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Glories and Agonies of the Ethiopian past

Ivo Strecker

In: Social Anthropology (1994), 2.3.303-312

Review article

A history of modern Ethiopia, 1855-1974. By Bahru Zewde. London:James Currey. Athens: Ohio University Press. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press. 1991. 244 pp. Illustrations. Maps. Bibliography. Index. Hb.: £25.00. ISBN 0 85255 067 7. Pb.: £9.95.

The invention of Ethiopia. The making of dependent colonial state of Northeast Africa. By Bonny K. Holcomb and Sisai lbssa. Trenton, New Jersey: Red Sea Press. 1990. 450 pp. Maps. Bibliography. Index. Hb.: $45.00. ISBN 0 932415 57 1. :$18.95. ISBN 0 932415 58 X.

In reviewing these two recent histories of Ethiopia, both of them interesting and timely reading, it is best to begin with Bahru's history of the country since 1855. This offers an extremely useful synthesis for readers needing a concise presentation of modern Ethiopian history. My friend Conrad Hirsch, who is as well versed with recent publications on Ethiopia as with the rapids of the river Omo, said one day when I asked him on the phone what he thought of Bahru's book that this was 'one of the most readable and engaging history books on Ethiopia' which he knew. Most other books were so clogged with details and footnotes that he couldn't stay with the story. I found this so well put and fitting, almost like a commercial, that I asked Conrad to repeat what he had said so that I could jot it down. What makes Bahru's book so readable and engaging? I think the answer can be given on several levels. Firstly and most generally I would say that Bahru manages to imbue Ethiopian history with sense. He tells the tale of an emerging socio-political order which, over time, becomes more and more successful and complete until, in the end, it generates its own defeat. That is, he tells the story of the Ethiopian struggle for centralization which began with the attempts at unification by Emperor Tewodros during the 1850s and 1860s and reached its consolidation under the absolutist rule of Emperor Haile Selassie one hundred years later. It's repressive nature in the end caused its collapse. In Bahru's persuasive words, Haile Selassie created 'the unitary state first conceived in the fiery mind of Tewodros', but this unitary state could not last 'because opposition and repression mutually reinforced each other until they attained their logical conclusion in the Revolution of 1974'. Bahru's account of Ethiopia's modern history ends with the words quoted above, and we can see at once that this modern history has been perceives and presented by a modern mind: modern in the sense that it lacks the doubts and tribulations which characterize postmodern discourse. As Stephen Tyler once said, wholeness, closure, telos and order were key concepts for modernist accounts of history and society; for postmodernists they have become anathema. This is not to say that I criticize Bahru here. Rather I want to point out the modern textual strategy of his account which conjures necessity and in this way is able to give powerful meaning to Ethiopia's history. Another reason why Bahru's text engages the reader is the fact that he uses dynamic key concepts. For example, he describes the process of Ethiopia's unification and centralization as a response to internal and external cHailenges. Thus Tewodros, who, according to Bahru, inaugurated the modern history of Ethiopia, faced the 'squabbling princes as well as the "Turk"', and his fate was determined by this double cHailenge both from inside and outside Ethiopia. The topos of 'cHailenge' runs through the whole text and allows the Ethiopian rulers and all those who worked with and against them to emerge as heroes who shaped their own and Ethiopia's destiny. In this way history becomes the drama of an infinite number of competing intentions both within and from outside Ethiopia; political skills manifest themselves in the way in which Ethiopian

