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  • Radicalism and Cultural Dislocation in Ethiopia, 1960–1974
  • Christopher R. Green
Messay Kebede. Radicalism and Cultural Dislocation in Ethiopia, 1960–1974. Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 2008. 235pp. $75.00 (cloth).

Radicalism and Cultural Dislocation in Ethiopia, 1960–1974was authored by Professor Messay Kebede of the University of Dayton's Department of Philosophy. It offers readers a fresh and insightful perspective on the Ethiopian student movement of the earmarked period, and provides a personalized viewpoint and a reanalysis of traditional thinking about the motivations behind radicalized student revolutions in general.

In varied ways, the sociocultural and political characteristics of Ethiopia are laid out here in such a manner that the reader benefits from Kebede's ability to weave together cohesively the components contributing to this time in the history of the nation. To express his perspective on the development of a radicalized student movement in Ethiopia during Haile Selassie's reign, he provides evidence that challenges the traditionally held belief that socioeconomic conditions are the main factor contributing to the development of such events.

Kebede agrees that such poor conditions can add fuel to a growing revolutionary fire among students, but he argues that the addition of a dysfunctional cultural environment is the key component inciting the beginning of these kinds of movements. He and others (e.g., Chalmers Johnson) have termed this the Value/System Approach to revolution. To support his analysis, Kebede takes the reader first through a detailed survey of the features of Ethiopia as an African nation that have contributed, supplementarily, to its student movement, particularly its commitment to Christianity and its status as the only noncolonized African nation (with the exception of its five-year occupation by Italy).

Each chapter brings to the table several contributing factors to various kinds of revolutions (e.g., student, radical, social, political, and conservative) [End Page 113]while tying these factors into events and occurrences that transpired within Ethiopia and incited its student movement. Kebede explores the viewpoint that student revolutions, both in Ethiopia and elsewhere, are more often than not spurred by wealthy and educated individuals, rather than by lower-class or economically challenged individuals, as suggested in other works. In the instance of Ethiopia, Kebede explains that the wealthy, Western-educated students and the educational elite, in a revolt against an autocratic regime supported by Western capitalism, took on a messianic role to serve their lesser-privileged countrymen and women in adopting and fighting for a Marxist-Leninist political and social environment. Kebede explores the motivations and consequences of adopting such an ideology, including the a priori acceptance of socialist dogma, the quest for a revitalization of nationalism, and dissatisfaction with political, cultural, and social backwardness in the nation.

Readers unfamiliar with Ethiopian or even African sociocultural history and philosophy will benefit greatly from this book, owing to Kebede's care to tie the events of the Ethiopian movement to student uprisings with which readers may be more familiar (e.g., those in China and Russia). Kebede is careful, however, to contrast the student movement in Ethiopia with those less radical in nature (e.g., that in Japan). In each of these instances, he explores explanations for the events that occurred in these other countries, indicating their likenesses and differences from the events in Ethiopia, and even laying out a framework for what one might consider a typology of such movements.

Readers benefit from Kebede's firsthand experience as a student himself in his native Ethiopia during several years of this movement. He has thus dissected the causes and components of this revolution from a personal perspective. He devotes chapters and chapter sections to subjects that will interest a wide audience from a variety of academic disciplines, among them Eurocentrism and decolonization of education, failed or nonexistent political ideology, the roots of radicalism, guilt and the mentality of messianism, the proliferation of Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the contribution of traditional and modernized religion to social utopianism.

Radicalism and Cultural Dislocation in Ethiopia, 1960–1974is a truly outstanding work, which will both challenge and intrigue readers with its depth and the wealth of information. Though its focus spans only a short...


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