Explore groundbreaking research on Ethiopia and Africa with our column 'Research Spotlight'. We delve into scholarly works — research projects, books, thesis, articles, and book chapters — aimed at transgressing traditional frontiers of identity and politics, and fostering inclusive understanding. Be part of this transformative journey towards building a harmonized Africa by communicating key aspects of research to a broader audience.

Research Spotlight

Between Failure and Redemption: The Future of the Ethiopian Social Contract

Edited by Abadir Ibrahim and Kokebe Wolde, 2022

Published by Northwestern Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs and Northwestern University Libraries, Evanston

The book is a collection of proceedings from a convening of scholars discussing Ethiopia's constitutional future. The scope of the book is broad, stretching over 5 parts that encompass a myriad of topics. The crux of the discussions is centred around the complex themes of citizenship, identity, and constitutional rights within Ethiopia. The book unpacks several key debates:

  • Unraveling Ethiopia's Constitutional Future: The book offers exhaustive discourse and academic debates revolving around citizenship, identity, and rights within the Ethiopian Constitution. It scrutinizes the intricate relationship between human rights and citizenship under the constitutional framework, and the political dynamics within an ethnically constructed state.

  • Exploring the Ethiopian Social Contract: The future of Ethiopia's social contract is dissected, highlighting potential international judicial and quasi-judicial procedures that might enhance Ethiopia's human rights landscape.

  • Highlighting Obstacles and Potential Solutions: Ethiopia's challenges such as armed conflicts, ethnic tensions, population density, youth unemployment, food scarcity, and extensive human rights violations, are explored. The book suggests possible solutions to these issues, although the methodology of these solutions sparks debate among the contributors.

  • Underlining Empathy and Compassion: The book emphasizes the significance of empathy and compassion in addressing Ethiopia's challenges. The idea of 'radical compassion' and its relevance in a competitive, yet cooperative world, is discussed.

  • Implementing Local Concepts and Values: The book attempts to reorder the state and society by leveraging indigenous concepts and values, a process termed 'indigenization'.

In this research spotlight, I invite readers to delve into an engaging chapter by Semeneh Ayalew (PhD), titled "The Politics of the Social: Imagining a New Political Order in Ethiopia" that unpacks the concept of ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé), interpreted in English as 'radical compassion'.

According to Semeneh, ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé) is an emotion held across various Ethiopian linguistic and ethno-cultural communities, indicating a moral responsibility towards groups beyond one's own cultural community. He posits that if ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé) is given substance as a social impulse expressed in language, it could evolve into a significant political principle that could build an empathetic bond among diverse collectives within a political community, especially those in distress.

Semeneh asserts that ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé) could be crucial in creating a more equitable political community and society, particularly in a country like Ethiopia, where poverty, war, and calamities are prevalent.

Semeneh further expands the potential of ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé) as a political concept, beyond the confines of ethical and moral consideration. He argues that emotional and moral principles are intrinsically linked to politics, and moral behaviour can significantly influence social and political relationships.

Semeneh proposes several strategies to establish ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé) as a political principle, primarily investigating how ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé) could be moulded into a "civic virtue" - a shared value that guides social and political interactions among diverse ethnocultural groups. Furthermore, he discusses how ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé) could be reconceptualised as a political concept within a deeply divided and polarized political community and used to alleviate pervasive social suffering. Semeneh also explores ways to cultivate ርህራሄ (reḥerāhé) as a political principle in the quest for social justice and solidaristic action.

Semeneh's work aims to envision a new political order in Ethiopia by emphasizing the importance of horizontal social relationships and the utilization of cultural resources, social assets, and sentimental ties embedded within these relationships. Indeed, a feasible resolution to the complex political crisis at hand is to develop and implement horizontal social relations grounded in the social values that have been cultivated through long social interactions.

See more details about the book and particular chapters discussion herewith: https://ethiopian-social-contract.northwestern.pub/downloads/output.pdf

Yidneckachew A. Zikargie