Ethiopian Modernization: Opportunities and Derailments



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The cultural trait making higher social positions into contested temporary occupations (see Chapter III on idil) should have found, in the modernization process of evicting outdated, anti-modern occupants, an even better opportunity to vent itself. In the traditional system, power struggles opposed ambitious individuals who shared common values and a mutual understanding of social life. The struggle did not go beyond the act of changing places in a fixed social framework. However, as a result of the impact of exogenous modern ideas, the struggle shifted to a confrontation between elites with different ideologies and social programs. These elites want to use state power either to definitively change the social system in their favor or to counter those who are planning a change perceived as hostile to them. Understandably, the disagreement over values and social ideals turns the struggle into an irreconcilable confrontation, whose sole solution is revolution, that is, the complete overthrow of ruling elites, on the one hand, and, on the other, the elimination of all those perceived as rivals. Put differently, under the impact of modern means of suppression and antagonistic social values, the old power struggle turned into a fight between exclusive social visions targeting the elimination of opponents. The distortion of political competition into a form of violent exclusion over ideological differences can be said to have taken a firm root in Ethiopia with the radicalization of the student movement and its aftermaths, to wit, the emergence of the Derg and the adoption of socialism.

Publication Date



Dayton, OH


Africana Studies | Philosophy


This book is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) License. Copyright © 2023, Messay Kebede.

Chapter VIII — Derailed Modernization: The Derg’s Phase