Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Of the Old Suspicion and the New Vacuum

Of the Old Suspicion and the New Vacuum: Ethiopia’s Elite Then and Now

Suspicion is one of the main traits of which foreign diplomats and intellectuals used to accuse Ethiopia’s elite of the old times—scholars and warriors alike—
assuming that it was, in an almost filial kinship with ambiguity, an obstacle to modernization and development. Putting aside the allegation of obstruction, I would like to point out the matters for the sake of which and the agents about whom Ethiopians have been suspicious. 

By and large, the suspicion of the traditional elite was motivated, I believe, by the concern to WHAT THEY STOOD FOR: ETHIOPIA and HER CHURCH. And it generally was stirred against the ENEMY—mostly foreigners, but at times insiders as well, namely ዐላዊ ንጉሥ (a rebel/lawless king) and/or መናፍቅ ጳጳስ (a heretic/schismatic bishop). Their suspicion might indeed have stood in the way of material development, and they of course were aware of that. But those faithful and patriotic Ethiopians knew very well that they would have lost their spiritual inheritance—i.e., their faith and their country—had they naively followed whatever the “materialistic” spirit of the day demanded them to follow. 

Many believe we Ethiopians currently live under the misrule of a lawless king and a curse of a schismatic bishop. If that is so, we may need to be even more suspicious now, of what this king of anger and this bishop of curse would do, because we have seen what they have always already been doing: they sure are out there to destroy our age-old country along with her beloved Church. 

Likewise, it is not unreasonable to be suspicious of the brothers-in-opposition, to speak figuratively, of these children of anger and curse. I mean we have good reasons to be wary of those who, even when they consider themselves as political foes, remain in a sort of marital relationship in their basic outlook against our country’s mainstream tradition. 

Apart from that, however, I am not quite sure out of what sort of considerations the suspicion of the new elite can justify itself and whom it is stirred against; I mean the suspicion that deprives many useful people of proactive involvement in constructive public discourse, that is, within and amongst communities, religious or otherwise, that genuinely consider themselves as Ethiopians. Is it perhaps a suspicion caused by the concern for one’s own individual reputation, one’s own job, one’s own private property (at/back home), one’s own ethnicity, one’s own safety...? And, is it about particular agents arbitrarily deemed dangerous or about the public sphere as a whole? Wait! Is there such an entity that can strictly be considered “the new elite,” after all? 

I think there is no simple answer here; for of the fullness of that ill-fated rage against our own history and tradition (or, do we still believe it was lucky?) we all have received, complexities for complexities.

The Dreadful Vacuum: The Church with no Theological Elite

I see a vacuum looming dreadfully large on the horizon of Ethiopian polity. But I don’t want to say anything about it. Not now at least. I would rather like to speak about a more dreadful vacuum: the vacuum in the Church. 

Sad to say, gone is the time when the Church was blessed with numerous traditional scholars who not only articulated their faith but also challenged the powers that be. One among the last outspoken scholars I know of is Aleqa Ayalew. Upon hearing the bad news of his death, I asked a friend back home over the phone: who else do we have now to turn to? To which he replied: we don’t have anyone, certainly not from among those whom we see wandering around the Bete Kehnet; we can only hope that there are those whom He alone knows but are hidden for us. 

I agreed with my friend even when I know there still are some scholars from among the prelates like Abuna Endreyas (Abba GohaTsebah) and some emerging ones like Memher Eshetu, who are very well trained in the traditional school. Because I doubt if these have understood the extent to which the spirit of the day has gone evil and if they are willing and ready to challenge it. 

What about modern theologians? Modern theology in Ethiopia is a nonexistent category, and I would say, fortunately so. Even most of those who studied in the Holy Trinity Theological College and similar other “modern” institutions in Ethiopia, and those who claim to have been theologically trained in Europe or in America are but “halbgebildet” (semi-educated, superficially informed), to use Adorno’s apt description. If anything, we may speak of a new brand of preachers. 

Scholars remind us though, that like nature culture abhors vacuum and hence interpreters or advocates of some sort or other will always appear on the horizon. Voices we hear these days in Ethiopia and amidst Ethiopian Diaspora about issues pertaining ecclesiastical matters (but also regarding national concerns) are raised mostly by those whom the late Abuna Merha Krestos used to call “ገላግልት” (kids). However exactly did His Grace nail the situation, there in fact is nothing to be ashamed of it on the part of “the kids.” We know all adults had once been kids and that most kids would soon become adults. The problem, however, is this: there are bad kids and there are those—bad or not bad—who seem to want to remain kids forever.

I am not intending to point finger here but it seems that those on the throne are desperately trying to breed the bad kids in order to put down the good ones. And the complaints of those who claim to be critical of the throne seem to remain at the level of “why is the water so thin?” (ውሃ ቀጠነ). Examples abound but I better leave the detail for another occasion and close this piece by giving my advice not to the (almost nonexistent) elite but to the kids: Why persist to feed on the Evil and remain bad? Come on kids; let us change for better, let us ask Him (THE GOOD) to create a pure heart in us. Also, why keep on to be fed with milk and remain little ones? Come on kids; let us grow and eat some solid food, let us grow in Him (in THE GOODNESS) and have some HEALTHY meat! Let us grow, let us grow and become GOOD adults!


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