Philosophy Faculty Publications

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UNESCO Commissioned Forum Occasional Paper


This paper attempts to assess the impacts of Haile Selassie’s educational policy on Ethiopia’s educated elite. It also inquires into the reasons the policy was adopted in the first place. The negative role that the Ethiopian educated elite has played during, and since, the overthrow of Haile Selassie’s regime provides the context of the inquiry. Admittedly, the continuous political crises and economic stagnation of Ethiopia since the 1974 Revolution point to the leading role played by Ethiopian educated elite. The paper raises the question of knowing whether the adoption of an education system that completely relied on Western teaching staff and curriculum – and systematically turned its back on Ethiopian legacy – does or does not explain the infatuation of Ethiopian students and intellectuals with Marxism-Leninism in the 1960s and 1970s. The suggestion is that their propensity to opt for polarizing and confrontational methods of political competition may be the result of a decentering education system responsible for cultural cracks into which radical ideas, which were then in vogue, were injected. The inquiry unravels two major reasons for the adoption of the educational policy: (i) Haile Selassie and his close associates had basically endorsed the colonial idea according to which non-Western societies were backward, thereby conceiving of modernization as the internalization of Western values and institutions; (ii) Haile Selassie was all the more willing to push for Westernization as the marginalization of Ethiopia’s traditional values and institutions was the sine qua non for the establishment of his autocratic rule.

Though this study deals with the case of Ethiopia, its regional and international implications are obvious, given that it illustrates nothing less than the impacts of Western education on non-Western societies. It adds to those studies that argue that the cultural drawbacks of colonization and neocolonialism are far more serious than any economic downsides. The fact that Ethiopians became psychologically decentralized, as in any colonized country, even though they were not submitted to colonization, confirms the universally uprooting impact of Western education.

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Paper Commissioned by the Regional Scientific Committee for Africa June 2006