Sunday, September 02, 2007

Muslim-Christian Relationship in Ethiopia's Past

The Debre Birhan Selassie Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Gondar, Ethiopia (the x-capital: 1543-1855) is the only church of the 44 Orthodox Christian churches to survive the attack of the famous Imam Amhed Gragn. Inside the Selassie church, the walls are completely covered with colorful paintings depicting Bible stories and Ethiopian historical stories.

One of the paintings shows a naked man riding a horse that is being pulled by the devil. I wondered what this man could represent and my question was answered by the priest – the Muslims, as they were the chief enemy of the Christian state at the time these paintings were produced 320 years ago. And then he went on to tell me the legend which explains how this church survived the raiding of the Muslims led by Imam Amhed: the Muslim army rode around the city of Gondar putting fire to the churches; they arrived at the Selassie church and prepared to attack but Saint Michael came to earth in human form and with his swords fought the Muslim soldiers and then from the sky a swarm of bees came and drove away the army; and the church was left as it was. So, the legend says. When I got back to Addis, I decided it necessary, to open up my history book and read up on the Muslim-Christian relationship in Ethiopia, as its 300 year old relationship is still physically visible today.

7th century AD-through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, Islam was introduced to Ethiopia
9th century AD-Muslim states emerged: Dahlak, Shoa, Ifat, Adal, Fatagar, Dawaro, Dara, Arababani, Sharka, Bali, and Hadiya
896 AD - the earliest Muslim sultanate (state) founded by the Makhzumite Dynasty:Shoa, located in the hot lowland region on the left of the Awash River
Arabs got control of the port of Adulis-the most important trade port for the Aksum Empire
Result: moved primary port south to Zeyla on the coast of the Gulf of Aden
1285 AD-internal power struggle led to the decline of the Makhzumite Dynasty; the Walasma Dynasty defeated the Makhzumite dynasty and incorporated Shoa and all areas from Shoa to the port of Zeyla into their Muslim sultanate Ifat.
Now, Ifat was the strongest rival of Christian Highland and the main source of conflict was the need to control the Zeyla trade
1332 AD- Christian Highland defeated Ifat
1364 AD-the groups who took exile from Ifat to Harar established a new muslim sultanate-
Adal controlled most of the eastern lowland region from its political center Dakar, around present day Harar
Middle of 15th Century-because of drought, famine, and land pressures, nomadic Afars and Somalis in the Southeastern parts of the Ethiopian region and parts of the rest of the horn continued to move to Harar
this movement led to conflict between Afars, Somalis, and the Harar inhabitants- the Argobbas and the Hararis
1506 AD- Imam Ahmed Ibrahim al-Ghazi (Ahmed Gragn) became leader of Adal
He united the Afars, Somalis, the Argobbas and the Hararis towards a common objective- expansion; he prepared them for a large scale war; the goal was to get total control of the long distance trade and to conquer and occupy the rich central highlands
He was a good military commander and political leader
1508 AD-Emperor Libne Dingel ruled the Central Highland Christian Kingdom
He thought he could crush an power and he taxed the people heavily
1520 AD-Portuguese government sent an official delegation to the Christian Kingdom to form diplomatic relations with Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa
Emperor Libne Dingel requested Portuguese military assistance in war
The Ottoman Turkey empire was a foreign ally for the state of Adal-the Turks were interested in controlling Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn of Africa so they provided assistance to the Muslim sultanate Adal in Ethiopia
1529 AD- the Battle of Shimbra Kure-took place near present day Nazreth (Adama) – victory for forces of Adal with the help of Turkish musketeers from the Ottoman province of Yemen
1531 AD- Imam Ahmed's army occupied Dawara
1533 AD- Imam Ahmed's army were campaigning in Tigrai and other northern provinces
1540 AD- about 90% of Christian Kingdom was brought under Muslim army; Emperor Libne Dingel died
1541 AD- 400 Portuguese soldiers arrived in Ethiopia; they were received in the north by Seble Wongel-the ex-wife of the late Emperor Libne Dingel
1542 AD- Portuguese fought against Imam Ahmed's troops but were defeated and many killed
The remaining troops and Seble Wongel went to Gondar to meet with Gelewodeous – the son and successor of Libne Dingel
1543 AD- Battle of Woina Dega: the Portuguese troops and the troops of Gelewodeous combined to defeat the forces of Adal in Gondar
Imam Ahmed was killed and the defeated Adal troops and Bati del-Wonberra – the wife of Imam Ahmed fled back to Adal (Harar)

Source: Ayanu, Tesfaye and Ruffo, Yasin. (2007) "Ethiopian History" Advanced High School History

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Monster

The monster comes in the night,
Unexpected and fully disguised,
Prepared to destruct and disrupt poor lives.
Without sympathy or hesitation,
With only big weapons and fear,
The monster comes in the night.