rulers anticipate (or fall to anticipate) the intentions of others and put them to their own use. Emperor Tewodros was 'great', bot he misjudged the British who remained indifferent to his overtures arid in the end defeated him in the Napier expedition to Maqdala. Bahru speaks here of the irony that the nation Tewodros had hoped would be his most reliable ally turned out to be his most bitter enemy. Emperor Yohannes inherited the problem of assessing the intentions of the British who by the 1850s had emerged as the major power in the Horn of Africa and were making various deals with the Egyptians and the Italians. It seems that Yohannes would have been able to cope with all three of his major enemies - the Italians and Mahdists from outside and his rival, the Shoan king Menelik, from within - had it not been for the duplicity of the British who always pretended that they were friends with Yohannes bot never came round to assisting him. Bahru's outime of the triangular tension in which Yohannes lived makes fascinating reading and is an example of how he presents developments within Ethiopia against the background of international events. Emperor Menelik did not repeat the mistakes of his antecedents and did not misjudge anyone. In fact there was never a foreign power, nor a power within Ethiopia, against which Menelik did not gain the upper hand. His victory of greatest symbolic weight was that over the Italians at Adwa. The victory not only rebuffed Italian colonial ambitions in Ethiopia; it also turned victorious Ethiopia into the champion for a liberated black Africa, into a 'beacon of independence and dignity'. Equally important, the Ethiopian victory affected not only the Italians but also the British, who had helped the Italians to establish themselves in Ethiopia and at that time wanted to stop any encroachment of the French from Djibuti westward to the Nile. According to Bahru it was the strength and competence of Menelik which created the modern Ethiopian empire-state against the interests of external forces. I stress this point here because it will be contested in the book by Bonny Holcomb and Sisai lbssa which I review later. Before I come to this, I need to say something about Bahru's last major protagonist, Emperor Haile Selassie. We first read about this controversial figure as Ras Tafari Makonnen in a chapter on 'Creeping authocracy' which details the various power struggles caused by the problem of Menelik's succession. Later we get an account of the 'emergence of absolutism' which tells the story of Haile Selassie's coronation, the drafting of a constitution and the fall from power of the Ethiopian nobility. Haile Selassie's quest for absolute power was halted for a while when Fascist Italian forces overran Ethiopia in 1936. Bahru details the five years of Italian occupation in a swift chapter which again shows his skill at presenting both global factors and the intricacies of local Ethiopian politics, including the prelude to Haile Selassie's exile and the fate of the Ethiopian resistance fighters. At the end of the chapter we see Haile Selassie transported back by the British as a symbol of Ethiopian unity. As soon as he returned, Haile Selassie continued the policies which he had begun in the 1930s. He did so with the help of first the British and later the Americans. In his account of the 'British decade' Bahru gives the British a rough ride, accusing them of an overbearing racist attitude and of mutilating Ethiopia's independence. The 'American era', which followed when the British relinquished the Ethiopian arena, does not fare much better because the Americans were too domineering: their preponderance bred resentment and led to grave accusations of imperialism that eventually they departed. In spite of all the challenges from outside under Haile Selassie, the Ethiopians thus eventually gained the upper hand. The book ends with an outime of Haile Selassie's consolidation of absolutism and the opposition it fostered. Haile Selassie who from the beginning has been introduced as a kind of villain is now pictured as an untrammeled power monger. A propos 'pictured'. There is no picture of Emperor Haile Selassie in a book which otherwise abounds with photographs of emperors, kings, noblemen, generals, intellectuals, peasants and so on. Why is this picture missing? I think that by providing pictures of all the other dramatis personae but oommiting that of Haile Selassie, Bahru is giving expression to his view that the struggles of Tewodros, Yohannes, Menelik and others were fertile and glorious, bot the victory of Haile Selassie was sterile and destructive. This is the topos of 'challenge' which runs through Bahru's text and gives the book its distinctive feature while making it at the same time very readable.

