Wednesday, June 12, 2024
CommentaryEducation-politics nexus in Ethiopia: from power centralization to political socialization

Education-politics nexus in Ethiopia: from power centralization to political socialization

The education system and higher learning institutions in Ethiopia should have been a melting pot for building Ethiopian unity within our diversity. Instead, empiricism revealed that universities are major battlegrounds of ethnic conflicts and clashes, writes Yohannes Gebeyehu.

David B. Abernethy in his 1969 book entitled The Political Dilemma of Popular Education: An African Case stated that education is the key that unlocks the door to modernization. Despite the value attached to education universally, the introduction and development of modern schooling in Ethiopia is a recent development.

In 1908 the first public school, the Ecole Imperial Menelik II, now known as Dagmawi Menelik II Secondary School, was founded. The school started providing Western style education and its opening marked the beginning of modern education in the Western sense of the term. 

The introduction of modern education was given legal foundation in 1905 when Emperor Menelik II (1889-1913) issued a proclamation which compelled parents to send their children to school provided by the state. By the proclamation, the state became the vanguard entity to promote, expand, provide and regulate modern education.

The idea of state controlled, hierarchically organized and bureaucratically administrated system of state education, however, emerged later following Emperor Haile Selassie I’s accession to the throne.

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In the late 1940s, the legitimacy of Western type of education, which was borrowed and plopped down by Emperor Menelik II in quite non-western and pre-modern Ethiopia, had already been effectively established.

Scholars in the area do not have the same take on the rationale for introducing, developing and expanding education and schooling in Ethiopia. Their attitudes range from the modernist functionalist thesis to the paternalism thesis.

The modernist functionalist thesis asserts that education in Ethiopia had been introduced and is being expanded to address pre-existing social and economic demands, to foster modern industry and commerce and to provide the youth and the working part of the society in general with the skills that were and are required by the industry, commerce, state bureaucracy, and apparatus.

To this school of thought, the 70 percent natural science 30 percent social science scheme is to create a workforce equipped with knowledge and skills necessary for the fast-growing economy and the burgeoning industry, infrastructure and construction. The correspondence theory, on the other hand, as a nemesis to modernization thesis sees education less innocently.

Scholars under this school of thought grounded their work on a Marxist class analysis. They employed a political economy approach and focus their analysis on the relationship between schooling and society. The thesis articulates that education is used to maintain the continuity of the dominant class.

It is either to tame the young so that they would not challenge the status quo or to prepare young sons and daughters of the political elite to take over potential political leadership and positions.  The education system aimed at producing and sustaining classes of the burgeoning capitalist society and the ruling elite according to this school.

They go on to accuse the government of deliberately politically indoctrinating the student with ethnic politics and slashing brilliant students from joining schools of politics, law, economics, sociology. This is a strategy the government uses to curtain true political consciousness against what Friedrich Engels called false/politicised ethnic consciousness.

Another thought is education as instrument to centralize state power. A political system is always in transition in which there is always a struggle between the old and the new. political systems in Ethiopia have more changes than continuities. The country’s political history was and still is battle ground between old loyalty of the old system and new loyalty of the new system.

The education system is therefore used often to amass new popular loyalty through educational indoctrination about the new system. It is new guarantor of popular loyalty to the new system. The education system was used to create and inculcate strong sense of paternalism, patron-client relationship between the educated and the state.

Education as instrument of political socialization facilitates the maintenance of the status quo by making people accept the system under which they are born. But it is not necessarily aimed at perpetuating the existing political system by reproducing it entirely unchanged to the conformity of Heraclitus’ famous dictum of ‘one cannot step twice in the same river’.

Every political system must reckon with a series of relationships and stresses that would potentially threatens it through political socialization. It is through this mechanism that the system reduces the volume and range of political demands that might be placed upon it.

Furthermore, it accustoms its own members to accept the decisions of the authorities, arouse in them a certain level of ‘diffuse support’ towards it. Men whom Friedrich Hegel defines as world historical figures because they shape the lives of generations by establishing systems of rules, laws, or believes are sometimes called educators and the system under which they work, the educational system has a lot to do with political system.

