A short reflection on Nils Holgersson´s Wonderful Journey Through Sweden: The complete Volume (Vol.1 & 2).

During my last 30 years in Sweden, I read many of the Swedish recent and classical works.

One of the authors I read was noble prize winner Selam Lagrlöf. In addition to reading some of her books, I also saw some of her stories that were turned into plays and movies. 

About a decade ago, I worked at Karlstad University located in Selam Lagrlöf´s home region Värmland. This gave me the opportunity to visit the farmyard Mårbacka where she was born and grown up. The theater scen where  her works are shown, berattarlådan (the story Barn), is not far from her childhood home. 

Many years ago, good friends ( a spouse) gave me a complete edition of the book, Nils Holgersonsson´s Wonderful Journey Through Sweden. In this book there is a stamp in the first page that reads, “Harvard College, 1908”. It is the same year the book was first published. The two volumes are in one binding (the first volume has 285 pages and the second one 486 pages) totally 771 pages. The text is written in bigger alphabets and there are some  photos of birds, different animals, castles, houses in cities as well as rural natural environments are included.    

Nils Holgersson´s Wonderful Journey Through Sweden was written as a geography school book for elementary school children. Swedish regions and major cities are described well. The young boy, Nils Holgersson on the back of birds was looking down to natural environments and Swedish major cities. He mainly transported by geese but when there are emergences, a crow and an eagle were in his service.  

Nils was enchanted to a dwarf because of his mean behavior to animals and disobedience to his parents. As a dwarf he flew all over the country. At the end when he returned to his parents´ farmyard, he became human again because of good things he did during his adventures.

In this adventurous book, Selam Lagrlöf gives a leading role to a female goose with the name Akka. Akka is the oldest in the group and the wisest of all. She is alert, she is sympathetic and she is fair. she gathered important and relevant information that was necessary to protect the flock. In addition to that she was giving well-grounded decisions for the seek of the flock. 

This book is providing information and knowledge beyond the geographical description of Swedish regions. The economic basis of the regions such as mining, cattle breading and deer herding, and other main bread winning businesses of the people in the regions were provided. Exceptionality of each region is remarked. 

While harmony was characteristics of the stories, also conflicts are described. These conflicts are between birds, between birds and a fox, between Nils and an owl and so on. But all the conflicts are resolved without a blood shade or damage to any part.   

One interesting point is how  Selam Lagrlöf made Nils Holgersson on his way from northern Sweden to his parents´ home in Skåne, land at Mårbacka, a farmyard where she grew up. She took this opportunity she created, to think back to her childhood in this area. She described the farm work, the work in the household and how different major holidays are celebrated in her parents’ home when she was a child.

I am impressed by Selam Lagrlöf´s creative ability. How she created the characters for the stories in the book, birds, other animals and human beings. How she created the context for the animals and human beings to understand each other. It is equally impressing how she was finding stories from different regions on various subjects and create special characters tell these stories. I am glad to see Sweden in stories written more than 100 years ago by a Noble lorette of high caliber.  

Armed conflict prevention-Cases from Africa

About 20 years ago, I was studying for my Masters in Sociology at Göteborg University in Sweden. Then I wrote a master thesis on armed conflict prevention in Africa. As the thesis might be interesting for some I will post the abstract here. Those who are interested to read the whole thesis can find it in this blog page.


Title: Armed conflict prevention-Cases from Africa

Author: Getahun Yacob Abraham

Supervisor: Bertil Nelhans

Department: Göteborg University, Department of Sociology

Type of work: CD-thesis, 20 points

Number of Pages: 62

Period of study: Mid-January, 2003 – May, 2004

Objectives and research questions: Africa as a continent experienced many armed conflicts that caused losses of lives, physical and psychological handicaps, hatred and property damage. The objectives of this study are to try investigate the root causes of armed conflicts in Africa, contributing to further awareness about the problems among different groups of people, hopefully adding some knowledge to the already existing ones on the subject and indicating some areas that need further research. The major investigatory theme revolves around and posed as a main question, whether it is possible to prevent armed conflicts in Africa. My sub questions were: on what are the causes of armed conflicts in 1990s? who are the main actors in armed conflicts? and what measures are needed to prevent or at least minimize future armed conflicts in the continent?