There are further reasons why the book makes good reading: context and detail. In respect of context, although the story revolves mainly around the protagonists described above, their personalities are embedded in and emerge from a well-elucidated social context. This begins already in the first chapter which provides general background, with details about the northern principalities, states, the peoples of southern Ethiopia, trade links and so on. In later chapters we find similar contextualisation and analysis of the socio-economic order, including surplus appropriation, trade concessions, agriculture and land tenure, industry, and education. Bahru's writing is equally rich in detail. Even though it is designed to give only a general outime of Ethiopian modern history, the book is full of intriguing information. Often, such details come as great surprise. Take for example the fate of John Bell who became such a close friend of Tewodros that he was chosen as his 'lika makwas', someone who acted as the emperor's double in moments of danger. How could it happen that a foreigner was chosen for such an office? No explanation is given and the reader remains intrigued. Or take the fate of Major-General Mulugeta Buli, commander-in-chief of the imperial Bodyguard from 1941 to 1955 and in his time one of the most charismatic figures among the young Ethiopian elite. According to Bahru, many people expected Mulugeta to go ahead and overthrow Emperor Haile Selassie like Nasser had recently, in 1952, overthrown the Egyptian Monarch Muhammad Ali. But Mulugeta never got this far because he was killed by Brigadier-General Mangestu Neway. This information is extremely important because it throws light on Mangestu, who not only became Mulugeta's successor but in 1960 also attempted the very coup which, according to rumours, Mulugeta had been planning. Yet in Bahru's account the killing remains no more than all episode and the reader is left wondering about the full story and its historical significance. These and similarly incomplete stories which abound in Bahru's book have more of an involving than off-putting effect. They remind mee of Italo Calvino's thesis that an author nowhere can show his power of narration more clearly than in the act of hiding and withholding parts of his story (see his novel When a traveller in a Winter's night). So, by providing me with the somewhat tantalisingly interesting but incomplete story of John Bell, Bahru has cast a spell on me, captivating my imagination. I keep thinking of the book partly because of what it has told me and partly because of what has remained unsaid. The 'details' or 'incomplete stories' mentioned above are very different from another incompleteness which characterises Bahru's book. This incompleteness, or as the author would probably argue, selectivity - becomes more clear when one reads The invention of Ethiopia. The making of a dependent colonial state in Northeast Africa by Bonnie Holcomb and Sisai lbssa. While Bahru brought out the glories and independence of Ethiopian rulers, Holcomb and Sisai draw attention to the agonies and dependence of the peoples of southern Ethiopia who were conquered during the second half of the nineteenth century. Not that Bahru has omitted these conquests; he has simply nor made them his central concern, and has not dealt with their agonistic political implications. He never speaks like Holcomb and Sisai of the subjugation, exploitation and colonisation of Ethiopia's southern regions. Rather, he has preferred to use positive metaphors (or euphemisms?) like 'unification', 'expansion' and 'incorporation'. The great unifier of Ethiopia was Emperor Menelik, whom we see in Bahru's account several times leading his own campaigns. Here Bahru's story follows the same topos of 'challenge' and 'success' that I have presented already. Thus, we can read that Menelik participated personally in many of the battles in Arsi and that in one of them he barely managed to escape with his life'. Perhaps most telling is Bahru's account of the conquest of Wolayta. In 1894 Menelik led a campaign which 'incorporated' the southern kingdom of Wolayta after a very 'bloody campaign'. The Emperor was, of course, accompanied by his generals. Bahru mentions some of them by name, such as Ras Michael of Wollo or Dajjach Balcha - and then adds that these Generals were to 'make history' at the battle of Adwa two years later when Italy was defeated by Ethiopia. True, at the time, the battle of Adwa became international news while the battle of Wolayta remained unknown to the wider world. But did Menelik and his Generals really only 'make history' when they defeated the Italians in the battle of Adwa? Did they not also 'make history' when they defeated the people of Wolayta? Holcomb and Sisai in their critical analysis of the 'invention' of Ethiopia certainly insist on the latter

and dispute the former. In fact they argue that Adwa was nothing but an indirect battle between the

British and the French with little impact on the history of Ethiopia; on the other side, they stress that the conquest of the Wolayta, the Ormo, the Kafa and other originally independent peoples of the southern regions had grave historical consequences for Ethiopia.

I will return to this later, but first I want to point out something which neither Bahru nor Holcomb

and Sisai have brought out clearly. The conquest of Wolayta and the victory at Adwa were in fact closely connected. There had been a great famine in central and northern Ethiopa from 1888 to 1892 and provisions for the Ethiopian armies were running low. Menelik therefore organised a 'campaign' against Wolayta which was in fact nothing but the monumental plunder of one of the richest and most well-organised peoples of the south. Many thousand inhabitants of Wolayta were killed and even more were taken as slaves to carry the grain and drive the tens of thousands of cattle that were looted. It was this plunder which enabled Menelik to march his troops north and defeat the Italians in the battle of Adwa. One can understand that Bahru, the historian of Ethiopia's glory, does not like to point to this depressing nexus. In fact, would not most of us like to believe that the Ethiopian victory at Adwa symbolised and anticipated the end of colonialism? And more generally, would we not like to equate Adwa with the victory of all free people against their oppressors? The truth unfortunately looks different and tells us another lesson: at Adwa one oppressor fought another, and it was the people of Wolayta who had to pay for the victory of the Ethiopians over the Italians. As I have said, I understand that Bahru suppresses the dark side of Adwa, but why should Holcomb and Sisai, the outspoken critics of Ehiopian colonialism, also shy away from the truth? I think the

