“When We Could be Second to None We Keep on Trying to be Last from Every One”

(By Prof. Seyoum Gelaye)

Most Ethiopians appear to be unaware of the serious challenges faced by our Country. In the name of agricultural development, we are quickly replacing our diverse natural genetic resources with the so called Genetically Modified (GM) seeds, the impacts of which are not yet known.  

 Ethiopia is one of the only two African countries, among the five in the world, blessed with biodiversity. Others are Nigeria in Africa, China and India in Asia, and Mexico in South America. We have a large number unique domesticated and wild plants, animals, insects, birds, aquatic lives and soil organisms perfected by Mother Nature to fully adapt to environmental diversity in the Country.

 We have yet to realize the full genetic potential, catalog our resources, develop national policies and techniques on preserving the irreplaceable natural resources. We have yet to identify the full potential of our wild food and medicinal plants.

 Brazilians have taken over the patent for our naturally decaffeinated coffee. A US company is claiming ownership of genetic resource derived from Ethiopian barley. Starbucks is claiming ownership of our “Yirga Cheffa” Coffee.  

 The landrace (indigenous) seeds are the best adapted to our environment and can not compare with the newly introduced exogenous and GM plants promoted by multinational corporations as panaceas for food shortages throughout the world. Through genetic manipulation, multinational corporations have developed GM corn, cotton, vegetables, insects, food animals, and other field crops, the potentials of which have not been rigorously investigated in our country.

 At this time, the right approach for Ethiopia would be not to use the GM seeds but use improved indigenous seeds (landrace) developed using the classical selection and breeding techniques, with the goal to increase our agricultural yield by more than 50 percent using sustainable agricultural techniques.

 Economically developed nations mandate that GM seeds be developed under strict control, and must be seriously evaluated for a total of at least 7 years at local, state, and National levels before they are distributed for highly regulated commercial use. On the other hand, the same companies are given free access to our natural resources and allowed to develop GM organisms or freely distribute their so called “improved seeds” (GM) with out a serious concern to the possible environmental damage or cross contamination of the landrace.

 When I read that Monsanto, Pioneer, and the government owned Seed Enterprise are given free access to impose the so called “improved seeds” on our peasant farmers, I knew that it was a sad day for the whole country because the landrace are being quickly replaced by the GM seeds.

 GM seeds require heavy input of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and complete modification of our cultural practices. This is not presently within the reach of most peasant farmers or in some cases not feasible and even advisable.  We are destroying or contaminating the invaluable genetic pool without realizing the damage we are causing to our national treasure, the landrace.

 It is only a hand full of Ethiopian agricultural scientists who are expressing concerns on the seriousness of this issue while most are collaborating with the international conglomerates in destroying their country’s natural resources.

 Another contributing factor to our problem is the disjointed nature of the relationship between so called “modern” education and country’s agricultural and other economic developments.

 “Education is change in behavior.” I can not see how we may be able to bring about agricultural or other economic developments in Ethiopia by using French, British, and American philosophy of education (Eurocentric Education Philosophy), using alien languages, and education curricula not aligned with the aspiration of more than 90 percent of the population in Ethiopia.

 These systems of education have graduated what I call “French-Ethiopians, British-Ethiopians, German-Ethiopians, and Americo-Ethiopinas” who are de-linked from their ways of life, history, language, mores, values, and traditions. Let alone that we may be able to communicate effectively using Amharic, we find it very difficult to complete a simple sentence without interspersing a foreign word in every sentence we use. Africa is ranked first in losing 20,000 of these creatures to Europe, Canada, US, and Australia annually. Most of these migrant elites originate from Ethiopia. Most of these people are unable to translate the disjointed education experience we gained to cultural and economic development of our country.

 Since our heroes and heroin are Europeans, French, English or Chinese, we feel proud when we quote these individuals in our utterances. As a result of the Eurocentric education, the music played using local instruments are folk songs; but when European musical instruments are used, the same songs suddenly become modern songs. Our dances are folk dances while European dances are modern. We have started addressing our mothers as Mom and fathers as Daddy, instead of “Emaya” and “Abaye”, respectively. We now have police commissioners instead of “yeseteta askebare.”

 Amharic alphabet and Language are perceived to be inferior to Latin; as a result, some groups of Ethiopians struggle with the Latin alphabet and Roman languages. We spend a lot of time and money attempting to emulate European institutions. Indigenous social institutions like: “Ekub, Edir, Wonfel, Jigi, Debo, Awchacigne”, etc, are perceived not to be comparable to European civil societies. Hence we spend inordinate number of hours and resources attempting to promote European institutions like credit unions, life insurances, farmers’ cooperatives, lions club, and security systems instead of evaluating and enhancing the indigenous democratic institutions that are parts of the every-day- life of 100 percent of Ethiopian population.   

 The Eurocentric education system creates admirers of the cultures and history alien to Ethiopian ways of life. Hence, we are graduating agricultural scientists, educators, medical doctors, engineers, social scientists, lawyers, who make minimal contribution or in most cases are alien to the economics and social development of the Country. The agricultural colleges are conducting research and publishing results in international journals while a farmer is toiling next door using the same cultural practices used for centuries. Social science and education colleges struggle with the demographic study of Europe, and America while the indigenous civic societies are not even on their radar screen. What a tragedy!

 Most Eurocentric institution graduates are unable to defend the Nation when sorry souls distort our history and tell us that Ethiopia is a collection of Nations and Nationalities forcefully annexed by Menellik II some 100 years ago. How woefully inadequate and hopeless it was to go through such educational system during the 75 years of recent past. It is extremely unfortunate that we are unaware of Ethiopian literature, Ethiopian History, Ethiopian Arts, Ethiopian Civilization, Ethiopian Music, Ethiopian Culture, Ethiopian Mores, Ethiopian ways of life etc. An individual who has been de-linked from his/her culture is an easy prey for domination by other cultures, hence our major problem with the country’s economic and social development.

 We have different linguistic groups and not nations or nationalities in Ethiopia, for nations are a group of people living in a sovereign national state sharing common national geographic boundaries, symbols, cultures, histories, and economic relationships for many years. When was it in our written or oral history that we had an Oromo, Amhara, Tigri, Afar, Southern Nations and Nationalities etc.living independently and as sovereign states in our history? Therefore, all of us are first Ethiopian Nationals sharing common- destiny, common proud history, language, value systems, mores, common traditions, common symbols, music, and food, cloth- where the majority of the linguistic groups have intermarried and where the cultures have freely intermingled for thousands of years. Second we are proud Africans sharing in the history and making significant contribution to civilization of the continent.

 We also need to deal with group vs. individual rights in the national context. In any society, there could be discrepancies in the treatment of male and female, urban and rural population, literate and illiterate groups, and there could even be some sub-cultural domination that must be addressed and immediately corrected by the Nation as a whole.

 No Ethiopian would objects to the fact that the Nation must and should work towards eliminating these inequities in a society where individual right is supreme over the group right. We have spent inordinate number of years subordinating our Ethiopian history and culture to Europeans, Americans, French, and Germans ways of life, which has not taken us anywhere.

 We need at this time to find ourselves and learn about our beautiful culture and history and work together to build a democratic Ethiopia where every one of us could enjoy the fruits of our beautiful history, and culture which are by the way “second to none”.  

 Professor Seyoum Gelaye