Data and method: The data used in the paper is collected through literature survey and supplementary interviews conducted with Africans living in Sweden and Swedes familiar with Africa. I also conversed with a large number of informants by e-mail and/or telephone. Qualitative data collecting method has been used. Grounded theory is considered as a tool for identifying concepts and categories relevant for the study.

Theory/Theories: Sociological theories of social conflict and modern theories of conflict prevention used within peace and conflict research are considered.

Empirical findings: The study focused upon the intra state and inter state conflicts. In the intra state conflicts political, ethnic, resource and religious factors are found to be main causes of armed conflicts. The inter state conflicts are mainly caused by politically motivated factors, border and territorial claims. Actors of conflicts can be both internal and external. The state, the army, ethnic groups, local leaders and religious leaders are some of the internal actors. External actors can be neighbouring states, big powers supporting armed opposition groups, arms dealers and mercenaries. There are also internal and external actors for armed conflict prevention. Internal actors are the state, civic organisations, religious and other traditional organisations while external actors could be the UN, the regional and sub-regional organisations, NGOs, big powers and states of other countries. These actors can take proactive or reactive measures of armed conflict prevention in a short term and long term bases.

Listening, respecting and cooperating with each other are minimum preconditions for peaceful coexistence.

During recent years Ethiopia has gone through enormous changes. Some of these changes could be relevant for the future of the country while others, if not systematically handled, could lead to unrepairable damage. 

Many Ethiopians have during the last two to three decades strongly been demanding their rights to use their own language, exercise their cultural and religious practices. Equally there are other Ethiopians that consider this demand for self and ethnic identity as destructive for the unity of the country. The later groups claim ethnic federalism as an evil for all problems the country is facing today. 

The tendencies I observe among the two groups are that the first group beyond claiming the linguistic and cultural rights, would view citizens by dividing them as those into members of its own linguistic and/or cultural group and the “others”. These “others” could be friends or enemies. There is a tendency to restrict resources and opportunities to ones own group and some fringe benefits to groups considered as “friends”. The group seems to work hard to stop those who are considered as “enemies” from getting any benefits.

The second major group refrains from what it calls “ethnic federalism”. Some sub-groups affiliated to this group, deny any ethnic, linguistic or culturally based oppressions during the past in the country. They consider this a fabrication by some elites of the ethnic groups claiming the problem. According to them, for the sake of peace, the ethnic federalism in the country should be forbidden and the country should return to the previous geographical administrative system.

One worrying situation is the extensive use of mass media and social media to campaign for these two extreme views.  These groups, instead of listening to each other to find out on what bases claims are made from the opposing side, are claiming their side is the only owner of the truth. They are not only accusing each other, they are spreading hate propaganda about each other. 

One example for such a conflict is the different interpretation of history by some groups of Amhara and Oromos. According to this Oromo elites, Ethiopian leaders of Amhara origin have during the last 150 years subjugated the Oromo people by force to accept the system they established to oppress them. To them the Amhara ruling class committed genocide on the Oromo people, took their land and made them surfs and forbid them using their language and exercising their culture and their religious rites. 

Some Amhara groups deny this historical interpretation of the Oromos. According to them, no genocide took place, no land was confiscated, and no system that dominated the Oromos and other minorities in Ethiopia existed.  Few even claim, that former kings and rulers are clean of this accusations, while others believe they did what was necessary for their time. Arguments of these groups are deeper and more detailed than what I can handle in this short text. Elites of both side have their facts for what they claim was right and wrong.  

What is getting worst is that the oral and text-based arguments between these groups in different medias is developing in the wrong direction. Using weapons, killing each other and destroying properties are being the order of the day. Some people believe that instead of dialogue and negotiation fighting each other with arms will solve their problems and lead to long lasting solutions. I argue, based on the realities of the African continent and experiences from other parts of the world, that the use of violence can lead to temporary success and calm but never lead to lasting peace. Instead, it will leave a long-lasting wound with the people and gradual splitting of the country into small fractions. 

