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.