answer lies in their grand strategy of belittling the achievements of Ethiopian rulers and attributing all their successes to support from outside. This is why they mention Adwa only in passing and assert that the battle shows how Menelik and his generals were simply pawns in a global colonial game. This, of course, is far from true. No event shows more clearly how successful the Ethiopian rulers could be in utilising foreign resources and in outmanoeuvring both their foes and their friends.

I have already entered a critique of Holcomb and Sisai and would like to continue this line of

approach until, in the end, I come to what I consider to be the strong side of their study. What I find most irritating about Holcomb and Sisai is that they constantly defeat the purpose of the book. They have the very good point to make that the southern regions of what is called Ethiopia today were conquered and colonised by the 'Abyssinians' in the second half of the nineteenth century, and that until today the peoples of southern Ethiopia have been suffering from the effects. But they keep spoiling this good point by the way they conduct their argument. Take, for example, the thesis with which their study begins, which is also quoted on the cover of their book. Ethiopia, they say, was not naturally occurring political, cultural or economic entity. What is one to make of such a statement? Have there ever been 'naturally occuring entities in the history of state formation? Are not all polities cultural rather than 'natural' products and have they not all emerged (and disappeared) as an outcome of complex social conflicts and political struggles? Is it not the task of the historian to analyse and anatomise precisely these struggles and conflicts to the uninformed reader? The authors would probably say, 'But you know what we mean when we speak of a naturally occurring political entity.' My answer is that I don't accept this rhetorical shift from the truth - especially as it occurs not once but over and over again in the text. Their second thesis which complements the first is a case in point. Ethiopia did not occur naturally, they say, but was invented. Just as it is inconceivable to me that complex socio-political structures like stares could occur naturally, I also do not believe that they can be invented. True, there hive been a number of successful books which have used 'Invention' metaphorically in their titles. Wagner, for example, has spoken of the 'Invention of culture' and Mudimbe of the 'Invention of Africa', and one could therefore think that Holcomb and Sisai are equally justified in speaking of the 'Invention of Ethiopia'. But I object to this rhetorical exploitation of the concept because it eventually limits out understanding rather than expands it. For Ethiopia the notion of invention is in

my view a misconceived metaphor because it hides the complexity of that country's history.