The sad reality is, when you talk to people from different sides, they are not ready to have a balanced view of the reality. They claim the suffering, the killing and property destruction that affected only their ethnic groups. They rather would avoid hearing the suffering and the pain of others. It is not uncommon for them to judge those who would like to see the situation in a balanced way as their enemies. Those who are talking sense in the social media usually will be victimized by the army of ignorant and blind followers of warmongerers. Instead of arguments against their ideas, they are insulted for how they look like, for their age, for the form of their body, for the way they are dressed, for not forming a family, and other unrelated issues. 

Ethiopians of this generation from all the different ethnic, linguistic, cultural, etc groups have a choice. One choice is to continue on the road the extremist groups are leading them, hurting each other, destroying property and finally putting the country in to an endless civil war and splitting. The other alternative is to say no to violence, and attempt to resolve problems facing the country through dialogue and peaceful negotiations. 

Preferences to violence and hatred for each other is first conceived and developed in peoples minds. Trust, love for each other and peaceful thinking would also develop in peoples mind. Ethiopians need to recognize that in the future no group is going to dominate the others and lead the country peacefully. As there will be resistance to dominance, there is a need to listen to each other, to listen to people whose historical understanding varies from ours, those who inherited the history of the suffering of their ancestors. Those who also say these sufferings never happened are victims of a historical fallacy. Listen to all before judging.

While there are current histories of inflecting pain on each other, some of the conflicting issues are historical. This generation is not the one that inflected the 150 years back pain and it is not either this generation that suffered that pain. We need to limit our responsibility for what happened to and what was done by our parents, grandparents and great grandparents’ generation. There is a need for discussing the past officially and openly and then close the files while keeping historical memories and finally leave issue to historians and universities to continue their researching and writing on it. Knowledge of the past can help us not to repeat similar mistakes the previous generation have done but it should not be a shackle that hinders us to go ahead. Solving our major problems that we inherited from the past and developing a culture of listening to each other, respect for each other and cooperation to build a brighter future for this and coming generation is a responsibility for all.  

Are birds so intelligent?

I have some friends and acquittances who are interested in birds. They have bird books and good quality binoculars for watching birds. They usually tell me the name of the species, the colour and habitat of the birds they watched. But unfortunately, no one told me about the intelligence of these birds.  

My surprise about the birds´ intelligence came from a book an American friend recommended and I read during this summer (2021). The book is:

Title: The wonder of birds. What they tell us about ourselves, the world and a better future.

Author: Jim Robbins

Pages: 331

Year of publication: 2018

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

The book gives some basic information on inspiration birds gave human beings, birds´ evolution and intelligence. Instead of reviewing the book I select few interesting observations and recorded facts given in the book by researchers with knowledge about birds. I start presenting what is written about persons inspired by birds to fly and continue to some stories given in the book about intelligent birds.

Persons inspired by birds

“One of the first recorded human attempts to fly like a bird was that of the ninth-century Spanish Muslim polymath Abbas Ibn Firnas…” p.17 

“…the eleventh-century “flying monk” Eilmer of the Malmesbury Abbey, in Wiltshire, England was captive by the story of mythical Daedalus, who fashioned wings for himself and his son Icarus out of wax and bird feathers. Icarus flew too close to the sun, melting the wax that bound the feathers on his wings, and so he fell to his death…” p.18

“Leonardo da Vinci, too, had a fever to fly and would do much in his life to capture the essence of bird flight, but as an artist and scientist he took a much more studied approach than Ibn Firnas or Eilmer. Leonardo would sit on a hilltop near his home in Florence and sketch the black kites and goldfinches that soared and flitted above him. These sketches eventually became Codex on the Flight of Birds, the first known written record of the study of avian aerodynamics…” p. 18.

