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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Irma TADDIA, University of Bologna, Italy
WOLDE Selassie Asfaw, Department of History and Heritage Management, PhD candidate in History and Cultural Studies, Ethiopia

Paper presenters:

Serge DEWEL; Vatanyar S. YAGYA; WOLDE Selassie Asfaw; DEREJE Workayehu; David RATNER;
ADERA Getaneh Adera



Serge DEWEL, INALCO Paris, France

While fiercely struggling for its independence during the second half of the 19th century, Ethiopia extended considerably its territory. A region of meadows and mountains, at the southern march, became the centre of the country in its new borders. There, in 1886, what was first founded as a garrison camp for its strategic position became Addis Abäba, soon the new capital at the crossroads of the world. This paper aims to highlight the part played by the national sovereignty and its recognition in the particular process of the Ethiopian capital foundation and its perpetuation, as well as its development during the 20th century. The main growing phases of Addis Ababa might only be understood in terms of its international context whilst Ethiopian sovereignty and independence were jeopardized. During those particular times, the rulers used Addis Ababa as a stage for its performance, expanding the city and provided it with architectural and monumental heritage. For this, they drew in the country’s long-time history, in the strong commitment to the Ethiopian Christianity – the Tawahǝdo – and into the Kǝbra Nagast the national myth. The successive systems and reigns until the 21st century have adopted the same urban and building response.



Vatanyar S. YAGYA, Saint- Petersburg State University, Russia

In Ethiopian historical studies, there are different points of view about dethroned Ethiopian Emperor Lij Iyasu. In the time of Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I, many historians supported official point of view about the Emperor Lij Iyasu who justified his dethroning during the coup d’etat of 1916 by supporters of future Emperor Haile Selassie I, then dejjazmatch, lately ras, Tefera Mekonnen. Official views about Lij Iyasu usually had a negative attitude towards him: he had pro Muslim ideas; he was not a wise man; he was an illegal emperor; he was not a friend of Great Britain, France, Italy etc. Many historians followed the official position. Some scholars, however, considered that Lij Iyasu has stood up for unity of the Ethiopian state; he wanted reconciliation between Christians and Muslims, decolonization of African territories around Ethiopia, reformation of Ethiopian state administration. These characteristics of Lij Iyasu are evidence of his high mind, his reform intentions. On the Eve of century of overthrow of Lij Iyasu was edited interesting book about coup d’etat in 1916 and biography of the Emperor. Editors gave it subtitle: New Insights. Unfortunately the authors of New Insights did not use Russian archives and Russian/Soviet historical literature about the events connected with Lij Iyasu. Russian contribution in research of history of Ethiopia in 1910-1916 years is very important. M. Rite, Y. Kobischanov, myself and others investigated Ethiopian history very deeply. Usage of Russian historical materials about the beginning of the XX century in Ethiopian history could contribute new insights.



WOLDE Selassie Asfaw, Department of History and Heritage Management, PhD candidate in History and Cultural Studies

The Italien Geographical Society’s “Scientific” Station Lit’ Marefiya was in a crossroad in Ethiopian history. It remains an elusive spot, not well known in history-writing. It was located in the highlands of central Ethiopia in the old capital of the kingdom of Shewa, Ankober. Many writers do not mention its existence at all, while it is an important chapter of history. Notably, it was central for several phases of Ethiopian history ? starting from Menilek’s approachment to Italy and Italian support for his claim to the throne (the so-called “Shewan policy” of Italy) to Italy’s unsuccesful attempt to colonize Ethiopia in 1895/96. Few people have heard of Lit’ Marefiya, and generally its historic impact on our society has not yet been well assessed. The history of the Station Lit’ Marefiya is roughly the following: The then king of Shewa, Menilek II, had given Lit’ Marefiya to Italy in December 1876, with a binding lease of 20 years. It was officially used as a station by the Italien Geographical Society, but soon became a centre of Italian politics of influence. The very first phase focused on geographical exploration, according to the fashion of Europe of that time, and the station got a health centre and was supposed to study the major lakes of equatorial Africa. However, this aim was never realized. Instead, after a few years the station became de facto the mission of Italy, representing Italian interests. This is to be seen in the context of nigus Menilek’s previous alliances with outside forces, only the year before the king having been in close contact with the Egyptians (1875), who had planned to provide him with arms against the powerful emperor Yohannis IV, but failed. In this context we see that the Italians could fill this vacuum with Lit’ Marefiya. It was especially with the arrival of Count Antonelli in 1879 that the station became a centre of colonial political activities. In 1881 Antonelli, by now the official diplomatic representative of Italy, promised to buy weapons from Italy, and he arrived on April 29, 1883 with 5000 Remington Rifles. This paper discusses the further effects of the activities at Lit’ Marefiya: This includes the effects of arms dealing (Menilek profiting from slave trade and decimating elephants for ivory trade); the Italian role after the 1884 Hewett treaty (Italy’s expansion into the entire Red Sea coast from 1885); the support for Menilek’s ascent to the throne first (in Wuch’ale), then followed by confrontation (Lit’ Marefiya playing a role in the war, which culminated in the Battle of Adwa), and finally the continuous colonial presence of Italy in Eritrea following the little-known Feres May agreement. Lit’ Marefiya was given up in 1895 when the relations with Italy had detoriated.