strategy. The substantive part of their thesis is, for example, again expressed in such a way that the authors can not literally mean what they say. They argue that Ethiopia was invented through an alliance struck between the imperial powers of Europe and Abyssinia. The notion of alliance foregrounds both close union and an element of legality - that is a treaty. Yet what makes Ethiopia's history and its relationship with the wider world so intriguing is that no such alliance was in fact ever openly established: relationships were always in doubt and remained open for Manipulation - much to the advantage of the Ethiopian rulers and to the disadvantage of the Europeans who did not know what they were up to. I have mentioned already that Holcomb and Sisai try to belittle the achievements of the Ethiopian rulers (or Abyssinians as they prefer to call them) and attribute all their successes to the Intervention of European powers. This motive comes out very clearly on the cover of the book which pictures the Ethiopian crown cracked open and revealing five foreign flags inside lt. From top to bottom and mirroring the historical order in which they gained influence on the Ethiopian scene there are the flags of France, Great Britain, Italy, the USA and the Soviet Union. It is interesting to compare this cover with that of Bahru's book. The latter reproduces a traditional painting which shows cannons, machine-guns and rows of European rifles pitted against each other. The fighters are Ethiopians, and the fallen figure in the centre is Ras Gugsa Wale who in vain tried to challenge the ascendance of Tafari (later Haile Selassie 1). The figure in the left corner who is holding a pair of binoculars and watches from afar is another nobleman and victor of the battle, Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu, Minister of War and commander of the imperial troops (the latter part is only shown in the full picture provided inside the book). Both covers indicate European influence but of a very different kind. On Bahru's cover European weapons are shown to express the strength of compering Ethiopian noblemen, and the way in which Ethiopians use European means to pursue Ethiopian aims, while on Holcomb and Sisai's cover Europeans use Ethiopia as a means to further European aims. The cracked crown intimates the weakness of the Ethiopian rulers while the European flags allude to the influence of European powers who manipulate Ethiopia in whichever way they want. It would have been, great if Holcomb and Sisai had followed a straight line explaining the influence which in the past European powers have tried to exercise over Ethiopia. Bur they have constantly distorted the facts in order to misrepresent the strength of the Ethiopian rulers. They are right when they say that the Abyssinians were only able to conquer the southern peoples, including such strong kingdoms as Wolayta and Kaffa, because they had firearms while the others had none. Bur they are wrong when they imply that firearms were simply given free of charge by the European powers. There were cases when weapons were given as gifts, but the bulk of the arms were bought by the Abyssinian rulers. Holcomb and Sisai neglect the giant arms trade that was going on then and was profitable both for the buyers and the sellers. They do not speak of it because this would have tun against their theory of Ethiopian dependence. In this context we find yet another example of their subtle rhetoric, for they never acknowledge that Abyssinians acquired weapons but always say that the arms were provided by the Europeans. At first sight, the difference between 'acquire' and 'provide' may seem minimal, but when one looks closely, one can see that in the first formulation the Abyssinians have a choice and play an active part, while in the second there is no element of choice and the Abyssinians are relegated to a passive role. The unconvincing and constantly repeated argument that Ethiopia was, and still is, a dependent state in the claws of capitalism makes the reading of the first chapters very arduous, but when the story gets going, one really begins to learn the truth, almost against the intention of the authors. A good example is the chapter on King Sahle Selassie. Here we find that Holcomb and Sisai give an account which presents the king as an active, and not just a passive, agent. He was someone who had objectives and faced choices. His choice was a monumental quest for power to which weapons were both a means and an end. Let me quote Holcomb and Sisai on this because here their text makes sense and contradicts what they have said in other places of the book. They write that Sahle Selassie's objectives were 'combounded' and that he realised 'that to get more arms he had to control the very lands that produced the desired capital to acquire the armament. Thus he also aimed to

control Oromo territory. Sahle's choice was to go to war to seize Oromo lands' (p. 84). This reminds one of Berthold Brecht's dictum that war is fed by war, a dictum that in my view explains much of Ethiopian history. Sahle Selassie wanted to go to war, so he had to make war in order to get the means to wage his war. In this way he practically did the same as Menelik half a century later when he plundered Wolayta before he went to the battle of Adwa. The chapter on King Sahle Selassie also provides an example of how fantasies of unlimited gains and not reasonable economic calculations (i.e. the capitalist conspiracy) were the driving forces of 'imperialism', 'colonialism' and all sorts of European involvements in Africa during the nineteenth century. The dream of a French entrepreneur and adventurer called Rochet who at one time was close to Sahle Selassie characterises such imperialist fantasies. Rochet, according to Rubenson, quoted by Holcomb and Sisai, planned to conquer Ethiopia. Then, with the help of an Oromo army of 200,000 warriors, he wanted to go on to create an empire which was to reach across Africa from

the Red Sea to the Atlantic. Needless to say that this plan never became a reality. The expansionist plans of Sahle Selassie were, however, successful to a considerable extent.