Intelligent birds

“Birds can also serve as guides for hunters. When a hunter from the Boron tribe is ready to head out into the bush of southern Ethiopia and Kenya to gather a bit of honey, he emits a loud, sharp whistle through a clasped fist to summon his partner, the greater honeyguide. The birds don´t always respond, but when they do, like a friendly from a Disney cartoon, the gray and white bird shows up and hovers, ready to help out – for a cut of the action. Sometimes the birds initiates the search and flags down the human, giving out a tir-tir-tirr

call and moving restlessly in the hunter´s presence, like a dog begging to go for a walk. Prior to the hunt it has likely already located the bees – for researchers have seen the birds peering into the hives before dawn while the bees are fast asleep. 

Either way, when it´s time to fetch the sweet stuff, the bird flies back and perches near the tribesman, flashing its white tail. As the human hunters nears, the bird flies ahead again and again, signalling each time with its tail to show the way. Once the bird reaches the sight of the honey, it changes its tune and gives out a soft “indication” call. When the hunter arrives, he fires up some bark to smoke the bees out of the hive, then splits it open with an axe or machete. Then he divvies up the find. The bird gets the wax, pupae, and larvae, and the hunter keeps the honey. Some believe the honeyguide must also be given a taste of the sweet stuff or, next time out, its retribution may lead a tribesman to a venomous snake or a lion.” Pp.104-105.

“…biologist Pamela Egremont watched as Chinese fishermen on the Li River used cormorants to catch fish. The fishermen place a neck ring on the birds, which cinches their throat tightly so they can´t swallow, and they are then trained to return with the fish in their mouth. The birds are allowed, however, to eat every eighth fish. When they turn to the fishermen after the seventh fish, Egremont wrote in a journal article, they “stubbornly refuse to move again until their neck ring is loosened” so they can eat the eighth fish as usual. “They ignore an order to dive and even resist a rough push or a knocking, sitting glum or motionless on their perches. One is forced to conclude that these highly intelligent birds can count up to Seven.” P.139.

“Crows have a remarkably robust memory, and can remember a human face that has done them wrong for years. University of Washington corvid researcher John Marzluff and two students wore rubber masks to test crows that live on campus. A caveman mask was deemed “dangerous” and a mask of Dick Cheney was labelled “neutral.” Students in the dangerous mask trapped and banded seven crows. Over the next several months, volunteers donned the two types of masks on campus, this time walking prescribed routes and not bothering the crows. Yet the crows remembered the “dangerous” faces. In a display of anger common to crows, they vocally scolded people in a caveman mask much more loudly and harshly than they did before they were trapped, even when the mask was disguised with a hat or worn upside down. The neutral mask provoked no reaction…” pp139-140.

“Wolves and ravens have some kind of understanding: They are partners, hunting and eating side by side – which is why the naturalist Bernd Heinrich calls ravens “wolf birds.” They depend on wolves to kill elk, deer, and other animals and rip their carcasses open, things that ravens can´t do on their own. Wolves, in turn, often rely on ravens to spot game from their highly mobile aerial vantage point and call attention to it. When ravens land at an animal carcass and are unable to open it, they call out loudly and repeatedly until a wolf shows up to tear it open.” P.150.

In a lab study, Bugnyar used two of his captive birds, Munin, a dominant bird, and Hugin, the subordinate, named after the Norse god Odin´s mythical birds. Prying off the lids of color-coded film containers to get at the cheese stuffed inside was a snap for Hugin, but he could rarely get out more than a piece or two before Munin, who was not as good at removing lids, bullied his way in and took over. Then things got interesting. Hugin feinted – he hopped over to some similar looking but empty containers, pried off the lids, and pretended to voraciously gobble invisible food. When Munin came over to assume ownership of that food and was distracted, Hugin returned to the filled containers and resumed eating. Once Munin found out that the trick was on him, he threw a tantrum, hopping angrily about the cage, squawking and tossing food and empty containers about…” pp. 165-166.

Quotations above are selective stories from this book. I think through reading these kinds of books, we can learn a lot about birds, other animals and plants in our surrounding. These kinds of readings can develop our knowledge and experiences that will help us understand our natural environment to live in harmony with it.

The escalated conflicts in Ethiopia.


