century. They adhered not only to Elie Kedourie’s benchmark formulation of nationalism as a doctrine — a doctrine which holds that humanity is naturally divided into nations, that nations are known by certain characteristics which can be ascertained, and that the only legitimate type of government is national self-government. They also followed his firm dating of the phenomenon: it was “invented in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century” (Kedourie [1960] 1994, 1). Craig Calhoun's more recent disquisition emphatically concurs: “nationalism is one of the definitive features of the modern era” (Calhoun 1997, 12). They assume this, Philip Gorski (2000) has shown, in spite of the extensive use of “nation” and kindred terms in classical Greek and Latin and older European vernaculars, and despite the appearance of medieval and early modern nationalisms–facts they discount by claiming that such traces of national consciousness simply do not amount to full-blown modern nationalism.

To be sure, a few scholarly outliers have arisen to challenge the consensual “modernist” view of nationalism as a relatively recent invention. Liah Greenfield’s magisterial five-nation overview (1992) disputes the claim that nationalism originated with the French Revolution and locates its birthplace in Reformation England more than two centuries earlier. Gorski likewise places the birth date of nationalist identities and ideologies in the early modern period, but emphasizes the Netherlands as birthplace of a truly modern form of nationalism. Yet even these revisionists seem content to keep the birthplace of nationalism in Western Europe in the post-medieval period. They ignore the fact that countries like Japan and Ethiopia had developed nationalist cultures as early as a millennium before their putative origins in Western Europe.

ETHIOPIA’S STATUS AS A HISTORIC NATION

This is particularly ironic in the light of Gorski’s analysis, which posits a form he calls “Hebraic nationalism” as archetype for modern forms of nationalism. Gorski points to numerous moments during the Dutch Revolt against Spain when Hebraic imagery figured prominently–celebrations of William the Orange in 1577 with tableaux that depicted David and Goliath, Moses, and Joseph; commemorative coins that showed an angel driving Sennach’erib from Jerusalem; official proclamations that commonly invoked the God of the Old Testament. Deployed to serve a liberation movement, such symbolism transcended cleavages of class, confession, and region on behalf of a burgeoning nationalism. It went on to facilitate that national formation through analogies with the biblical Covenant, which committed them to observe and enforce God’s laws throughout the covenanted nation. Beyond that, in the post-1648 period two new discourses emerged. One lauded the House of Orange dynasty as an instrument of God, incarnating special gifts passed from father to son. The other appeared as a populist discourse, connoting the equivalence of such phrases as “God’s People,” the “Chosen people,” and the “Netherlandish people.” All this leads Gorski to posit a “Mosaic Moment” in early North Atlantic nationalism, a Moment that figured in England also, explosively during the Civil War and, in different garb, during the Restoration (Gorski 2000).

About a millennium before these Old Testament morality plays were dramatized in the Netherlands and England, a comparable configuration took shape in Northeast Africa. In the Kebra Negast (KN), a text aptly referred to as Ethiopia’s national epic (Levine [1974] 2000), the portrait of an early Hebraic nationalism was made with extravagant, gaudy strokes.2 All the themes that Gorski found in 16-17C Netherlands appear there in vivid colors: a founding monarch named David, son of King Solomon; Exodic transport of an endangered Hebraic elite by miraculous passage above the Red Sea; inheritance of a Holy Ark of the Covenant; a monarchy sacralized both by Solomonic genealogy and divine anointment; and a People enjoined to witness, protect, and advance the divine Christian mission which, by virtue of the Hebrews’ failure to follow Christ, had devolved upon the blessed Ethiopians. No Mosaic moment this, but a Mosaic Momentous.