It is equally interesting to read how, during his captivity at Maqdala, Menelik had Dejaz Wube as

his tutor, learning from him how to make the best use of foreigners. Wube had been imprisoned by Ras Ali II and later by Emperor Tewodros, but earlier, as the ruler of Tigray, he had been one of the first to meet and get to know the Europeans who had come to the country. No wonder, then, that for long periods Menelik managed to avoid confrontation with the Europeans and made it seem that his plans were 'a precise match of the European desires' (p. 92). But as I have said above, this match was certainly not the result of an 'alliance'. Rather, it was the result of influences that were going on behind the scene. As they tell the story, Holcomb and Sisai develop an almost Shakespearean topos for this: the topos of the secret councillor, the 'European strategist at the Emperor's ear'. The quintessential character of this sort was Menelik's Swiss-born adviser, Alfred Ilg, who stayed with the emperor for twenty-seven years. In later chapters we learn more about the role of foreign advisers, and everything we read shows that, quite contrary to the authors' initial thesis of the influential position of foreigners, they were in fact dependent people used mostly for technical assistance. They may occasionally have had some influence in the country, but they never wielded true power over Ethiopia. My last major criticism of Holcomb and Sisai concerns their muddled methodology. In their introduction they say that their approach is to examine Ethiopia through analytical discussion using

enough descriptive data to make their points; they go on to say that theirs is not a work of history,

nor a work of theory, but one of interpretation. What does this mean? Is history like the Bible? Is it

a holy text which we cannot explain but only interpret? Or have Holcomb and Sisai joined the

hermeneutic camp, saying that the existential grounding of human knowledge makes the finding of universal truth impossible, especially in the field of social science? However, there is no reference to Dilthey, Ricoeur or Gadamer - we find Marx and Lenin instead. In other words, it remains unclear what Holcomb and Sisai mean when they invoke the interpretative method. They never explain what they mean by 'interpretation' and why they think it is different from 'theory', 'analysis' or 'examination'. On the other hand, I think I understand perfectly well what they are up to: they use the fuzzy term 'interpretation' as a licence to come up with all sorts of unproven and unprovable statements and to play around with facts. Above all, 'interpretation' allows them - in good Marxist-Leninist fashion - to usurp knowledge and create all sorts of entities like capitalism, monopoly capitalism (with its monopoly capitalist class), finance capitalism (with its finance capitalist class), dependent colonialism, corporate colonialism and so on, and have them act on the historical stage. I agree that it is important to understand the rote of capital in regional and global politics, but do we still need the catchwords of Marx and Lenin? Is it not time to drop their totalitarian view of history and develop a sense of doubt? I mean, for example, the doubt that history is a neat set of class struggles, or the doubt that big brother Capitalism has his hands in everything. There is never any shade of doubt in Holcomb and Sisai's presentation of Ethiopian history. The reason for this is that their book has a political motive and that their 'interpretations' have all the same aim: to expose the all-pervasive influence of capitalism which lies at the back of the conquest, colonialisation and

