Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Jakob ZOLLMANN, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Germany

The ‘African part’ of the history of international law is all too often limited to the (critical engagement with) ‘the acquisition of Africa’ since 1880 and questions of ‘state succession’ and international borders following independence starting in the 1950s. In this historical narrative the dominance of colonialism is evident. It seems that ‘Africa’ as a narrative concept in international legal history remains tied to abstract contrasts such as ‘foreign domination’ vs. ‘independence’; or ‘exploitation’ vs. ‘development’. However, if writing in the 21st century about ‘international law in Africa’ and its histories remains shaped by this perspective, historians may lose sight of issues, questions, or ideas formed in historical Africa that do not fit into this preconceived dichotomic matrix. Ethiopia's entanglement with and participation in the history of international law is an important case in point. By giving European colonialism its fair share in these histories we can go beyond the dichotomies and ask for arenas of international law on the African continent and in Ethiopia in particular that lay outside the orbit of European domination. Thereby we can explore blind spots in the historiography of international law that nevertheless had decisive impact on the historic development of wide regions within and beyond the continent: the Red Sea area and the Ethio-Arab relations may be a good starting point, followed by Ethio-Ottoman intercourse over several centuries or the Ottoman ‘exploration’ and ‘domination’ of the Sudan belt well into the 20th century. Finally, the Ethio-European legal relations since the advent of the 'Srcamble for Africa' are in dire need of reevaluation in light of new archival findings and recent historiographic turns in international law. By focussing on these Ethiopian international legal histories my contributions hopes to go beyond the historiographic confines of an 'Afro-European dichotomy'.