Archaically prenational, then? Consider what criteria the modernist scholars of nationalism have posited as defining the sine qua non of true nationhood in the effort to distinguish what they call prenational from truly national formations. They stipulate that true nationalism involves a political doctrine or ideology (Kedourie [1960] 1994, Gellner 1983); they refer to a special cognitive notion–”nation” = “people” = “state” (Hobsbawm 1990)–or discursive formation (Calhoun 1997); they emphasize a social scope that includes the entire nation as a unit (Weber 1976); they stress the element of political mobilization (Breuilly 1982). Heeding these criteria and thus pointing to 1)the Dutch reference to theirs as a nation among nations, 2)their early equation of nation with people, 3)the exposure to nationalist discourse and symbols throughout Dutch society, and 4)the resort to nationalist political mobilization, Gorski handily demonstrates that early modern Netherlands evinced all four of these ingredients.3

As far as the limited documentary evidence allows us to understand, so did historic Ethiopia. A prime text for this claim, the Kebra Negast stands for nothing if not the image of the Ethiopian nation as belonging to a world of distinct nations among which it stands out by virtue of possessing a special mission. The bulk of the epic contrasts the nation of Israel with that of Ethiopia, mentioning Egypt along the way, and it concludes by naming several others — Rome, Armenia, and Nagran — and asserting the primacy of Ethiopia as God’s favored among the nations. One remarkable feature of this epic is its consistent reference to Ethiopia as a sovereign, inclusive polity, ignoring the numerous ethnic divides within historic Ethiopia. Although it mentions various provinces within the country, it names them only as geographical points of reference.

With respect to cognitive categories, the KN assumes the equivalence of land = people = nation = polity. Thus, it speaks of the rejoicing which took place in bihere Ityoppiya, a phrase that connotes land, country, and people alike. And when David, the Ethiopian son of King Solomon, returns to Ethiopia with the Ark of Zion, he is welcomed joyously by the “seb’a Ityoppiya,” the people of Ethiopia, a phrase connoting the overarching nation.4 Among other older records that instantiate the equation of people with nation, hezba Ityoppiya is found in a document from the time of Na’od (ca. 1500).5

These symbols were spread throughout Ethiopian society by virtue of an extraordinary system of national communication, that provided by the Ethiopian national Church. Churches and monasteries throughout the country embodied a nationwide system of communication (Levine 2000, 118-9). Liturgically, it was unified by the classical Ethiopic language, Ge’ez, much as medieval Europeans speaking different languages were unified by Latin. Their texts likewise made mention of Ethiopia, especially the phrases from the Old and New Testaments that the Septuagint translated with that term Finally, from earliest times, the symbolism of Ethiopian statehood could mobilize members of diverse ethnic groups and regions on behalf of their national homeland. Although we have no evidence of the composition of the forces that accompanied King Caleb’s expedition to southwest Arabia in the 6th century, it is hard to imagine that they were not from a variety of regions and ethnic groups. But we do have evidence about the mobilization of forces on behalf of the national expansion under the Solomonid emperors of 13C-15C and of the mobilization against the Turks in the 16th century. This proud tradition was then fatefully drawn on to mobilize tens of thousands of troops in wars against Sudanese and then Italian invaders in the late 19th century.

ETHIOPIA’S NATIONHOOD IN THE LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY

It was not only students of Western history who slighted the story of Ethiopia’s precocious achievement of nationhood, it was post-modern Ethiopians themselves. Owing to the fact that scholars of nationhood had disputed the very existence of nations prior to the modern period, when the regime shift of 1991 catapulted into power an elite with a dim view of historic Ethiopia, apologists for the dismemberment of Africa’s oldest independent nation could wear the mantle of academic respectability for some patently counter-factual reconstructions. Books with titles like The Invention of Ethiopia (Holcomb and Sisai 1990) and Imagining Ethiopia (Sorenson 1993) could then brazenly claim that the Ethiopian nation-state was an invention of late 19th-century imperialism.

This occurred in conjunction with a number of threats to Ethiopia’s status as a historic nation, threats that stemmed both from tribalist movements and Marxist ideologues. The former represented an upsurge of particularistic demands of the sort that have appeared in all modernizing countries as states became more centralized and resourceful and as citizens with local and ethnic identities sought a more effective voice (Geertz 1963). The latter reflected the slogan of "self-determination of nationalities" imported from Soviet ideological mentors (Levine 2000, xiv).

That was by no means an inevitable historic development. Ethiopia was well on the way to becoming an exemplary cohesive nation-state in post-colonial Africa. It had played a prominent role in the United Nations, as a founding member and staunch supporter of UN collective security and other UN missions. Thanks to its historic role as a symbolic of African freedom and the mediations of its skillful emperor, the regime became recognized as a major player during the decade of African independence of the 1960s. Addis Ababa became host for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. At two critical junctures, in 1960 and in 1974, the regime came close to becoming a constitutional monarchy, in which case there was every reason to expect its continued growth as a modernizing polity. When, however, its 2000-year-old monarchy was overthrown in September of the latter year, a tortuous period of revolutionary violence, political repression, chronic civil war, and ethnic fragmentation ensued.

