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UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEST OVER HISTORY AND MEMORY IN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0513-07]
Most theories of nationalism accord history a central place in the evolution and self-perception of a society. Not only social identities are grounded in history, but also knowledge itself is produced by history, or by the dominant discourses of history. Therefore, the ability to write history, to shape our social memory, is the greatest power of all. The ascendance of primordial ideologies in the era of strident globalization, escalation of communal bids for empowerment and historical space, and attendant challenges to the nation state and its monopoly over knowledge production, all reflect this inherent tension in history’s emanicipatory as well as oppressive potential. Modern Ethiopian history has not been exempted from such anxieties and polarizing rivalries of nationality and ethnicity. Since the inception of the ESM in the 1960s, history has been instrumentally used and abused by regimes to prop up their power, and by ethno-nationalists to combat the state with alternative ethnic narratives. Caught in this crossfire, academic history has been threatened by political imposition, marginalization and outright rejection on both sides of the divide. This paper begins by delineating the major fault lines between nationalist and nativist ideologies in Ethiopia and analyzes their uses and abuses of history and memory. The paper argues that historians need to take center stage in making ethnicity and nationality mutually intelligible. This starts from the recognition that the nation state is not the only basis of historiography. Where there are multiple identities, there will be multiple histories. Accordingly, the paper attempts to propose some methodologies which enable Ethiopian historians to accommodate rival interpretations and memories and to create an inclusive national narrative around shared experiences, values and common destiny.