Church, Mosque and State in Ethiopia

By Buri Waddesso

May 3, 2012 (opride) — The recent stand-off between the Ethiopian government and Muslim activists have seen scant media attention—not to the extent warranted by the unfolding situation.

In describing the current conflict, we should never lose sight of its historical roots. Viewed from this light, Prime Minister Zenawi’s actions these days are perfectly in keeping with the past. He is simply following in the footsteps of his predecessors. In this short piece, I would offer a cursory look at this history with the intent to provide perhaps a historical context to Jawar’s brilliant and insightful analysis.

Let me first state two axioms as a premise around which to weave my thesis in the form of a theoretical grounding. One, a society’s vital instincts are informed by its mythology—what Durkheim called the collective consciousness and Jung dubbed the archetype, the collective unconscious. These are the basic assumptions that underlie social and individual behavior. Second, states, like all organizations, are implanted with the genetic footprints of their founders. Complex systems theory tells us that the initial starting point matters. In situations where the founding myth of a state flies in the face of reality, competing narratives develop.

Many states suffer, unable to manage this phenomenon known in the lexican of organizational theory as the founders’ syndrome. As a result of its failure to adopt an all-encompassing master narrative, such a state experiences persistent conflicts, morphing manifestations of this same open wound.


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