- Haile Selassie, Western Education, and Political Revolution in Ethiopia
Much has been written about the Ethiopian Revolution, which ended the centuries-long monarchy in 1974 and plunged Ethiopia into a period of violence, famine, and political repression. Many Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian scholars have examined the causes of the revolution, its tumultuous early years, and the devastating long-term consequences. Paulos Milkias's Haile Selassie, Western Education, and Political Revolution in Ethiopia is another scholarly book on this very important moment in modern Ethiopian history. The book is divided into 14 chapters and a postscript. Chapters 1 and 2 provide the historical and theoretical background, respectively. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 analyze the role of modern education in Ethiopia, the penetration of Western cultural influences, and the rise of Western-educated intellectuals, who initially cooperated with the Haile Selassie regime but later turned against it. Chapters 6 through 10 discuss the involvement of French-Canadian Jesuits and United States educators in the development of higher education in Ethiopia, the alienation of Western-educated intellectuals, and the rise of the radical student movement in the 1960s and early 1970s. Chapters 11, 12, and 13 examine the challenges posed by the students and teachers to the Haile Selassie regime, the widening political protests that engulfed the feudal, autocratic government, and the rise of the Derg (the military junta) and the fall of the monarchy in 1974. Chapter 14 summarizes the main argument of the book. The postscript briefly discusses the political repression during the [End Page 191] Derg era (1974–91) and the coming to power of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in 1991.
In this book, the author attempts to explain the contradictions between modern education, which promoted Western cultural and political values, and the modernizing autocracy of the Haile Selassie government, which consolidated its power after the end of the Italian occupation (1941). Beginning in the mid-1940s, Haile Selassie recruited French-Canadian educators to expand modern education and produce loyal intellectuals who could run the government bureaucracy and manage the economic enterprises. But in the 1950s and 1960s, the emperor increasingly favored American involvement in shaping Ethiopia's higher education. The policy initially led to "a triple partnership: Haile Selassie, the Western educated elite, and the United States," united by mutual interests and interdependence (243). But by the early 1960s, as the modernization policy of the Haile Selassie government failed to produce the desired economic development, and the bond between the emperor and the United States became stronger, the Western-educated elite felt alienated and eventually turned against the regime and its Western backers. Milkias argues that the political crisis of the 1960s and early 1970s was a reaction to the feudal, authoritarian regime, which introduced Western education and values "without changing the intrinsic character pertaining to itself" (245).
This book is very well written. The chapters are a bit fragmented but are short and readable. The book draws its overall strength partly from the author's personal knowledge of Ethiopian politics as a student leader in the 1960s and his involvement in some of the major events discussed in the book. Milkias reminds the reader that he knew some of the important political actors in the Haile Selassie government. Although he was a participant in the student movement of the 1960s, he writes dispassionately and with scholarly objectivity. He belongs to a generation of students who believed in dismantling the entrenched feudal order to facilitate the political and economic modernization of Ethiopia. These students were young, radical idealists. They hoped to bring about progress, democracy, and faster economic development. But after the overthrow of the monarchy, they became captives of the Marxist political ideology that they used to attack the feudal autocracy and Western cultural domination. They splintered into rival political groups and [End Page 192] became victims of repression under the Derg regime. The author points out the weaknesses of these intellectuals and the fatal mistakes they made in their attempt to radically transform...