Ethnic Consciousness and National Consciousness in Ethiopian History By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D.)

Teodros Kiros (Ph.D.)


I would like to begin below with what I wrote on Ethiopianity and Independent Thinking a few years ago to frame my present argument that Ethnic consciousness is mediated by positive ethnicity and National Consciousness and that the two are inextricably intertwined. I argue further that ethnic consciousness, anchored on positive ethnicity, is the material infrastructure for the superstructure of culture. By Positive Ethnicity, I understand, “a modality in which an individual humbly takes pride in one’s geographical belonging and celebrates the cultural ornaments of his/ethnic group, the language, the dances, the music and the cuisines, as expressions of diversity.” (Abbay Media, Zehabesha, Ethiopia 360, January 9, 2018”

In our contemporary politics, we have not rigorously understood the role of these two types of consciousness. We are fighting one another because of a misunderstanding. My argument here is an attempt to correct this misunderstanding through a philosophical lens.

(1) Ethnic Consciousness

Let me begin by quoting myself,

“I love being an Ethiopian, and I am honored to have been born to Ethiopian lands; I am humbled by our sublime mountains designed to nurture spirituality, manifest in the birth of the great thinkers who grew up there; my soul is pervaded by the depth of thought that the ravines and valleys inspire in me; my eyes are drunk with the beauty of the lush and green of the south, which greet me, when I land from Ethiopian Airlines to visit my homeland; my heart vibrates when it listens to the roaring sound of the saxophone and the sharpness and power of the trumpet in classical Ethiopian music, how many times have I shed tears of passion as Tizita, pierced my sensitive heart in the darkness of a lonely night; how often have I fallen in love with those round and bright Ethiopian eyes, resting in the ravishing bodies of our women; how tirelessly do I admire our dance and the cuisines that accompany them; how desperately have I wished that I could master all our ethnic dances and consume their cleansing fragrance, when one is possessed by them. (Abugida, January 3, 2011).”

In these remarks, the reader is explicitly invited to pay attention to the nuances of culture, if by culture, one can understand that positively seamless intermingling of ethnic consciousness with a national consciousness. This intermingling cannot take place without a celebration of the ornaments of culture: language, dance, music, cuisines and artifacts. Moreover, ethnic consciousness requires these ornaments in order to provide the human person the possibility of consciousness itself. The ornaments of culture are embedded in ethnic consciousness, almost naturally. These ornaments of culture are the material fundaments of ethnic consciousness. Note that in the above paragraph, all our five senses are busily involved, as when we listen to music, see the mountains, smell the flowers, taste the cuisines and touch beauty on the dance floors. Ethnic consciousness is firmly anchored in this material reality disclosed by the five senses. At a primordial level, Ethiopian pride is present in the ethnic consciousness inspired by the ornaments of culture as disclosed via the senses to the recipients of a cultural consciousness, as when any Ethiopian cannot help but hit the dance floor upon hearing an ethnic tune and begin shaking the body to a maximum joy. The joy occurs precisely because there is an event to be enjoyed, and there is an event to be enjoyed, because ethnic consciousness has produced the appropriate and stimulating media of joy in the music, the dance, the cuisines, and beautiful persons.

(2) National Consciousness

National consciousness, unlike ethnic consciousness, is a cultural construct. Whereas ethnic consciousness is natural to the self, national consciousness is a product of cultural construction and is mediated by the artificial body, called the state. It is the state and its various institutions which organize citizens to develop a relationship with other ethnicities and enjoy their diversities under conditions of peace and prosperity. National consciousness is in fact nothing more than a politically organized relationship of citizens with one another as ethnically conscious members of ethnic groups. The task of the state is to be critically vigilant about Negative Ethnicity, “. Negative ethnicity is the modality by which an individual singles out his/her belonging to an ethnic group and believes that it is superior to all other ethnicities and that other ethnicities are inferior and must be treated accordingly.” (Zehabesha, Abbay Media, Ethio 360 and Ethiomedia Forum, January 8, 2018).

(3) Federalism as a Political Form.

The task of a Good State is making a concerted effort of educating citizens to protect themselves from contamination by negative ethnicity to purify themselves by instilling in themselves with positive ethnicity by way of respecting the cultural ornaments of all ethnicities.

The greatness of a future Ethiopian state, unlike past Ethiopian states, some of which were insensitive if not flagrantly hostile to certain ethnicities, will consist in respecting positive ethnicity as it meets economic needs and extends political and social rights to all ethnicities through constitutional stipulations and effective public policies. Any future Ethiopian state should publicly articulate and defend the rights of nationalities as expressions of positive ethnicity and living practices of diversity under safe and secure conditions of freedom.

Federalism is the political form by which positive ethnicity is elevated into a national right as an expression of Ethiopianity, defended by an effective Ethiopian state.

There cannot be a national consciousness without ethnic consciousness, and similarly there is an ethnic consciousness precisely because there is superstructure in which the multiple ethnicities can be anchored in a relationship of mutual dependence.

A strategic and well organized state led by upright, just, compassionate and patient leaders can orchestrate a political environment in which individuals feel safe and secure to exercise their positive ethnicities. I have developed this argument in Ethiopian Discourse, “New Moral Economy”, (Red Sea Press, 2005)
I would like to thank Professor Victor Wallis of Berklee College of Music and Kassahun Checole of Africa World Press for their substantive and editorial help of my work.

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Posted by on January 20, 2018. Filed under COMMENTARY,VIEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Ethnic Consciousness and National Consciousness in Ethiopian History By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D.)

  1. دانلود فیلم

    January 20, 2018 at 2:55 AM

    Thank you from your site