During the latest two years, I have been hearing a lot about the instability in Ethiopia. The problem is, as I see it, not only about instability, it is about severe conflicts, conflicts that have led to armed conflicts. There are a lot of reports on armed conflicts taking human lives and ravaging properties in different parts of the country. To emphasise the seriousness some politicians and intellectuals residing outside the country have given the conflict a status of “genocide”.

It is difficult to understand the root causes of what led the country in to this armed conflict. Whoever I am talking to in recent years has his/her own version of the reality with strong blame of the “others”. These others are the Amhara, the Tigre, the Oromos, the Muslims, the Orthodox, the Protestants etc. Ethnic, religious, historical, cultural, ideological, economic, and other factors are given as major causes for conflicts.

As I mentioned earlier, who ever you talk to puts the blame on the “others”. It is a rare encounter to hear individuals or groups taking responsibility, confessing their mistakes and suggesting solutions on how to get out of the trap. Self-criticism is a rare phenomenon in private and official dialogue in the society. 

In an attempt to realize their goals, different individuals as well as groups are using different strategies. One strategy is to spread information about once conviction directly through personal contacts. But the major battle field is the social media such as twitter, facebook, you tube and other visible sights with large followers. The social media is used as a forum to campaign for ones on version of reality as well as to miscredit ideas or facts coming from the opposing groups.   

For me who is not on the ground and not following the day-to-day events in place, it is difficult to verify what is reported in the social media. In a country like Ethiopia, it is not easy to relay upon or trust either the state or private media. Even if it is difficult to fully relay on any source, I am following the development in the country through media outlets in the country and outside the country.

More than verifying what is true or not from different sources, I am wondering what are the root causes of the conflicts, what could have been done to prevent the escalation to armed conflicts? When the armed conflict is a reality, the important question is how they could be resolved? and how to build a long-lasting peace? are essential questions that needs a reply. 

One of the major problems in Ethiopia is interpretation of history. Some groups are convinced their forefathers were forced to submit to the central government by force. They also express that their cultural heritages and languages are not given the recognition they deserve. On the other hand, other groups are completely denying these claims. 

In addition to that the major ethnic groups, the Amhara´ and the Oromos are convinced that during the last 30 years one of the Ethiopian minorities the Tigranes took power and isolated them and other Ethiopians. Open statistical figures showed that the key positions in the military, civilian and economic sectors were occupied by elites from the minority Tigray group. According to many sources including individual witnesses and human rights reports, the minority government imprisoned, tortured and killed those who opposed their undemocratic acts. 

After the internal struggle within the coalition partners in the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples´ Revolutionary Democratic Front), the ruling party TPLF (Tigray Peoples´ Liberation Front), was forced to leave power in non-violent transition in 2018. Following the peaceful transition, new alliances and conflicts started and even in some cases developed in to armed conflicts. In the beginning the Amharas´ and the Oromos´ allied against the Tigre ruling elites to remove them from power. Gradually the alliances cracked and friends within the same group and other groups started to consider each other as enemies. Many minor conflicts were allowed to escalate, political killings started to take place without getting any resolutions.

While it is difficult to deal with the problems, government and different authorities needed to listened to all voices. By listening to all voices to find solutions that are at least acceptable to competing parties and by allowing open forums for free discussion, would have minimized the taking up of weapons as means of reaching one’s political goal. 

Where armed struggle has been taken as alternative, measures needed to be taken. The first step is to stop the armed conflict, the second step is to provide humanitarian help to those who are affected by the armed conflict, the third step is to rebuild the different services of the society, the fourth step is to work hard for the long-lasting peace. The best alternative to all these sufferings is avoiding armed conflicts as a means of resolving political conflict.

Use and misuse of social media.

January 20, 2021

I think it was in 1989, I attended my first computer evening classes in the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commissions office. The computer program available in Ethiopia then was called MS DOS (Disc Operation System) for IBM. While already available in other countries, I saw gradual introduction of different versions of windows. 

After some years in Sweden, my wife and me bought our first computer in 1994. That machine contained two separate parts, a big box with 127 mb hard disc memory and 4 mb processer. One very big screen we put over the box. Some years later I was buying some memory cheeps to upgrade the computer. 