FORMING A DIASPORA

One effect of this turmoil was to add Ethiopia to the list of countries suffering a massive hemorrhage of population through migration. Compared to the population of other countries, Ethiopia's population reportedly went from having the least proportion living abroad in 1974 to having the highest proportion abroad just five years later. The World Refugee Surveys show a high of 1.9 million total refugees in 1981 from Ethiopia. Figures for 1983 report some 1,215,000 Ethiopian refugees in Northeast Africa (Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Sudan), more than 10,000 in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, UAR, and Egypt), tens of thousands in Europe, especially England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Sweden, and about 10,000 in the United States. For most of the 1980s, Ethiopia was one of the top three contributors of refugees in the world.6

Following the collapse of the Derg regime in May 1991, a large number of Ethiopian refugees returned. The Ethiopian population virtually disappeared in Somalia and the Arab countries, and dwindled in Djibouti, while the UN High Commission for Refugees repatriated 83,000 from Sudan and 80,000 from Kenya. Even so, in 1993 Ethiopia still had the sixth highest number of the world's refugees. New waves of emigration kept the refugee populations in Kenya at 26,500 and in Sudan at 173,200. Massive airlifts helped brought tens of thousands of Ethiopians to Israel, where the total Ethiopian populations now numbers more than 90,000. Substantial increases of Ethiopian immigrants appeared in Canada, England, Germany, and Sweden.

Soaring above all others, the Ethiopian immigrant population to the United States rose to more than 100,000. This represents a long term cumulative trend, starting with groups of university students who became stranded after the Derg revolution and ended up staying, often sending for their families. The immigrant stream grew from a few hundred per year in the 1970s, to about 2,000-3,000 per year in the 1980s, and 4,000-5,000 per year in the 1990s. The current Ethiopian population in the United States has been estimated at close to half a million Like other immigrant groups to the United States, the Ethiopians found ways to keep in touch with one another and reproduce their home customs. They settled in the same neighborhoods–the Uptown area in Chicago; Arlington, Adams Morgan and Silver Spring in the District of Columbia area; in Los Angeles, a section of the city recently publicized as "Little Ethiopia." They established community newspapers and radio programs. Through these and other media, including even an "Ethiopian Yellow Pages" (in the Washington, D.C. area), they informed their fellow immigrants about Ethiopian and Ethiopian-friendly businesses.

In many cities, they formed self-help organizations which provide a wide range of services to assist new immigrants, improve the life chances of existing immigrants, and offer language study for the younger generation. For example, services of the Ethiopian Community Mutual Association of Seattle, Washington, include case management and advocacy for Ethiopian expatriates, job placement, language training (Amharic and English), translation and interpretation, and citizenship classes. The association also organizes sports activities, after-school tutoring, and parenting classes. The Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago (ECAC), while supporting all of the above functions, has also branched out to help refugees from other countries. ECAC also runs a Computer Training Center, equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and offering career counseling and job placement services. A New York Abay Ethiopian Sports and Cultural Organization serves Ethiopians in the Tri-State area in sports-related matters.

Unlike immigrant populations of previous generations, however, the Ethiopian Diaspora took shape at a time when the melting-pot ideal had given way to a norm of celebrating the identity and cultures of incoming populations. Ethnic diversity was coming to be celebrated, multiculturalism was in style, and ethnic Americans tended increasingly to celebrate cultural heritages long buried by assimilationist trends. Immigrants were quick to establish restaurants serving traditional Ethiopian cuisine, in a (mostly) authentic manner. In many cities the community associations organized celebrations of Enquatatash, the Ethiopian New Year. In Chicago, the ECAC organized an annual Ethiopia Day at the civic center, with live performances of Ethiopian music and dance. Indeed, some Ethiopian ethnic, regional, and religious groups created centers of their own; for example, there are Oromo associations, a Gondare association, and even a restaurant specializing in Gurage cuisine, a Kitfo Megab Bayt in Washington, D.C.

