Studying patterns of peace in Ethiopia
Dawit Kebede, a senior peace, justice and conflict studies major, has been breaking new ground in the unexplored topic of Christian and Muslim relations in his home country. What he has found during his summer of Maple Scholar study could have implications for other ethnic conflicts around the world.
“I got the idea for this research while leading Study-Service Term in Ethiopia, and was really intrigued by what we heard from talking to people about the Christian-Muslim relations in the country,” said Jan Bender Shetler, Kebede’s faculty adviser, who has extensive knowledge and experience about that region of Africa through her service work and scholarship.
Christians and Muslims, who make up the majority of religious people in Ethiopia, have lived side by side for thousands of years. In 1991, a new government took power and implemented a plan called “ethnic federalism,” dividing Ethiopia into nine different regions based on ethnicities. “Since then, there has been a resurgence of religious and ethnic identity,” said Kebede, who is himself Ethiopian.
While preparing for teaching a course in ethnic conflict, Shetler read Ashutosh Varshney’s book, “Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India” and wondered if his theories could be applied to Ethiopia.
“Varshney said there is a connection between conflict and civic life,” said Kebede. “He found that the more inter-ethnic institutions there were that brought various groups together, the less ethnic conflict there was. He’s the pioneer in this belief, making a shift from studying why ethnic conflict exists, to why ethnic peace exists.”
Shetler wanted to pursue Varshney’s theories with Ethiopia, however was not sure who could help carry out the research. “Dawit is just perfect. He is Ethiopian, so he could look at the Amharic sources,” said Shetler. “He is an articulate, bright and driven student.”
Using the country’s newspapers (in the original Amharic), Kebede documented ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia from 1991 to 2005. “Findings showed that there wasn’t a real problem of ethnic conflict, despite this new policy of ethnic federalism,” said Kebede. With this data, he believes Varshney’s theory is applicable to the situation in Ethiopia.
Kebede appreciated the opportunity to make the change from studying ethnic conflict, to studying what people can learn from peaceful societies. “I hope we might be able to apply this information elsewhere, particularly to shed light on Africa,” he said.
– By Megan Blank ’07