The people shocked, frightened
Crying and screaming,
Grab every belonging they can carry with their two arms, head, and back,
Grab their livestock and their children,
And head north.
Just head north unclear of a destination,
Just far away from fear, where the monster can't find them.

But the monster will find them,
All the days of their earth-life,
They will live in no home built by their-mans hands,
They will live off the fruits nature provides to them alone,
They will live in uncertainty and hardship,
Waiting for the monster to come,
In the night
This is the way it will be.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Gadaa System: A Traditional Conflict Resolution System Used in Oromia, Ethiopia

Water is so easy to take for granted. You go to the grocery store to buy drinking water, only to be confused over which of the 30 brands of water tastes the best. It's really hard to imagine someone picking up a gun to battle over water. But in Ethiopia, out of 1,119,683 sq km of land only 2,900 sq km (CIA 2003) is irrigated land. That is - if you round the way we were taught to round in elementary school math - 0% (actually 0.259%). So, most people living outside of the city (which is over 80% of the 76 million population) rely on rainfall and nearby bodies of water for drinking water, baths, washing clothes, feeding their land and animals, etc. This is a picture of a Boran woman (from the Borana zone of the Oromia State in Ethiopia). The Boran people rely on pastoralism over farming because of the ecological conditions of the area. Pastoralism (def.) is "the breeding and rearing of animals" (Geographical dictionary). "It also contains a mobile element, moving the herds in search of fresh pasture and water (Wikipedia)." So, because water and pasture is limited, especially in extreme situations (dry season/polluted water), a system of law and conflict resolution has been used for decades.

The Gadaa System divides the men in the community into 5 main age groups in which each group has a role to play in maintaining the flocks, the water, the land and the peace (there are additional groups but they play a more symbolic role:

1. FOOLLEE (ages 9-16) - duty is to look after small stock around their area.
2. QONDAALA (ages 17-24) - duty is to take livestock away from their area and begin drawing water from wells.
3. KUUSAA (ages 25-32) - duty is politically significant; nucleus of Gadaa leaders emerge.
4. RAABAA DOORII (ages 33-40) - duty is an extension of Kuusaa grade; prepare for the assumption of full authority; important military services; conducts raids; protects Boran land and resources; men allowed to marry at this stage.
5. GADAA (LUBA) (ages 41-48) - duty is most politically active; most important of all stages; assumes power/office; visit all Borana regions, judge on serious disputes; this stage is marked by a leadership ceremony.

Those over the age 48 are considered the YUBAA; they are the old, wise men who take on an advisory role. Any boy under the age of 9 has only a symbolic role as a mediator between God and humans. Then there is the ABBAA GADAA who is the one leader of Gadaa; he is like the president of Boran. He is called to judge when there is conflict between area within the Borana zone. If there is a conflict between ethnic groups, then the Abbaa Gadaa will be called to make peace.

A few Customary Laws:

1. During wet seasons, only open water sources (rivers, national ponds, ponds) are used and wells are closed.
2. During dry seasons, herds are moved to ponds farther away and traditional wells are re-opened.
3. During the really dry seasons, when water is scarce, drinking frequency of cattle is gradually reduced to once a day, then to once every two days, and then once every three days.

The men in the RAABAA DOORII age group watch to make sure these laws are upheld. The most highly protected sources of water are hand-dug shallow ponds and wells.

Customary Law - traditional management of resources - are in danger of becoming inferior and almost insignificant in many areas. Central government and development projects are using the force of power to override customary law and make their own judgments on water and land use. Sometimes even taking land and bodies of water for their own projects; thereby, decreasing resources for the inhabitants and increasing competition for the limited resources. Industry pollutes the natural bodies of water, further frustrating resources for the rural people.

What's the solution to this problem? Traditional conflict resolution systems are not sufficient alone as rural societies are no longer pure of foreign influence - government, NGO development projects, commercial production and industry. So, how do we eliminate the need of conflict and guns?


