Ethiopia and the Black Diasporic Imagination

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM (UAE Time)
Session 2

Moderator & Discussant
Salah M. Hassan - Director, The Africa Institute, Goldwin Smith Professor and Director, Institute for Comparative Modernities, Cornell University, Ithaca, USA

Unmarked Treasure: Du Bois and his 1930 “Memorandum” to the Ethiopian Government
Fikru Negash Gebrekidan - Associate Professor of History, St. Thomas University, Fredericton, Canada

In August 1930, W. E. B. Du Bois met with two Ethiopian government representatives at his NAACP office in New York City. This paper analyzes the follow-up document to that encounter. In an eight-page letter to the Ethiopian visitors, which the NAACP host referred to as “A Memorandum,” Du Bois provided a development policy blueprint. It was the first time that an American reader of Ethiopian events came up with political and economic recommendations. The paper will argue that a critical reappraisal of this little-known document is in order on various grounds. First, the document shows how much Du Bois’s vision of the Ethiopian renaissance mirrored his earlier model of black self-uplift, namely the infusion of the “talented tenth” into a Pan-African development scheme. Second, in the document, Du Bois not only acquaints the Ethiopian government with the emergent spirit of Pan-Africanism, but his broad remarks about the underlying anti-colonial sentiments in India, China, and Japan can also be read as an anticipation of future South-South relations. Third, Du Bois’s lukewarm tone toward the Lake Tana dam construction, which the Ethiopian government was to finance with loans from Western banks, can be appreciated as an early warning against the slippery slope of neocolonial dependency. Finally, in terms of more concrete and immediate results, the document can be further studied whether its recommendations had any practical bearing on Ethiopian economic and political reforms of the early 1930s, such as the government’s indefinite suspension of the Lake Tana dam project.

“Running to Paradise” Is a Personal Narrative of a Journey to Lalibela, Ethiopia
Ishion Hutchinson – Associate Professor, Graduate Writing Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, USA

Ethiopia: paradise, homeland. That is how Rastafarians in Jamaica since the 1930s have imagined it—the landscape to be redeemed as the most sacred counter to slavery’s dispossession, very much in direct contradistinction from West Africa, the origin point of the majority of slaves.  What does it mean then to arrive in Ethiopia, specifically to one of its most sacred sites, Lalibela, with such a heritage? The traveler finds the lived encounter with the redemptive landscape, its distant geography with its ancient and contemporary history and its rituals to be a heightened form of remembrance; a blurring of homes, and discovers, indeed, what Naipaul once wrote, “all landscapes are in the end only in the imagination; to be faced with the reality is to start again.”

Martial Ethiopianism in Verse
Nadia Nurhussein – Associate Professor, English and Africana Studies, Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

I argue in this paper that the paradox of imperial Ethiopianism—that is, a reverential attitude toward the Ethiopian regal line existing side by side but at odds with a democratic and collective approach to black solidarity—runs throughout African American poetry of the 1930s dealing with Ethiopia. Poets as varied as J. Harvey L. Baxter, Melvin B. Tolson, and countless others wrote verse intended as calls to action, encouraging readers to rally in support of the Ethiopian cause, but they often did so through the praising of exemplary regal icons despite ostensibly fighting for justice and equality. In many cases, these regal icons of the 1930s were depicted in their roles as soldiers. The title of this talk gestures toward this ideological perspective: a pan-African/black nationalist perspective filtered through the bifocal lenses of militarism and imperialism.

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