Gradually the devices started to be refined in forms and smaller in sizes until we have our smaller laptops, mobile telephones and iPad devices. This development included an advance in different operating systems and apps for different functions. These apps are used for our financial transactions, for educational purposes, for communication and other day to day activities. 

The major advance in communication technology led to the creation of big search tools and communication forums such as facebook, instagram and twitter. Hundreds of millions are daily using these social medias in communicating with each other.

By using social media people are not only just communicating with each other for private and official purposes. Academic knowledge, political ideologies, businesses ideas, historical facts, environmental awareness issues etc. are disseminated. 

There are those who are using the social medias for constructive purposes with intention of sharing their useable wisdom of knowledge and experiences. There are also those who use it to promote themselves, to exaggerate their successful life their lovely families and their progressive carrier. It is not difficult to tolerate these ones.  

On the other hand, it is sad to see, there are individuals and groups that are misusing this media to spread lies, hates and their biases on every aspects of life. They create fictious stories and distribute about persons they never met or consider their “enemies”. There are some who instead of opposing some opponent’s ideas, insulting them and degrading them to sub-humans. More than distributing hate propagandas, they use these forums to spread their racist and right extremist ideologies and to recruit inexperienced young members to their groups.

In such a short blog it is difficult to analyze widely the pros and cons of the social medias. It is the responsibility of social media users to work for the advantage of their audience and support genuine and civilized engagement with each other. It is equally important to stand against the misusers of social media.

Corona Virus (Covid19)


Before the beginning of 2020, I don´t remember I heard about Corona Virus or Covid19. When I first heard about it I did not give it much attention. Gradually it became daily news with a lot of details on the television, newspapers and different social medias. 

First the focus was China particularly the city of Wuhan. After a while the virus found its way to South Korea, Italy, Iran and other parts of the world. Today the virus is turned in to pandemic and it is found all over the globe. Some countries are affected more than others. The situation in Iran is getting extremely bad due to the existing economic and political situation as well as the US sanctions. In the US while the infection is expanding to different states, New York is the most affected city in the country. Among European countries Italy and Spain suffered most and lost thousands of their citizens. 

The Nordic countries are no exceptions. While there could be different mechanisms for the speed of spreading of the virus, it is in Sweden believed that it first spread through skiers returning from Northern part of Italy. 

Within the Nordic countries measures taken for limiting speed of the spread of the virus varied quite a lot. While Denmark, Finland and Norway took drastic measures of closing schools, boarders, airports with some major restrictions, Sweden took measures with slow speed. 

The Swedish government and health authorities are giving continuous information, instructions on how to behave to limit the spread of the virus and warnings on what to do and not to do. Persons over 70 years are asked to restrict their movements, high schools and universities started to give their education digitally, administrative and factory workers are giving temporary permission to stay at home. 

There are also warnings not to come closer to other persons while we are out of our homes, so called “social distance”. There was a restriction in the first round that meetings for more than 500 persons were not allowed. A few weeks later the restriction has gone down to meetings allowed to a maximum of 50 persons. This is by far a large number of people compared to some countries such as Germany, where more than 2 persons are not allowed to meet (this must be outside the family because many families can have by far large number of members than 2). This restriction affects many cultural and other activities. 

Considering all this, how is my life as an individual affected and how am I coping with it? My wife and I lived and live in Gothenburg, the second largest city of Sweden with about 680, 000 residents. While living here I was weekly commuting 250 km to my work at Karlstad University. Since mid-March I am working online from home. 

At present most part of the day, we are staying at home. We go out for shopping once every two to three days (while we are doing our own shopping, we also do shop for a friend who is 86 years old). As usual we bake our own bread and prepare our different meals.

Every day we are doing our own small exercises and we even take part in the 20 minutes television gymnastics. We are also out for short walks and biking tours. One recent development in our social life is meeting our best friends online. We are five couples spread in the city and one couple live on an island outside the city. Once a week we see each other and talk to each other. We update each other on how the week was for us and talk about what is going on around us. 

Here, I just attempted to say a little bit on Corona Virus or Covid19 and its effect on our daily routines. This is a very short personal reflection, which did not attempt to go in to the economic, political and social effects and the future consequences of the virus. I hope soon the virus will be stopped so we can return to our “normal” life that will include re-building what we lost and prepare to face similar pandemic in the future.