Friday, July 06, 2007

What Man Created in the Beginning

Urbanization, Industry, Commercial production
Created by humans
Not for humans
More suitable for robots
Hence, the sudden employment of computerized service machines in local grocery stores, robot receptionist in Japan hotels, computer software programs to do your taxes, marketing, almost anything you want

In the beginning,
I imagine,
People considering population growth, environmental conditions, competition for resources and their own want for power and greatness
Gathering and proclaiming "let's build a big city, let's build a tall building their in the center, and let's create a big market"
I wonder if they imagined the world we live in today
Big glamorous cities filled of still unsatisfied people

The capitol city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, is crowded of such people
Unsatisfied, misplaced, misguided, forced into urbanization
Competing for the little resource available in the city - the birr
Forced to abandon the great resource in their rural homes - their land and the fruits of their land

Human nature has brought us into war with nature
Human nature has in desire of power, glory, and wealth created an uncontrollable monster -
A market and world dependent on computers, industry, and everything not human
And now we struggle for our daily bread, and we struggle for our daily happiness
Waiting for the end
When I imagine,
We will be destroyed by our own creations.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Made in Ethiopia

This time the Italians didn't do it. No, we can't blame it on the government. Don't even try to put this on capitalism. It is all our fault - my fault, your fault, we all fault. Ethiopians not valuing Ethiopians, Ethiopia, and everything made in Ethiopia.

Preparing to buy furniture to match your new expensive house, you don't automatically consider furniture manufactured in Ethiopia, by Ethiopians, with Ethiopian raw materials. And why would we? We've been told that everything made in Italy is the best quality. And Ethiopia...well, Ethiopia is a third world country with third world material. And for my house, I need something durable, with a guarantee, and something with a quality finishing that screams made in Italy. This is sadly the mentality of many Ethiopians. While Ethiopian manufacturing companies struggle to compete on an unfair market with the foreign wealthy companies; we Ethiopians spend our money, time, and mouth advertising against them. The competition is clearly unfair in terms of the amount of money most foreign companies have invested in equipment, advertising, and presentation. But we individual Ethiopian consumers are making the competition even more difficult for our Ethiopian producers/brothers because of our misconception of Ethiopia's ability and worth.

It is true – the finished products of some Italian companies are more pleasing to the eye (on the surface). It is also true – that Italian companies in general are more trustworthy in terms of replacing damaged pieces and providing legitimate warranty. But it is also true that Ethiopia is a poor developing country. So, I think it is our responsibility as Ethiopians (with the money and education capacity to make conscious decisions) to sacrifice a little bit (just a little bit) to help our own companies by 1) reversing the idea (in your own mind first and then in your friend's) that foreign products are simply better than local products 2) actually go look at the local producers, the material they use, their history and fairly consider them as an equal competitor 3) don't be blindly impressed by the wonderful slide shows, advertisements, and the nice expensive shop location (Dumbel Mall) used by foreign producers – if the money is available it is easy to have these things; instead, look at the material they use, their warranty, the price, etc.

There are people trying to make Ethiopia a better place – trying to increase local economic activity. Globalization is making their efforts seem pointless. It's up to us the consumers to help them and in turn, help our country stand on its own.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Good Morning Addis!

I am finally here. Good morning Gunfo! Good morning Addis Ababa! Good morning the best tasting coffee in the world! Good morning the biggest baked bread in the world!

Ahhhhhh! I can finally exhale; and my breathe can mix with Addis Ababa's air. It was such a struggle, making the decision to move here for a personal informal education, school (MA in Ethiopian Studies at AAU) and work. The process of convincing my family and myself at times (a two year process) that the risk (of being robbed in Merkato, dying of Malaria, receiving a poor education, being arrested by the government, having my hand eaten off by a lion, etc.) was worth my time exhausted my eagerness to come. I was falling into indifference; and how dangerous is the feeling of indifference. It wasn't until my flight to Ethiopia that my spirit was renewed. I met a white American man who was on his way back to Ethiopia. He lives here and he has been living here for 10 years. Then I met some other young Americans who were traveling to a small town near Harar, Ethiopia to teach English for 6 weeks; and I felt ashamed. I was ashamed because I was so afraid of my own country, my own people; but at the same time, I was relieved because I was finally here and descending onto the ground.

I stepped out of the airport and with every strength of my nostrils, I took in each scent, inhaling a thick perfect mixture of bad smells - car pollution, sweat, bad food, rain, sewer, and must. With every open pore on my skin, I absorbed each heavy particle from the air - dirt, pollen, carbon dioxide. The next day, I housed every image in my mind - children running eagerly alongside the car, shop owners standing still outside their shops, a group of 20 men energetically helping a man fix his just broke down car, a gush of black smoke escaping the exhaust of an ancient pick up truck, women laughing and gossiping hand in hand, the city in peace in a gray mist, about a hundred people kissing the wall and ground of a church on a Thursday afternoon, commercial billboards of beautiful girls dressed in little clothing, hungry stray dogs weakly searching for food. I stored it all in my body, mind, soul, and some on my digital camera so that you all can see! Enjoy Addis.

...more to come