continued suppression of the peoples of southern Ethiopia. By invoking the evils of capitalism and using all the righteous jargon of the Marxist-Leninist past, the authors have in fact not helped the peoples of southern Ethiopia and have not shown them a way out of their dilemma. On the contrary, they have imprisoned them in the phantasm of a global conspiracy, a conspiracy between 'corporate colonialism' and the Ethiopian state. In spite of all this criticism I find Bonny Holcomb and Sisai Ibssa's book extremely important because it exposes the agonies of the Ethiopian past and points to the problems facing Ethiopia in the present. The effects of the Ethiopian conquest which happened a hundred years ago are far from over. Great inequalities have remained which must be overcome until the peoples of Ethiopia are able to live in harmony with each other. Published sources on 'histories of resistance' within Ethiopia are still quite sparse: the authors write that 'many people eagerly await the time when these people will speak in their own voice and make their own history and experience available in publicly accessible forms' (p. 300). In spite of this, they manage to give an outline of the conquest and the subsequent resistance which makes one realise the magnitude, though not the complexity, of the problems that are at issue. Their stunning, and, as it turns out, most convincing argument is that there has been no real revolution in Ethiopia. True, Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed and the Solomonic dynasty 'which counted its lifespan in terms of millennia rather than centuries' (Bahru p. 209) came finally to its end, but Amhara domination remained, and with it the subjugation and exploitation of the people who had hoped to become free once the emperor had fallen. The authors quote an Oromo farmer saying in 1985, 'The Derg and we were both fighting the old landlord. But we wanted to have no landlord. The Derg wanted to become our landlord' (p. 358). 'Derg' which originally had only referred to the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces had by then become the name for the whole regime led by Mengistu, a regime which, like so many others of its kind, marshalled Marxist slogans in order to legitimise itself and exert control over the 'masses'. According to Holcomb and Sisai, 'the Derg was able to do what Haile Selassie had been unable to do - penetrate further into the colonial regions in order to exert tighter control over the people and the resources of the colonies' (pp. 361-2). Crucial for the success of the Derg was its organisation of the peasant associations through which it exercised control over the people and betrayed them, especially when it came to land reform. It is eye-opening to read how the Derg announced an ambiguous land reform and by implementing it betrayed the people whom they claimed to have liberated: 'The land reform that was announced was presented as if it were a response to the demands of the conquered peoples. When the land was nationalised, it was declared to be the "collective holding of the Ethiopian people." This measure was inherently ambiguous since there was no agreed definition of "the Ethiopian people" and the basis for collective holding had not been politically or economically established. The confusion that resulted from this ambiguity made it possible for the cultivators in the colonised areas to be told that their demands had been met' (pp. 348-9), for they 'believed that the Derg had endorsed their claim to their lands on the basis of their national rights to land' (p. 356). They were wrong because they later learned that the land was not meant for them but was appropriated by the central slate. Under the regime of the Derg the farmers were therefore dispossessed once again and reduced to the role of labourers. There is no room here to present more of Holcomb and Sisai's analysis, but let the ironic point be repeated that there was no real revolution in Ethiopia and that once it had been established itself, the Derg 'introduced into every branch of government had already designed, and in some case, had already begun implementing during its latter days' (p. 359). Holcomb and Sisai wrote their book in order to contribute to the demise of the Derg which actually fell in the same years as their book was published, in 1991. They had noted that Tigray was a special case and that the Tigreans were not conquered and 'colonised' by the Amhara like the Oromo, Gurage, Wolayta, Gamo, Konsoo, and other peoples of the south. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Amhara power steadily increased so that after the death of the Tigray emperor Yohannes (1889) the crown went to the Shoan (Amhara) king who became Emperor Menelik II. From then on, the relationship between the two kingdoms reversed and it became a

policy of the Amhara regimes to 'repress the Tigray people in order to secure a dominant position over them' (p. 316). For the Tigreans who had held political supremacy over the Amhara for centuries this was unbearable and they put up resistance. Holcomb and Sisai had thought that eventually a combined operation of all resistance groups within Ethiopia would topple the Derg and had assumed that a political order of 'the peoples' choosing' would subsequently emerge. However, they did not anticipate the great success of the northern liberation fronts during the final phase of the war and the leading role they would play in the formation of an interim government. They had no inkling that after victory the southern liberation fronts would soon feel betrayed by the Tigreans and accuse them of usurping power with the use of the gun, just like Mengistu had done. This lack of correct judgement does not come as a surprise because in their book they have systematically belittled the Ethiopian rulers and so in the end fall victim to their own strategy. In other words, they were not able to forecast the new hegemony of the Tigreans because they did not credit them with the necessary cunning and political skills. What do we learn from all this? At least two important lessons. First, as Bahru's book shows, politics is the art of manipulation and deception. The politically successful do not say what they mean and they know how to hide the motives for their actions. The British deceived Tewodros and Emperor Yohannes, and Emperor Menelik deceived not only the British but also the French and Italians as well. Ethiopian politicians never were simply marionettes in the hands of European powers and the Ethiopian crown never cracked - rather the flags of foreign powers were wrapped around it like 'shashi', which symbolise flamboyance and victory. Second, as Holcomb and Sisai's book shows, one should not think that simply because an emperor gets murdered and a 'revolution' proclaimed, a crown (broken or not) has fallen. The authors have convincingly shown that there has been no real revolution in Ethiopia; the centralist character of the old political system remained, and was even strengthened, under the Derg. It is tempting to generalise and say that reading these two books helps us better to understand what is currently going on in Africa and other parts of the world. It might make us sensitive to the competence of leaders of 'other cultures' and concede hat they are masters of the political game. We are also forcibly reminded of the many historical sources which have still not been settled.

Ivo Strecker Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz Forum Universitatis 6 D-55099 Germany