A major bulwark of Ethiopian traditions in the Diaspora has been the formation of numerous Ethiopian houses of worship, mostly Ethiopian Orthodox churches and some mosques and Protestant churches. Ethiopian Orthodox Churches are located across the United States including, for example, St. Michael’s Ethiopian Church in Las Vegas, Debre Medhanit Medhane-Alem Cathedral in Columbus, Ohio, and three churches dedicated to Saint Mary in Los Angeles.

Depending on the size of the local Diaspora, these same institutions have been found in Ethiopian communities elsewhere. One finds, for example, Ethiopian restaurants in Tokyo and Paris; a Medhane-Alem Church in Stockholm and a Debre-Tsion Kidist Mariam Church in London; and prodigious community associations in Israel, which offer programs on parenting, civic skills, Ethiopian traditional music, and aid to shemagle mediators.

In addition to these local formations there have been a number of nationwide and even international forms of communication. These include magazines aimed at the entire Diaspora community, such as Ethiopian Review, Branna, and Tadias. They also include organizations with translocal missions, such as the Ethiopian-American Historical Society, The Ethiopian-American Constituency Foundation, Enderasse, and the Ethiopian National Congress. One of the most visible of these forms is the annual North America Soccer Tournament, which draws many thousands of visitors from the United States, Canada, England, Sweden, Ethiopia, and other countries, both for the athletic event and for purely social purposes. All of the above factors have contributed to the maintenance of a keen sense of national identity and pride in Ethiopian culture. That in turn has had an impact on the reconfiguration of Ethiopian nationhood.

DIASPORA CONNECTIONS WITH THE HOMELAND

In contrast to mass immigrations of the previous generations, the migration of Ethiopians coincided with the onset of extraordinary technologies of transportation and communication. Settling into their “Diaspora,” most Ethiopians have not turned their back on their homeland but have used these technologies to set up unprecedented networks of communication, among themselves and with their homeland. One way they have done this is to maintain continuous communication with family and friends at home of a sort that would have been unthinkable before these newer technologies. Ethiopians now walk down the streets of Abbis Ababa with cell phones, speaking to kith and kin who live abroad. Easier travel connections bring emigrants home for holidays, weddings, and ordinary visits. They send packages and monetary gifts.

Some groups are actively involved with development projects at home. An Ethiopian living in Germany has assisted her sister in the Southern Region to establish what is now an internationally supported Awassa Children’s Project, which both provides nourishment and living quarters for homeless students and has organized them as performers in a mobile AIDS Education Circus. Another effort, currently underway in the U.S., is a drive to collect 30,000 books to send to school libraries at home. A major effort now more than a decade old is the Gondar Development and Cooperation Organization which, in collaboration with Ethiopian institutions at home, has embarked on an initiative to construct a 400-bed referral hospital. Since the fall of the Derg, some Ethiopians abroad have participated in business ventures with homeland partners. One particularly well-developed trade route of these “transnational entrepreneurs” involves Ethiopians in Israel who travel home to procure goods and bring them back for their nostalgic compatriots (Rosen 2001).7

The most dramatic manifestation of Diaspora involvement with home events has been in the area of politics. Numerous public demonstrations have been organized, in England and the United States, to protest policy and personnel matters, in the host country and at home, that emigrants find offensive. Diaspora communities have participated vigorously in the organization of dissident political parties, several of which work in tandem with homeland counterparts. One of the most substantial of these took place on July 26-August 1, 2003, when representatives of some fifteen parties convened in Washington, D.C., for the first Ethiopian All-Party Conference, and voted to form a United Ethiopian Democratic Force in order to participate more effectively in the homeland electoral process. Subsequently, representatives of two major participating parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding for their merger, in a ceremony that was carried out on the same day in both Ethiopia and the United States.

THE VIRTUAL NATION

The continuing engagement of Diaspora Ethiopians, both in Diaspora communities abroad and in interactions with their homeland, amounts to a redefinition of the site and scope of Ethiopian nationhood. Today, Ethiopian nationality asserts itself in a third venue, that provided by new forms of electronically mediated communication. This has produced remarkable new forms of civic participation.

