bY Binyam HAILEMESKEL Kidane, Feb 23rd 2021.
(Pick this article from Academia)
If Ethiopia has in its last decades talked widely a lot about few things, one is embattling of its long history. The discussion how it is misinterpreted to divide the nation has become vernacular and national contemporary common knowledge.
That makes only one tier of the challenge though. Visible, invisible and subtle, as much as may be new thinking at all or at least newly organizing the reality – but anyways – there is more elegant trouble to our history understanding than that. It is rule by history. We find it being a thing discarded or faded from the national and citizen’s discourse, because the trending condemnation of misconstruing or abusing history has taken over the whole focus. Turning us oblivion of other important issue, among many others.
First, let us talk about rule by law, a sister concept I developed the case from. Rule by law is a trick made by dictators to eschew of rule of law. The latter is presence of a supreme legal realm that keeps everything under predetermined order of justice system. Then, rule by law is having laws to rule same as rule of law, but are facades, as a pretext of legalizing controls. The law exists, and is probably enforced. But, it is fake and real rule of law with its guards is inexistent.
Now let us see, how history can be tricked by the same sham approach. History needed itself so that it teaches us about the past spacetime as if we were there, helps us calculate our present, and finally but most importantly, predict to us futures before their happenings.
When this happens, history is ruling. What we need to execute this history’s ruling is culture citizens, and move them according to historical understandings in all aspects of life, privet and public.
In the opposite, through rule by history, we see our history understanding sunk destructively, like what is happening now. History in Ethiopia is washed away from the present. No much space exists for it in our lives. People are careless, government no less, but more. Contradicting recorded facts is even the frequent reality these days as said earlier. Misinterpreting it is havocking enough hatreds and preparing divisions, and serving as a thinking bomb component.
Rule by history is manifested as well, in our not taking solemn approaches towards preservations and expounding of what history we have. Much historical resources are not taken care of. We do not look after our present that sinks behind us into a well recorded history as well. Much debates, writings and recordings on late history do not exist, widening gaps in documentations area. Similarly, as duly noted by Mou’aze Tibebat (honor name) Daniel Kibret (Deacon) in his “Tell of The Two Stella”, we have neglected our historic sites to ruin and they might be wishing to migrate abroad like us. Ignoring has marred many heritages and is doing so as of now. We are ruled by history.
Anyways, Ethiopians do love their history. But how exactly we love it by the level of rule by history, is well put by Wendy Belcher, a noted scholar on Ethiopian history. No matter what question you ask any Ethiopians, she said, their answer starts only after they called their mantra, “well, three thousands of years ago…”, which she called a wit as any other Ethiopian she told to laugh does not know its witticism.
This as she explained it, is repeated by Ethiopians based on true vanguard history indeed. Yet, as we saw it, that history does not rule the nation. That is why it is the first wit. If rule of history was here, more than the hypocrisy we show about it would be around us. More than the tell.
The slop is yet more sleepy as not only citizens, but governments and its cadres, uses ruling by history methods to power only their official stays.
Our dictator governments knew this our love of history’s basic comfortable facts. It moved us well as a blind herd. So they keep telling it again and again as slogans, and any official event does not kickoff without a propaganda of how rich history we have followed by the platitude we are re-marching towards it. That we were great, that they are in power for us to make us great again or exactly as they put it, return us to the historic “greatness”.
The absence of this simple scrutinizing of slogans is itself a proof history is not the one that rules us but is a to rule us. Who, in this day, wants to return back to ancient civilization? Indeed, as most of its ancient history content is connected with some form of religion, many Christian Ethiopians believe ancient Ethiopian civilization itself will return in some near future. Other than this category of believers, today, one cannot think of receding into ancient civilization simply because the nation was super power by then. There was no human rights or women’s or racial equality or any republican ideas or pencils or imported bikes. So, how can one knowing this accepts the dictators saying they want return us back to the ancient civilization?
Not only that, but if the public allowed its history to rule as opposed to not be ruled by it, itself would have admired history and be obsessed with it tangibly. As a pioneering home historian, Tekele Tsadiq Mekuria said, from rulers to the ruled, anyone busy anywhere, needs history to better the self, enjoy through its aesthetics and convert her low status into greatness with building better soul enriched from historical studies. Yet, from the many historical sites of the land, millions are earned by the government of Ethiopia every year. And very few are sourced from citizens. It is not surprising from few historic sites I have visited, even no guide-employee cares to explain stuffs for me or Ethiopian visitors, except Martha a young guide worker from Ankober’s Palace of Menilik II, who shared even her name abiding formal protocols of introduction and proper walk-through explanations that were vital for my lone showing up. At Entoto Church’s Museum, I was told by the young guide to move away from him and see the stuffs by myself while he explains everything only to few foreigners that arrived with me. So, he needed me to split into far to the front or back of them. So affront. Luckily I felt like Oprah, who were treated bad-rude as her white guards were everywhere given the best treatment than she when she visited the land of origins, something angrily mocked by Daniel Kibret in another satirical informal essay, “Oh Ferenj, thou shallst come please”. (Amharic)
Returning to our point, we Ethiopians are not aware that our history was meant to be known by us, and lead us into better days. We think what is sufficient for it is to be admired by foreigners and tourists. If history needs to rule us, and we not be ruled by it, we need to start seeing more than the mere ‘once we were great’ mumbling and find any quantifiable meaning in it.
Even at times, as if a nation barren of etiquette, we use our ancient ages, as a foul defense, saying we were great and source of original stuffs, only to imply that we want others to shut up now. An opinion to reconsider humbleness in that context is also advised for us.
In conclusion, history does not rule in Ethiopia, at least not as much as it is ruled by it. Domestic tourism is nearly inexistent. Lessons are not drawn out of pasts. Propaganda is shrewd to avail itself of our past and devours up on us. Citizens are using it in hypocrisy and poorest defense mechanisms. At its best, it is used as a little mere source of beauty, a thing it passed the day it was ever made.
If history is to be used in a modern society, it is when it is allowed to rule its realm. Teach, empower, enrich thoughts and innovations, make us critical, more inquirers, concerned, and simply guide us and establish us. Otherwise, giving no proper care and taking its fine lessons would leave us in its polluting byproduct – rule by law. Sadly, our sour realty of our history’s employment. More sadly, just as it was in our history as well.