One other aspect of the relationship between educational system and the political system is the role of schooling in developing political awareness. Education develops political awareness of an individual partly because it is source of national information.

It is sources of information for the young generation about the political system, history, legal system, geography, natural resources of their country. It also strongly enhances national orientation. It changes orientation from parochialism to nationalism. The nationally oriented undergone a major psychological transformation.

Education is also one way to imbue the sentiment of loyalty, nationalism, patriotism among the young. The schools play a role in transmitting overt, deliberately inculcated knowledge, attitudes and values about both the nation and the political system.

Civic and Ethical studies have been given as a common course to higher learning institutions in the effort to build that national sentiment and belongingness.  It is therefore correct to conclude that the school is the most important and effective institution of political socialization.

Designing an educational policy with no or little attention to employment schemes tends to radicalize the political orientation, consciousness and culture of society en masse and ultimately produced uprising against the regime and facilitate its ultimate destruction unless the government proactively and timely engage to respond to demands.

Conversely, the regime cannot function in a bureaucratic vacuum; education is found to be sine quo non in producing educated human resources to fill the potential bureaucratic vacuum that may occur in the state structure.

The Ethiopian education system is therefore always, between the devil and the deep blue sea of producing proliferated educated human resources and maintaining the status quo of the state.

The education system is, on the one hand, tasked to maintain the governing status quo, on the other bringing together students into a relatively creative and critical thinking environment with in a country where there exist glaring injustices in the society. They are bound to develop reaction to those situations.

As a result, higher learning institutions, in this country’s political history, which were built to produce bureaucratic elites became spawning grounds for impassionate advocates of change who would become ‘grave diggers the old regime and generators of new changes/revolutions/regimes’.

Dialectically speaking, the education policy in this country’s history has gone through a dialectical action and reaction in which the state as the provider of the education to maintain the status quo serve as the thesis and within which producing its own antithesis, the product of the education (the educated manpower), the process finally synthesised into the Ethiopian revolution against the original aim of maintaining the status quo.

Schools could play a constructive role, in what Martha Nussbaum, referred to as, ‘cultivating humanity and citizenship’ in students by creating the ability to critically examine their own traditions and beliefs; enhancing the recognition of their community and fellowship with human beings around the world; and building the ability to consider what it might be like to walk in another person’s shoes.

Education should create universal meaning of their multi-nation (Ethiopia) and local (ethnic) significance to the student that it would ultimately serve to a higher end. The education system and higher learning institutions in Ethiopia should have been a melting pot for building Ethiopian unity within our diversity. Instead, empiricism revealed that universities are major battlegrounds of ethnic conflicts and clashes; may be next to regional border areas.

Mohammed Girma, a PhD candidate at Free University of Amsterdam, opined that despite a certain level of freedom, the sphere of education in Ethiopia has often fallen prey for the ruling elites to infuse their ideology in educational system as a means of survival.

The ethno-federalist system associates any notion of national unity and metanarratives with repression of the minorities, Mohammed asserts. This, he writes, is done by pushing the use of ethnic languages as medium of education thereby promoting ‘exclusivist’ sense of solidarity with in them. This means building ethnically politicized system through the reinvigoration of social and cultural nostalgia and reactivation of the pain from the past, playing the politics of ‘Victimology’.

The education system coaches students to define themselves as nothing but ethnic entities. Although students might not be parts of the alleged traumatic past themselves, they are nevertheless psychologically dragged back into historically remote ordeals of their ancestors.

Desta, Asayehgn, distinguished professor of Sustainable Economic Development, also articulates that it is obvious that the education given at the primary level is in the local language and the civic education lessons are likely to focus on the ethnicity and government of the region and it is too parochial and do not attempt to lay the solid foundation needed to build one political and economic community.

Education among other factors seems to create deliberate ethnic polarization and rift while it should have produced national unity. Therefore, it is high time for the government to look-into the role education has to play in relation to political socialization, political awareness, national orientation and nation building.

Ed.’s Note: Yohannes Gebeyehu has a Master’s Degree in Diplomacy and International Relations. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]


Contributed by Yohannes Gebeyehu


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