Electronic media have created virtual neighborhoods, bounded no longer by territory, but by access to requisite software and hardware. Due to the paucity of software and hardware in Ethiopia, these networks based on are dominated by Diaspora communities but include serious participants from the home country who provide information for which the emigrants hunger. One major category of these media consists of numerous news-centered web sites.

Other networks, generically known as “countrynets,” serve primarily for the discussion of Ethiopian politics and culture. These include the EthioForum network, a network sponsored by CyberEthiopia known as Warka, and the Ethiopian Email Distribution Network (EEDN), which purports to offer “a home away from home” and year in the 1990s. The current Ethiopian population in the United States has been estimated at close to half a million Like other immigrant groups to the United States, the Ethiopians found ways to keep in touch with one another and reproduce their home customs. They settled in the same neighborhoods–the Uptown area in Chicago; Arlington, Adams Morgan and Silver Spring in the District of Columbia area; in Los Angeles, a section of the city recently publicized as "Little Ethiopia." They established community newspapers and radio programs. Through these and other media, including even an "Ethiopian Yellow Pages" (in the Washington, D.C. area), they informed their fellow immigrants about Ethiopian and Ethiopian-friendly businesses.

In many cities, they formed self-help organizations which provide a wide range of services to assist new immigrants, improve the life chances of existing immigrants, and offer language study for the younger generation. For example, services of the Ethiopian Community Mutual Association of Seattle, Washington, include case management and advocacy for Ethiopian expatriates, job placement, language training (Amharic and English), translation and interpretation, and citizenship classes. The association also organizes sports activities, after-school tutoring, and parenting classes. The Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago (ECAC), while supporting all of the above functions, has also branched out to help refugees from other countries. ECAC also runs a Computer Training Center, equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and offering career counseling and job placement services. A New York Abay Ethiopian Sports and Cultural Organization serves Ethiopians in the Tri-State area in sports-related matters.

Unlike immigrant populations of previous generations, however, the Ethiopian Diaspora took shape at a time when the melting-pot ideal had given way to a norm of celebrating the identity and cultures of incoming populations. Ethnic diversity was coming to be celebrated, multiculturalism was in style, and ethnic Americans tended increasingly to celebrate cultural heritages long buried by assimilationist trends. Immigrants were quick to establish restaurants serving traditional Ethiopian cuisine, in a (mostly) authentic manner. In many cities the community associations organized celebrations of Enquatatash, the Ethiopian New Year. In Chicago, the ECAC organized an annual Ethiopia Day at the civic center, with live performances of Ethiopian music and dance. Indeed, some Ethiopian ethnic, regional, and religious groups created centers of their own; for example, there are Oromo associations, a Gondare association, and even a restaurant specializing in Gurage cuisine, a Kitfo Megab Bayt in Washington, D.C.

A major bulwark of Ethiopian traditions in the Diaspora has been the formation of numerous Ethiopian houses of worship, mostly Ethiopian Orthodox churches and some mosques and Protestant churches. Ethiopian Orthodox Churches are located across the United States including, for example, St. Michael’s Ethiopian Church in Las Vegas, Debre Medhanit Medhane-Alem Cathedral in Columbus, Ohio, and three churches dedicated to Saint Mary in Los Angeles.

Depending on the size of the local Diaspora, these same institutions have been found in Ethiopian communities elsewhere. One finds, for example, Ethiopian restaurants in Tokyo and Paris; a Medhane-Alem Church in Stockholm and a Debre-Tsion Kidist Mariam Church in London; and prodigious community associations in Israel, which offer programs on parenting, civic skills, Ethiopian traditional music, and aid to shemagle mediators.

In addition to these local formations there have been a number of nationwide and even international forms of communication. These include magazines aimed at the entire Diaspora community, such as Ethiopian Review, Branna, and Tadias. They also include organizations with translocal missions, such as the Ethiopian-American Historical Society, The Ethiopian-American Constituency Foundation, Enderasse, and the Ethiopian National Congress. One of the most visible of these forms is the annual North America Soccer Tournament, which draws many thousands of visitors from the United States, Canada, England, Sweden, Ethiopia, and other countries, both for the athletic event and for purely social purposes. All of the above factors have contributed to the maintenance of a keen sense of national identity and pride in Ethiopian culture. That in turn has had an impact on the reconfiguration of Ethiopian nationhood.

