Event Name Ethiopian political thought on global history and colonial modernity (1908-1949)
Start Date 3rd Oct 2018 4:00pm
End Date 3rd Oct 2018 5:30pm
Duration 1 hour and 30 minutes

Victorious against an Italian invading army in 1896, Ethiopia entered the twentieth century as a formally independent polity. Colonialism nevertheless remained a severe threat, and the Ethiopian elites saw the world increasingly divided between colonizers and colonized, with few possibilities for “small nations” to chart their own autonomous paths of development. Domestic modernization was conceived as an essential defensive strategy against European colonial ambitions, but the new salience of the “global” also required a reinvention of official state nationalism. In order to counteract European racism, Ethiopian intellectuals buttressed narratives of Ethiopian exceptionalism, through which they claimed a right to sit at the table of “big” nations. This paper looks at the arguments sustaining the Ethiopian elites’ bid for international recognition. How did Ethiopian intellectuals push back against the unilinear conception of development typical of modernization theory? How did they explain Ethiopia’s perceived “backwardness” vis-à-vis Europe? These discussions were intimately related to how the intellectuals conceived of domestic nation building. The paper will show that, while conceived as an external anti-colonial strategy, Ethiopian state-building was underpinned by its own internal set of civilizational hierarchies and civilizing missions.