Getahun Y Abraham   

Peace is a precondition for a prosperous future.

In Ethiopia during the last two years there is a sign of change. The release of political prisoners in the country, and even in negotiation with other countries getting Ethiopians released from prisons of other countries, creating a good contact with the diaspora Ethiopians are good signs for changing course. Equally important is the reuniting of the divided orthodox church and giving equal treatment to Christians and Muslims of the country.

The diplomatic effort by prime minister Abiy Ahmed´s government to convince the political parties and different armed groups outside the country to return home and struggle in a peaceful means is a vital step towards democratic development and sustainable peace. As one aspect of this, the agreement to resolve the long-lasted boarder conflict with Eritrea is also a huge achievement for the new Ethiopian government. This peace effort with Eritrea, and the attempt to create a peaceful coexistence between neighbouring countries and the help to create an agreement between the factions in the Sudan conflict led to prime minister Abiy Ahmed to receiving the Nobel Peace Prize of 2019.

While there are a lot of positive developments that need a long list to count here, there are also some negative developments and disgraceful acts that cannot skip our attention. The attempt to murder the pro-change prime minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the murder of the progressive Amhara region leaders and the burning down of churches and mosques are some of them.  

Equally disgraceful are ethnic conflicts that are showing their ugly face by neighbours killing each other, mob actions against those considered “enemies” and recently even university students killing fellow students from another ethnic group than their own. It is truly sad that people in the 21st century are trying to resolve their problems by killing each other. From what I understand Ethiopia´s problems are myriad and a deep analysis is needed to understand the root causes and systematic efforts to resolve them are required. But what all parties involved in a conflict need to understand is that hatred and killing each other will never solve the problems of the country. Listening to each other, respect for each other´s ideas and dealing with differences through dialogue instead of aggressive physical attacks against adversaries. Peace is a precondition to build a democratic and prosperous society in a country. 

Neville Alexander

I attended 8-10 of May, 2019, South African – Sweden University Forum (SASUF) 2ndconference in Stellenbosch. In this conference I met two Ethiopians, one living and working in Sweden and the other one in South Africa. While we were discussing Ethiopia and South Africa, one of them, a civil engineer and professor in South Africa was talking about the bad sewerage system in Ethiopia. He said still we don’t have a central sewerage system in Addis Abeba that connects to the private houses and properties. 

After talking for a while about the sewerage system, when we changed topic to talk about something else, he turned to me and asked me if I knew Professor Neville Alexander. I said yes he was a well known person and I told him I listened to him in 2008 or 2009 at the then Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and I just thanked him after the lecture. I told my new acquaintance I heard the Professor died some years back. He was a bit surprised that I said I meet the Professor some years back and listened to him.

My new acquaintance asked me if I knew Professor Alexander´s Ethiopian connection. I was surprised and said no. He told me there are biographs of the Professor and an interview he gave to BBC on his background. His grandmother was an Ethiopian slave who was freed by the British navy from a boat that was on its way to an Arabian country.

That same evening I went to the BBC homepage and found  the link where he gave an interview about his maternal grandmother, an Oromo woman from Ethiopia (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14357121). I also read about him on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neville_Alexander). The next day when I talked to colleagues from South Africa, I understood many of them knew about him and his work. A professor from Nelson Mandela University gave me a book of tribute with a text from his colleagues and Neville Alexander himself. From this tribute and texts from him I learned that, he is a literary giant, anti- apartheid fighter, activist and an intellectual of his time.

He was on Robin Island for ten years (1964-1974) with Nelson Mandela and the other anti-apartheid fighters. During his stay on Robin Island he was the cause for turning the prison in to a “university”. As an already well educated person before his prison terms, he encouraged both the illiterate prisoners to read and write and his colleagues for further studies. 

When I read more about him, I also understood his struggle both for diversity and unity of South Africa. He dealt with the nationality question and with rights of minorities. He worked for minorities´ right to start their education in their own mother tongue and then in the later stage to start using the languages that are used nationally (Afrikans) and internationally (English).

