Friday, October 30, 2009

Ethiopia will be a Battleground for Sectarian Violence by 2025

Continuing on the theme of religion and politics from the last post, please consider the quote below from "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World", a November 2008 report by the US National Intelligence Council (NIC). Regarding religion-based identity politics and the intolerance that might result from it, the authors of the report note the following:
Although inherited and chosen layers of identity will be as "authentic" as conventional categories of citizenship and nationality, one category possibly will continue to stand out. Islam will remain a robust identity. Sectarian and other differences within Islam will be a source of tension or worse. The challenge of Islamic activism could produce a more intense backlash of Christian activism. Nigeria, Ethiopia, and other places in Africa will remain battlegrounds in this sectarian struggle.
Well, we are 15 years away from 2025, but Nigeria is already in the midst of a sectarian struggle since 1999 when Sharia was imposed in 12 northern states. There have been some instances of sectarian violence in Ethiopia since 2006 but, thankfully, none on a scale witnessed in Nigeria. Is it possible that Ethiopia can experience a large scale sectarian violence like Nigeria? Sure, it is possible.

What was intriguing to me about the NIC quote was that one of its authors, Johnnie Carson, would later become the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, a position that is largely responsible for most of the US policy towards sub-Saharan Africa. Ambassador Carson was the main Africa expert at NIC at the time the report was published.

I am inclined to think that this quote gives a clue as to how the US policy towards Ethiopia might evolve in the Obama Administration under Carson's guidance. The clue, I think, is this: the Obama Administration could conclude that the causes of the main political problems in Ethiopia are ethnic and sectarian related and, therefore, may determine that the US foregn policy making apparatus should not be used in sorting out "internal" issues.

If this comes to fruition, then I think that the Obama Administration will have made a serious error in judgment and would leave Ethiopian human rights and democracy advocates out in the cold just like its predecessors did.

Here below is Ambassador Carson being interviewed by VOA's Tizita Belachew in the Spring shortly after talking office. His lackluster answer to Tizita's pointed question about a revision of American policy towards Ethiopia is telling.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mahmoud Muhammad Taha

Mahmoud Muhammad Taha (1909-1985) was a Sudanese engineer turned spiritual leader who was executed by the regime of Jaafar al-Nimeiri. I came to learn about him through his association with another Sudanese intellectual named Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim, a professor of law at Emory University, whom, in turn, I came across with while cruising through Sudanese blogs a few days ago.

I read a fascinating three-year-old lengthy article about Taha titled "The Moderate Martyr: A radically peaceful vision of Islam" on The New Yorker magazine, which is well worth your time to read if you care about human rights and the role of religion, Islam in particular, in politics. Here is a quote from the article:

Naim’s quandary over Islam was an intensely personal conflict--he called it a "deadlock." What he heard at Taha’s lecture resolved it. Taha said that the Sudanese constitution needed to be reformed, in order to reconcile "the individual’s need for absolute freedom with the community’s need for total social justice." This political ideal, he argued, could be best achieved not through Marxism or liberalism but through Islam--that is, Islam in its original, uncorrupted form, in which women and people of other faiths were accorded equal status.
The Islamists of the Sudan led by Hasan al-Turabi may have killed Taha, but they have failed terribly at killing his idea. Naim is the most visible proponent of Taha's idea. You can get a sample of his views from this recent interview at Georgetown University where he asserted that "As a Muslim, I need the state to be secular." Below is Taha's unwavering statement at his kangaroo court trial. Long live Taha!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lemma Senbet Interview

You may have already seen this three year old interview of Professor Lemma Senbet on Ethiopian Talk Show or some other website. I have posted it on YouTube in three parts. In this interview Dr. Senbet discusses his college and professonal career from his student days at Haile Selassie I University to his current position at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD).

There is a story that Dr. Senbet tells about doing well in school which I particularly find inspirational and, I am sure, you will do, too. If you know of a college-age person who needs a little motivation to excel, please do him/her a favor by passing the link to this page. Dr. Senbet is one of the world's foremost scholars on corporate finance and is currently the director of UMD's newly created Center for Financial Policy. Enjoy!

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Man from Wollonkomi

If you had not pay much attention to the news over the summer months, you may have missed the most important Ethiopia-related news of the year so far in my view. The news I am referring to is the naming of Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, a Distinguished Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University and a native of Ethiopia, as the 2009 World Food Prize Laureate.

Among Dr. Ejeta's major accomplishments, according to World Food Prize, is "his research to conquer the greatest biological impediment to food production in Africa -- the deadly parasitic weed Striga, known commonly as witchweed, which devastates yields of crops including maize, rice, pearl millet, sugarcane, and sorghum, thus severely limiting food availability." The picture below illustrates this point best.

After he was named a recipient of the World Food Prize, Dr. Ejeta travelled to Wollonkomi, the village of his birth, and other places in Ethiopia where he spent his formative years along with Tom Campbell, a managing editor of a Purdue publication. Mr. Campbell wrote a daily journal while he was in Ethiopia which is well worth your time to read. Here below is a poignant picture of Dr. Ejeta from the journal in front of a worn-out blackboard at his old elementary school.

Dr. Ejeta will present Iowa State University's annual Norman Borlaug Lecture on October 12 on the Ames campus and he will receive the $250,000 World Food Prize on October 15 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa.