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Future of Ethiopia

Future of Ethiopia

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Published by David Shinn

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: David Shinn on Jan 03, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Ways to Contribute to the Future of EthiopiaRemarks to the Ethiopian American Youth InitiativeEthiopian EmbassyWashington, D.C.2 January 2010Remarks by David H. ShinnAdjunct Professor, Elliott School of International AffairsGeorge Washington UniversityI want to thank Samuel Gebru and the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative for inviting me to make brief remarks today. As we begin a new decade based on thewestern or Gregorian calendar, it is a reminder that Ethiopia and its Julian calendar poseimportant cultural differences with those of us who live in the United States. Thesecultural differences and Ethiopia’s unique and lengthy history should be a source of pridefor Ethiopians, especially younger Ethiopians who may have been born in the UnitedStates or somewhere else in the diaspora.There is often a tendency by second generation Americans to emphasize almostexclusively their Americanness and to reject their origins. Familial languages are oftenlost and history of the homeland remains unlearned. This is unfortunate. Someday thoseof you in this situation will regret that you have lost both the language and the history of your country. It is hard to devote time to learning languages and history that seem so far away. When the time comes that you can afford to visit Ethiopia, however, you will bethankful that you retained the language skills and learned about the country’s history.I would take this a step further. Once you have become comfortable with your culture and history, you should not be hesitant about urging your teachers in American primary and secondary schools to include it as part of study projects. You might besurprised how easy it is to interest fellow students with no connection to Ethiopia to acountry like Ethiopia that is so different than the United States. If you have had theopportunity to visit Ethiopia recently, you can make the study project especiallyinteresting by relating your own experiences and observations.I have always been surprised at the relative lack of interest by most Ethiopiansconcerning one of Ethiopia’s most exciting possibilities, that it may be the origin of humankind. Incredible discoveries have been made in the Afar section of the Rift Valleythat include the Lucy skeleton and the much older (4.4 million years ago) Ardi skeleton.Most of the early work in paleoanthropology in Ethiopia was done by foreigners. Thishas changed and now a number of Ethiopian scientists are making critical contributionsto determining the origins of humankind.They include Dr. Berhane Asfaw, a University of California Berkeley PhD, whowas director of the National Museum in Ethiopia and now is co-leader of the MiddleAwash research project. Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, now Curator of PhysicalAnthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, was the person who firstdiscovered some of the Ardi skeleton. Dr. Giday WoldeGabriel, a geologist at the Los
Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, used volcanic layers to date the Ardiskeleton to 4.4 million years ago. Another Ethiopian who has contributed to this field isDr. Zeray Alemseged, Director and Curator of the Department of Anthropology at theCalifornia Academy of Sciences. The accomplishments of these Ethiopians and theimportance of their work deserve more attention outside the scientific community and, particularly, in Ethiopia and among the Ethiopian diaspora.There are other ways to add to your knowledge of Ethiopia’s heritage. Whenattending a university, consider writing term papers on some aspect of Ethiopian historyor culture. You will learn more about your heritage while getting course credit at thesame time. As you progress in the educational system and enter the work force, theremay be ways to contribute more directly to your homeland. As a university student, youmight be able to arrange an internship in Ethiopia.After you have learned certain skills, there are a number of organizations that seek the assistance of Ethiopians in the diaspora to contribute to the development of Ethiopia.Two of these organizations are the Ethiopian North American Health ProfessionalsAssociation and People to People. Both of them welcome skilled Ethiopians in thediaspora who can volunteer time and skills.A number of organizations collect and ship books to African countries, includingEthiopia. You might want to collect books for and work with, for example, the EthiopianCommunity Development Council, Inc., based in Arlington, Virginia,(www.ecdcinternational.org
), the Canadian Organization for Development throughEducation (CODE) based in Ottawa (www.codecan.org
), Books for Africa based in St.Paul, Minnesota, (www.booksforafrica.org), or International Book Bank based inBaltimore (www.internationalbookbank.org
).As you progress in your careers and perhaps accumulate some capital, you mightconsider investing in a business in Ethiopia or help friends and relatives who remain inEthiopia to do so.The Ethiopian American Youth Initiative emphasizes all of the goals that I havementioned so far. It focuses on another—tolerance—that resonates in the US. Althoughthere are limits to how much Ethiopians in the diaspora can contribute to tolerance inEthiopia, any positive contribution they can make will help improve the situation inEthiopia.When I speak of tolerance, I have in mind diversity of points of view and respectfor the ethnicity, religion and culture of others. In some respects, Ethiopia has had a pretty good record on tolerating religious and ethnic differences and accepting minorities.But the past record has been far from ideal. It is important that Ethiopian Orthodox,Muslims, Christian evangelicals, Pentecostals, Catholics and followers of indigenousreligions live side-by-side and show respect for each other’s religion. Greater toleranceneeds to be shown toward certain marginalized ethnic groups and more emphasis needsto be placed on development in those areas. Finally, there needs to be more receptivity toa wider range of views.Based on my many years of association with Ethiopia, I am struck by whatappears to an outsider to be a lack of compromise in Ethiopian culture. When I suggestedto an Ethiopian scholar that there must be no equivalent in Amharic for the English word“compromise,” he corrected me and said the problem is that there are a number of Amharic words that roughly translate as compromise. The problem is that each one of 2

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