While attempting to give voice for the minorities, he was also critical to the post-apartheid South Africa´s still using the racial divisions Black, Coloured, Indian and White. He is critical to dividing people on the base of the colour of their skin. He was also critical to the present day South Africa for economic and social injustice that left the poor in the country in the same living standard before the fall of apartheid.

As I mentioned earlier, he is a literary giant of his time and if I am going to go deep in to his work, it needs much time to read most of his work and to try to summarize his main areas of focus. I will keep that for the future. But before I finish this short introduction, I will quote his view on identities in South Africa, that could equally apply for his grandmother´s home land, Ethiopia, “We have to insist that we are all South Africans and that those subnational identities that do not undermine our national unity can and should be accepted as consonants with the democratic project.  Such subnational identities would include those based on gender, language, region, religion among others, …” (In Enough is a feast, A tribute to Dr. Neville Alexander, 22 October 1936-27 August 2012, p.93).   

Building a house on a strong base: Education reform in Ethiopia.

It is interesting to follow the discussion on education reforms in Ethiopia. There are discussions on education policy, quality of education and the role of teachers. Higher education and schools are in the center of the discussion. On the other hand, it is not an exaggeration to say that preschools are quite invisible. 

We hear in the mass media that the country´s new education road map is designed and will be available for public discussion and comments. Hopefully it is a map that shows the educational terrain of the country including the high and low performance areas. We can also expect it will show where there are difficulties to proceed towards the aimed goals. The map hopefully is also open for redrawing whenever new realties demand to do so.

A hot issue for the last few years has been quality of education on all levels. While there is a consensus that the education quality has fallen, there is no common definition of what education quality is, what the indications for the fallen quality were. There are some who explain the fallen quality based on students´ low level of reading, writing and mathematical abilities compared to the students in the same grades some 20-30 years back. Others try to explain that the low quality is the result of increased numbers of students, school expansion to give opportunity for more children, inadequate learning facilities, shortage of trained teachers, etc. Instead of just general explanations there is a need to undertake a research to establish what is a good quality/standard to strive for and how to go ahead to achieve that quality/standard. 

While discussing to improve the quality of education, there is a necessity to review the situation of teachers in the country. It is obvious that teachers are facing diverse problems to alleviate some of the problems. There is a need as a first step to increase their income. Then there are other major needs such as creating a good working environment, improving the quality of teacher education and also start working on gradually increasing the status of the profession. What we are investing on teachers will also positively influence the quality of education on all levels. 

Higher education which also includes teacher education should focus on transforming and developing the country. More of critical thinking, more of creative and innovative citizens in the higher education can contribute to a better understanding of the society at large as well as see the hindrances for its development.  More competent teacher graduates can work for improving their own lives as well as for the socio-economic development of their society. 

The largest number of students are not attending higher education. They leave school after attending elementary or secondary classes. These groups also need to attend quality education with relevant knowledge and skills that will allow them to be economically independent. Basic societal services could be provided by these students who as part of their education could be trained as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc. The education system should consider to open opportunities for these groups if they need to pursue further education to improve their knowledge and skills in the same or another field. 

Debates are taking place about higher education and schools but one group that is not given enough attention is the preschools, where the youngest of the society get their first contact with institutional education. Different problems are facing this level of education. First the shortage of preschools, secondly in the available preschools there are no sufficient education facilities, thirdly, there are no sufficient well qualified preschool teachers, and fourthly, there are no sufficient preschool teachers training institutions in the country. 

Preschools are the primary socializing institutions after the family. Here children learn to take care of themselves, to cooperate with their classmates, to compromise with other children and when they are in a problem to resolve their conflicts in a peaceful way. If the country wants to build a future democratic society it should invest on high quality preschools. 

Anyone who wants to build a house does not start with the roof. S/he will start building the base with strong material to enable it to carry the whole building. The building will rise gradually and when it is completed, it will stand the wind, the rain, the sun, the earthquake and other problems. Preschools are strong bases in a society in which citizens can start to become well prepared for matching the future needs in their society.