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Global AddisThe need for mental decolonization in the aftermath of Adwa

The need for mental decolonization in the aftermath of Adwa

On the first day of March, 1896, Ethiopia’s ‘traditional’ army defeated the ‘modern’ Italian army at the battle of Adwa. The outcome of the battle ensured Ethiopia’s independence, making it the only African country never to be colonized. It also led to a change of government in Italy as public protest and failure of his colonial policy led Prime Minister Francesco Crispy to resign. The victory of Adwa turned Ethiopia into a symbol of freedom for the black and the oppressed people across the globe.

To this effect, if one asks an Ethiopian “what makes your country special,” they will almost invariably receive the response that Ethiopia was never colonized. In the face of odds slashed against them, determined Ethiopians managed to beat their intended colonizers and retained their independence. Yet again, if you ask how this was, you will receive a short and precise answer that is the victory of Adwa.

As discussed in numerous documents and literature, successful wars and revolutions have often served as that uniting point around which unity has been developed. Adwa served that purpose by rallying people from all corners of the country to a common cause – defending a common administrative entity. It has, however, been a while since the sense of unity created by the Adwa victory started to fade. Historical narrations that go against the unity of Ethiopia and the legacy of Menelike II have assumed recognizable posts.

This year’s 125th commemorative event of the victory of Adwa laid bare the cracks in the foundation of unity. For the first time in the history of Adwa celebrations, a second venue was chosen in Addis Ababa so that a group could celebrate separately. Previously, the victory was celebrated at Menelik II square in the presence of higher officials of the government; however, this year’s commemoration saw Mesqel Square host another celebration featuring many higher officials of the government. The move left citizens questioning the intention of the separate celebrations and made them ask “why commemorate the victory that serves as a unifying factor in a divided manner?”

With the attempt to colonize a country by a European power bearing derivatives that last for centuries, one ponders about the lasting impacts of colonialism on societies that suffered under it. In discourses about colonialism, the process of decolonization also draws attention. With most African countries gaining independence in the1960s, there were widespread expectations that Africans would chart their own courses to development. In hind sight, those expectations seem naïve. Instead of moving ahead, most African countries are still plagued by massive under development.

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The constant dependence on colonial masters and the perception of everything foreign as superior hindered the necessity of looking inward to device homegrown developmental strategy; hence, the need for mental decolonization. Although they have not been militarily colonized, Ethiopians are at the receiving end of narrations that glorify Westerners and others that promote their ideals as ‘modern’. As a British administrator of a Nigerian county explained at the end of the nineteenth century, “the aim of educating Africans is to make them behave as English gentlemen.”

With Ethiopian leaders of the twentieth century convinced that Western education is vital to the country’s development endeavors, a number of students were provided the chance to study abroad. Schools that adopted Western curricula also became the standard with the understanding not altered after a century.

Mental decolonization is, therefore, just as necessary for Ethiopians as it is for the decolonized world. The emancipated mind is the way out of international arrangements that keep Africa as the resource ground of the world. 

Literature indicate that material greed, cultural domination, and self-aggrandizement were three major characteristic features of the colonial masters. By definition, colonialism is the act of invading and acquiring other peoples’ land with the intent of settling and having political and economic control over the indigenous people. This classical definition of colonialism has changed to a more subtle approach that barely involves military power. However, the end product remains the same as domination and dictating societal decisions are very much the order of the day. Therefore, after the physical decolonization of the 1960s and 70s, all of Africa needs the decolonization of the mind.  

Among scholars with such a view is the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who argued that the colonization of the African mind happened as a result of its contact with the West. This contact ensured the training and conditioning of the African mind to conceptualize and analyze events and phenomenon according to Western fashion. In other words, they carried out their “business of analysis with conceptual ontologies embedded in the foreign languages of colonization.” 

Ngugi directed his concern for decolonization to the area of language and literature. He believes that language was the instrument used by the West to separate the African child from his culture and history. He insists that the African writer must tell the true stories of their people in their native language using African forms. He believes that it will help future generations learn and know more about the true traditions that existed.

Similarly, in his book ‘Native Colonialism: Education and the Economy of Violence Against Traditions in Ethiopia’, Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes (PhD) argues that in an effort to tackle the remnants of colonialism the education system has to be reconstructed in a way that entertains indigenous traditions and knowledge.

In more than fifty years of post-colonialism in Africa, what has preoccupied the mind of most African intellectuals is the question of freedom and development in Africa. However, the reason this has become increasingly difficult to tackle is that the definition   of freedom and development and its related concept of sustaining it within the continent is based on former colonial “masters” than African concepts.  In   other words, it does not take into consideration African culture, realities, and concept.

Therefore, as Franz Fanon clearly depicts in his well-known book entitled “Black skin, white masks”, to achieve full emancipation from the colonial mindset and fully control one’s own narrative, it is necessary for the black person to overcome the psychological effects of colonialism. Such emancipation will help Africans understand the values of the sacrifices their forefathers paid. The same is true in the case of Ethiopia where both the ethnic federalists and the Ethiopian nationalists need to avoid the tussle over narratives and congregate over the true value of the victory.   

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