DIASPORA CONNECTIONS WITH THE HOMELAND

In contrast to mass immigrations of the previous generations, the migration of Ethiopians coincided with the onset of extraordinary technologies of transportation and communication. Settling into their “Diaspora,” most Ethiopians have not turned their back on their homeland but have used these technologies to set up unprecedented networks of communication, among themselves and with their homeland. One way they have done this is to maintain continuous communication with family and friends at home of a sort that would have been unthinkable before these newer technologies. Ethiopians now walk down the streets of Abbis Ababa with cell phones, speaking to kith and kin who live abroad. Easier travel connections bring emigrants home for holidays, weddings, and ordinary visits. They send packages and monetary gifts.

Some groups are actively involved with development projects at home. An Ethiopian living in Germany has assisted her sister in the Southern Region to establish what is now an internationally supported Awassa Children’s Project, which both provides nourishment and living quarters for homeless students and has organized them as performers in a mobile AIDS Education Circus. Another effort, currently underway in the U.S., is a drive to collect 30,000 books to send to school libraries at home. A major effort now more than a decade old is the Gondar Development and Cooperation Organization which, in collaboration with Ethiopian institutions at home, has embarked on an initiative to construct a 400-bed referral hospital. Since the fall of the Derg, some Ethiopians abroad have participated in business ventures with homeland partners. One particularly well-developed trade route of these “transnational entrepreneurs” involves Ethiopians in Israel who travel home to procure goods and bring them back for their nostalgic compatriots (Rosen 2001).

The most dramatic manifestation of Diaspora involvement with home events has been in the area of politics. Numerous public demonstrations have been organized, in England and the United States, to protest policy and personnel matters, in the host country and at home, that emigrants find offensive. Diaspora communities have participated vigorously in the organization of dissident political parties, several of which work in tandem with homeland counterparts. One of the most substantial of these took place on July 26-August 1, 2003, when representatives of some fifteen parties convened in Washington, D.C., for the first Ethiopian All-Party Conference, and voted to form a United Ethiopian Democratic Force in order to participate more effectively in the homeland electoral process. Subsequently, representatives of two major participating parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding for their merger, in a ceremony that was carried out on the same day in both Ethiopia and the United States.

THE VIRTUAL NATION

The continuing engagement of Diaspora Ethiopians, both in Diaspora communities abroad and in interactions with their homeland, amounts to a redefinition of the site and scope of Ethiopian nationhood. Today, Ethiopian nationality asserts itself in a third venue, that provided by new forms of electronically mediated communication. This has produced remarkable new forms of civic participation.

Electronic media have created virtual neighborhoods, bounded no longer by territory, but by access to requisite software and hardware. Due to the paucity of software and hardware in Ethiopia, these networks based on are dominated by Diaspora communities but include serious participants from the home country who provide information for which the emigrants hunger. One major category of these media consists of numerous news-centered web sites.8

Other networks, generically known as “countrynets,” serve primarily for the discussion of Ethiopian politics and culture. These include the EthioForum network, a network sponsored by CyberEthiopia known as Warka, and the Ethiopian Email Distribution Network (EEDN), which purports to offer “a home away from home” and has adopted the byline “One Country, One People, One Flag.” EEDN offers a lively forum for Ethiopians in many countries–recent messages have come from Ethiopians in Zimbabwe, Italy, Sweden, and England–including some at home. Like Burundinet, a countrynet for Burundi that has been analyzed in depth (Kadende-Kaiser 2000), EEDN offers a medium for negotiating national and sub-national identities, striving to overcome subnational claims to citizenship and rebuild a fragmented national community from afar. Its threads, which often draw as many as 25 different respondents, have included such topics as release the long-time political prisoner Dr. Taye Wolde Semayat; searching analyses of how to harness Ethiopia’s water power for development; what to do about the hated ethnic ID cards; discourse on the belief that ‘God selected Ethiopians as his chosen people’; and historical origins of the name Oromo. The constant growth in usage of electronic networks and web sites a powerful revivification of Ethiopian national identity and a vital force in the creation of Ethiopia’s future.

NATIONHOOD RECONFIGURED

Just as the historic realities of long-established nations like Ethiopia pose a challenge to conventional ideas about nationhood, so the contemporary Ethiopian experience prods us to rethink conventional notions of national boundaries. The nation whose conquest and dispersal across the world seemed so anomalous up to a generation ago, when a home territory with well-defined and secure boundaries seemed the only way to construe nationhood, gave rise to the term diaspora which now seems normative for many countries, and which has expanded, like that of Israel, to involve a level of co-determination that previously could not have been imagined. The globalizing tendencies favored by electronic media and easy transportation will continue to not only to promote subnational and supranational communities, but will also play a major role in strengthening the age-old nation, reconfigured now in three parts: ye-bet agar (homeland); ye-wutch agar (diaspora); and ye-sayber agar (cyberspace).


1. Presented at the Fifteenth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Hamburg University, July 23, 2003.
2. The actual date of the production of this text remains a matter of controversy. Its final redaction is generally dated to around 1320 C.E., although its core ideas are thought to have an earlier origin, and some scholars have located its origin in the 6th century C.E., when the troops of Emperor Caleb were occupying the South Arabian kingdom of Himyar (Levine 2000, 100; Shahid 1976).
3. The only feature that is missing here is what Kedourie stresses as romantic nationalism: an amalgam of post-Kantian self-determination, Fichtean glorification of the state, and Herderian enthusiasm for cultural diversity and language. But then, by this criterion, Kedourie considers neither England nor the United States to exhibit genuine nationalism. 4. These phrases appear in chapters 85 and 55, respectively. Thanks to Dr. Getatchew Haile for confirming this interpretation of the significance and for the reference that follows.
5.See Andre Caquot, "Les Actes d'Ezra de Gunda-Gunde, Gadla Abuna Ezra," Annales d'Ethiopie 4 (1961), 86, lines 14-15: "tselleyu kama inekwen te'eyyerta la-hezba Iteyoppeya" ("Pray lest we be a mockery for the people of Ethiopia"). Caquot's French, p. 11, lines 21-22: "Priez afin que nous ne devenions pas la risée des peuples d'Éthiopie."
6. For most of the migration data, we are indebted to Sanyu Mojola based on information kindly supplied by Bela Hovy at UN High Commission for Refugees. (See
Figures 1 and 2.)
7. For a discussion of this as a more general phenomenon, see Portes et al. 2002.
8. (From the Ed. - a long list of Ethiopia and Ethiopia-related websites is omitted for technical reasons. We regret any error).

REFERENCES

Breuilly, John. 1982. Nationalism and the State. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.
Budge, Sir E. A. Wallis, ed. 1922. The Queen of Sheba and Her Only Son Menyelek [Kebra Nagast]. London.
Calhoun, Craig. 1997. Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gellner, Ernst. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca NY. Cornell University Press.
Gorski, Philip. 2000. “The Mosaic Moment: An Early Modernist Critique of Modernist Theories of Nationalism.” American Journal of Sociology 105:5 (March), 1428-68.
Greenfield, Liah. 1992. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge & London. Harvard University Press.
Hobsbawm, Eric. 1900. Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Tanger. 1983. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holcomb, Bonnie, and Sisai Ibssa. 1990. The Invention of Ethiopia. Trenton, N.J. Red Sea Press.
Kadende-Kaiser, Rose. 2000. “Interpreting Language and Cultural Discourse: Internet Communication among Burundians in the Diaspora.” Africa Today 47:2 (Spring), 121-48.
Kedourie, Elie. (1960) 1993. Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell.
Levine. Donald N. (1974) 2000. Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. 2nd ed. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.
Portes, Alejandro, William J. Haller, and Luis Eduardo Guarnizo. 2002 “Transnational Entrepreneurs: An Alternative Form of Immigrant Economic Adaptation.” American Sociological Review 67:2 (April), 278-98.
Rosen, Haim. 2001. “Hedgehogs and Foxes among the Ethiopian Olim in Kiryat Malachi: Economic, Social and Political Dynamics and Developments. Jerusalem: Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, Planning and Research Division.
Shahid. I. 1976. “The Kebra Nagast in the Light of Recent Research.” Le Muséou 89, 133-78.
Sorenson, John. 1993. Imagining Ethiopia. New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press.


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