Lit’ Marefiya should not stay a passing remark in Ethiopian history, but the role it had in influencing Ethiopian history in general and particularly northern Ethiopia, through social, political and economic destructions in the course of the Italan claim to “own” Ethiopia, has to be be assessed properly.



DEREJE Workayehu, Lecturer, Department of History and Heritage Management, University of Gondar, Ethiopia

In spite of its central and sensitive nature, the origin, role and professional development of the Ethiopian police force is one which has received little scholarly attention. This paper investigates the degree to which there has been political involvement in the Ethiopian police force. Both published and unpublished primary and secondary sources were consulted including Annual Police Reports, documents/minutes from the annual conferences of provincial commissioners together with other archival sources. issues of the official Police Gazette – Polis Enā Erimijāw literally (Police and its Progress), later renamed Abiyotawi Polis, literally (Revolutionary Police) – following the revolution were used, as well as interviews from serving and retired officers and other secondary sources. This paper discusses how the police force acted as the institutional arm of the derg leaders and police officers were considered to be political agents. The force was used as part of an open, overall strategy against the so-called “reactionaries” or “anti-revolutionaries”. In the provinces, administrators intervened directly in police duties and gave arbitrary orders, including reshuffling police officers’ roles. This paper describes how changes in police organisation made the force more political, through means such as the introduction of a new political department, indoctrination, and party membership. For example, party members were given priority in education opportunities, promotion and transfers. The rampant political interference and political insecurity among the police affected the force negatively by sapping its discipline and performance. The paper looks at the negative impact of political interference in the police force.



David RATNER, Tel Aviv University, Isreal

In recent years there seems to be a growing interest in the Ethiopian public in what is widely known as the revolutionary period – the turbulent and eventful period that started in the mid 60's with the student movement that got radicalized over time, followed by the 1974 revolution and ended by the late 70's with the crushing of the revolutionary parties (EPRP and MEISON in particular) by the derg. The interest in the revolutionary period is evident in a plethora of publications – memoires, academic works, fiction, films, debates on social media and more. Interestingly, this tide of publications and discussions takes place on the background of voices that try to diminish the importance of the revolutionary period, to portray the revolutionary generation of the 60's-70's as prone only to dogmatism and to thoughtless application of imported ideas, or to suggest that the Ethiopian society should let go of that period and concentrate on the future and namely on economic development. But it doesn’t seem that these attempts work, and the intrest in this period is not diminishing, definitely not among members of the revolutionary generation, but also not among younger generations. Much of the discussion and debate concerning the revolutionary period is focused on factual matters (what exactly happened? Who came first with such and such idea or slogan? etc.) Or on conjectural aspects of the historical events (e.g. was a certain decision made by the EPRP or MEISON a tactical or strategical mistake?). However, very little has been written on the subject from the perspective of memory studies (or the sociology of memory), and such questions as the following are rarely adressed: "To what degree and how does contemporary Ethiopian society remember this period?"; "To what degree (and how) it is being represented in the Ethiopian landscape? In personal biographies?"; "Which parts are remembered, emphasized and which are generally disregarded or underemphasized?"; "What are the effects of memory (and forgetting) of the period on contemporary political discourse?". The current study suggests an analysis of the discourse(s) concerning the revolutionary period, in contemporary Ethiopian society. The study will look into the official historical narrative concerning the revolutionary period, as well as into alternative narratives as they are produced and communicated by individuals and organizations both in Ethiopia and in the Ethiopian diaspora. The study will also strive to describe and analyze the ways through which memory of the revolutionary period informs and shapes the identities of contemporary Ethiopians as well as contemporary political discourse in general. At this stage, the lion’s share of data comes from in-depth interviews with Ethiopians from two generations: members of the "revolutionary generation", particularly those who were active in the events mentioned above (mostly people in their late 50's - 60's), and younger people who grew up and matured during the derg's rule and did not have an active part in these events (mostly people in their 40's). So far, approximately 40 in-depth interviews were conducted, and they indeed suggest an unequivocal prominence of memory(ies) of the revolutionary period in the interviewees' formation of (ideological/political) identities, in the issues that are being discussed and debated, in the vocabulary that is being used to discuss contemporary politics, and more. These interviews will serve as the backbone of the proposed presentation.



ADERA Getaneh Adera, University of Gondar, Ethiopia

This paper does not claim to be treating an original issue. It is rather a reappraisal and a reinterpretation of the Adwa victory, placing it in the historical context of the nineteenth century military and warfare history of Ethiopia. It primarily emphasises the significant roles of the pre-Adwa wars, which had brought the country to a crossroads with foreign forces who had played a role in making Ethiopia get structurally prepared for this fateful victory. It totally rejects, following on the heels of the argument very much enunciated by Shiferaw Bekele, the geographic-thesis for Ethiopia’s victory over the Italian invading army. While the rest of Africa throughout the nineteenth century was co-opting and sometimes seemed uninterested in the varied levels of European encroachment, Ethiopia had its perusing eyes set on every development in and around its neighbors. Such attentiveness had made it aware of the rising tide of European colonialism. The Adwa showdown thus, this paper argues, can be related to such military and state behaviours of the country.