From the outset we would like to acknowledge, despite our better judgment; there actually exist intellectuals in Ethiopia, even though there is a near absence of vigorous intelligent debates across the land. We don’t completely buy into the ‘oppression of the regime’ narrative, as lamented ad nauseam by run-of-the-mill intellectuals, who are neither politically active nor socially conscious. We don’t seriously consider all the loudmouthed imposters with all sorts of credentials whose real/hidden agenda is to hoodwink the population so that blunder and mal-governance can be facilitated for the long term benefit of oligarchs (domestic/foreign) and traditional dominators.
On the other hand our respect goes to those principled/committed/genuine organic intellectuals who are consistently/constantly battering against all odds attempting to rectify perceived/actual problematic underlying our society, wherever and whenever possible. These are rare birds indeed and we raise our hats to all of them, whether they temperamentally reside in the hard core of the opposition or in the heart of the ruling party; for they are collectively and intentionally not, ‘belly thinkers’, at least not outwardly!
By ‘the intellectual’ we don’t mean an expert or a researcher in a specialized field of study. We also don’t mean someone who has canvassed it all with ‘more degrees than a thermometer’, to use a phrase coined by a soul brother in the US. In this category we can easily include the various doctorates (earned, bought, honorary that run the whole gamut; Ed.Ds, Ph.Ds, M.Ds, D.Ds, J.Ds etc.) It must be revealed; one can obtain, not by way of purchase only, a Ph.D.
, (from some corner university) without being intelligent at all! This might come as a surprise to pedestrians, but the fact remains irrefutable. We have very close friends whose idiocy outshines even ours. Nonetheless these individuals have bona fide Ph.Ds., unlike us ph.ds (phony doctors) with intelligent quotients (IQs, with all its shortcomings) less than their shoe sizes and we are not talking centimeters either!
As for us kebele pub house bums, an intellectual is; amongst other things, an inquisitive seeker of truth, a compulsive reflector, a passionate debater, a deep analyzer/synthesizer of all and sundry with a heightened awareness of history, natural as well as human! No matter what the subject matter under consideration/conversation, a solid intellectual will always have something intelligent to say about the issue. Being an intellectual is (for the most part) an inner calling. Our bartender in the kebele pub is by far a superior intellectual to some of the professing professorials in the universities. Being an intellectual is not something that can be had by sheer force of desire. Actually this is where the pseudo-intellectuals are fallaciously trapped. A neurologist, a nuclear engineering, an aircraft pilot, etc., or even a pure mathematician might not necessarily be an intellectual, though she/he might well bean accomplished guru in his/her highly specialized field. For those trained abroad (particularly in the USA) this isa common feature of higher education. One can get solid skill in the US (in the various fields of study), but overall knowledge/interest in the totality of the natural conditions, human or otherwise, might not routinely enter one’s psyche. For that to happen, exceptionality must be braved! All roundedness is almost illegal in that country and this is so not by accident but rather by design. What is pathetic about these highly skilled/mental laborers is, they seriously think they are the all knowing/all understanding souls, without much in the way of validation. The diaspora community from yonder offensively displays this malaise, somewhat abundantly! Unlike many places on earth, humility by and large is not considered a virtue amongst the commoners of the USA!
By our modest measure, it is clear Ethiopia’s contemporary intellectuals are hard to find/locate. Where is the locus of Ethiopia’s intellectualism? (We hope the word won’t offend.) Academia? Maybe. Civil societies/NGOs? Hardly. The professions? Unlikely. State bureaucracy? Very unlikely. Business operators? Preposterous! We admit those who occupy our public spaces by virtue of their connection or money can literally force intellectualism by fiat! So long as the paid media (gov’t/private) is there to facilitate, even the neighborhood idiot can be anointed as Ethiopia’s world famous intellectual! From here on, it is smooth sailing for the sicko and soon he/she will become a fixture on the stupid box (TV.) We can easily cite the names of such clowns, but unlike them vulgar morons, our decent culture of the kebele pub house forbids such indiscretions. That is why we have the dictum posted on the walls of our pub; ‘Those who trumpet the most are those who have the most to hide than reveal.’
The brilliant economist and author of ‘The Political Economy of Growth’ and ‘Monopoly Capital’, (with Paul Sweezy-also a brilliant Marxist economics professor at Harvard, etc. who established the ‘Monthly Review’) was the only tenured Marxist professor in the USA, until 1964 (Stanford.) He was consistently ostracized, ridiculed and belittled by the so-called intellectuals of the prevailing backward establishment. He had the following to say about ‘the intellectual.’ “The desire to tell the truth is only one condition for being an intellectual. The other is courage, readiness to carry on rational inquiry to wherever it may lead … to withstand … comfortable and lucrative conformity.” Paul A. Baran. See the articles on page 2, 50 and 51.
Here is another statement by a brave contemporary intellectual activist/fighter (Pulitzer prize winner) for freedom and truth who took Mr. Obama and his increasingly belligerent Administration to court (not that he will win) for enacting a Nazi-type law to be enforced, not only on American citizens buton all the citizens of the world.
“It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are.” Chris Hedges. Good Day!