Debating History

by    /  April 5, 2013  / 1 Comment

On the book “Failure as Ethiopia’s History” and why the freedom to analyze history is important.

Photo: Kevin Harber via Flickr.

Nations go to war to assert their version of history. Governments may suppress or exaggerate a particular historical narrative for reasons beyond history itself; they may even form institutions that promote or impose a tale that is believed to be the only truth.

  1. Ethiopiques
  2. Why does a country with her own unique alphabet and long history of writing persist to deny citizens the right to freedom of expression in this era of Expression? No other country in Africa may typify this paradox more than Ethiopia. As Leopold Senghor’s famous collection of poems entitled “Ethiopiques” remained ‘powerful and popular’ so does the source of his intriguing title, Ethiopia, in her own ways. In “Ethiopiques,” I share Ethiopian views on pertinent issues related to journalism, culture and, of course, the overarching subject of politics.
  3. Mesfin Negash
  4. Mesfin Negash is an Ethiopian journalist living in exile in Sweden. He is one of the journalists accused of “terrorism” in 2011 by the Ethiopian government. The co-founder and first editor-in-chief of an acclaimed Ethiopian newspaper, Addis Neger, he is currently the Managing Editor of He is a political science student by training and known for his critical commentaries on significant political and social issues.

Still, debating history can be as enriching, insightful, and inspiring as its power to cause a deadly conflict. If not, why do two different societies give different meanings to history? Though there might be a number of factors that determine the emphasis that a society puts on history, I assume one of them is the way citizens discuss important historical issues. Granted, one needs to be more delicate when doing this in societies like Ethiopia’s, where history has long coincided with diverse communities and cultures. There, history can be both a treasure and a potential liability. That’s why a more organized, deeper, and calmer investigation of history is needed.

Researching and writing history are important, but interpretation is also just as necessary. And if all three elements are not present in a society, is there a chance that it will fail in telling its own history? According to the author and professor Mesfin Woldemariam, it’s possible. In his book, loosely translated as Failure as Ethiopia’s History, the renown human rights activist, politician, and scholar tracks the ways Ethiopian history has been built. He tries to answer the questions: How do Ethiopians see history, how do they write history, and do they learn from history? Mesfin argues that the history of Ethiopia became a failure long before now and claims society has failed to learn from history, ultimately owning and living a history of failure.

It’s no surprise if a curious mind tries to assess its condition from a historical perspective. After all, in general we humans are trained to see our identity and fate through, among other things, a historical prism. Yet many argue, as Mark Twain once said, “the very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” Nevertheless, despite the questions surrounding the writing and interpretation of history, it’s the task of historians to establish the historical truth as they found it. Only very limited aspects of history or a historical event can be established definitely, I presume.

With this in mind, a more important inquiry might be to look into how the present generation approaches different narratives of events that they’ve inherited from previous generations. Societies struggle with their own past as much as the present and the future. Furthermore, I don’t think all societies treat their proudest moments and darkest encounters in the same way. However, in both cases, the more organized and able a society is to research and debate history, the more it benefits from history.

One Comment on "Debating History"

  1. Abdifatah deyib April 6, 2013 at 9:38 am ·

    Its the era of information and technology so let we go with it as we r Ethiopians

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