Prof. Fikre Tolossa’s book – a Cutting Rejoinder (By Prof. Paulos Milkias ,PhD)

To simplify matters, why wouldn’t Dr. Fikre and Meriras temporarily entrust the manuscript to the care of Prof. Getachew Haile who is a world renowned expert in deciphering ancient manuscripts so that he can provide his professional judgment regarding its authenticity? One needs to look closely at the time and place of Meriras’ major find, Metsehafe Djan Shewa was said to have been discovered, that its dating is ascertained to be of the said time by the characters used in the Ge’ez syllabary it was written in, that the materials used in the manuscript date to the period it is said to have been inscribed, and that UNESCO has a record of this major finding and its location at present.

Why worry about the integrity of Metsehafe Djan Shewa? Because the genesis of Dr. Fikre’s assertions is almost exclusively dependent on this uncanny manuscript. That being the case, what if it is specious not bona fide? Consider the following example: in 1983, it was announced that “Hitler’s Diary” covering the years from 1932 to 1945 was discovered and was subsequently hailed by major world media as the most important historical find of the time. But in less than 15 days, it was dismissed by specialists as being fake. It was found that some of the materials used to make them were not invented until after the demise of Hitler, and that modern optical brighteners were noticed in the paper when the pages were examined under ultraviolet light. Furthermore, when samples of the binding of the diaries were inspected under polarized light microscope, it was determined that they contained modern synthetic substances. Therefore, I only want the Meriras text to pass the scrutiny of other manuscripts of similar importance to merit quoting as a reliable source.

Instead of scientifically proving a point and building a rigorous argument, Dr. Fikre uses an appeal to popular assent through the mechanism of arousing positive feelings and enthusiasm of a multitude. This however is committing the fallacy of Argumentum ad Populum. In the author’s view, as long as the majority of people do not question the proposition and are happy with it no matter its validity, the point presented as fact must be accepted as a truism; fatal error in reasoning. For example, prior to Copernicus and Galileo Galilei, religious leaders taught people to accept the idea that the Earth which is flat is stationary and is at the centre of the universe and that the Sun goes around it as it seems to our senses; that is why in religious allegories, Joshua was said to have succeeded to supplicate and get the permission of God to stop the sun and when on the orders of God, the sun stood still, the people of Israel were able to take revenge on their enemies. One can easily assume that over 90% of the people at that time believed in this theory and were happy with it. But that majority belief didn’t mean the earth was flat and is at the centre of the universe or that the sun went around it. So, people being happy with Dr. Fikre’s propositions does not make the off the mark explanations in his book valid.

Dr. Fikre says that scholars have considered the appearance of his book as a milestone. In fact he has the audacity to claim that “genuine scholars” have reacted to his book as “a paradigm shift in Ethiopian history.” Is he really serious? If indeed anybody has called it a paradigm shift, then it is a “paradigm shift from history to fiction.” I challenge Dr. Fikre to find any support for his ideas from well-known Ethiopian historians and antiquarian scholars including Profs. Getachew Haile, Bahru Zewde, Ephraim Isaac, Messay Kebede, Mohamed Hassan, Tesema Taa, and Bahru Tafla among others. At this juncture, I invite, nay urge these same scholars to break their silence and comment on this pedagogical iniquity. It is their responsibility too. Mark that the only thing necessary for the triumph of any canard is for educators of good conscience to fail to do something about it.

Dr. Fikre claims that I have lived outside Ethiopia for ages and am far removed from the present reality in Ethiopia. To put the record straight even though, I have been away from my country for many years, as I think he did, I have taught and done research there since 1998 when I was sent by the United Nations to teach at Addis Ababa University as visiting professor. I have also been assigned under the auspices of the Swedish government to teach at the same university as visiting professor in 2011. For the last 20 years, I have conducted a lot of research in Ethiopia. To fulfil the purpose, I have gone to Ethiopia for a minimum of 3 months every year and in 2016, I was in Addis for four months where I presented a paper at Western Michigan University sponsored conference at Addis Ababa University and was actually discussing research work at the Forum for Social Studies with Prof. Bahru Zewde, the very hour Dr. Fikre was engaged in his book signing elsewhere. So, I am not as far away from the reality in my country any more than he is.

As for my advice to our young and burgeoning scholars not to quote from your book, yes, I have decided to be paternalistic by choice in order to protect them against being victims of unverified information. I have not been a teacher for so many decades to shirk my pedagogical responsibilities at this stage. When I speak of teaching mark that I am talking of teaching youth in any area. My late Somali friend, Prof. Said Samatar of Rutgers University used to insist that we, Ethiopian educators, should try hard to stop our youth from chewing qat which, he used to say, has already destroyed the brains of many Somali men. Scientific studies show that chewing qat may lead to brain cancer as happened, as some suspect, in one celebrity case in Ethiopia. But more importantly, because appropriate precaution was not demanded by educators, there are already multitudes of hard core qat chewers, whose brain wiring has been damaged and who have as a result degenerated into schizophrenics. Some of these are crowding mental hospitals in Ethiopia while others are at large wreaking havoc. Such people do not realize the condition they are in because they live in an entirely different world, a world of illusions where they hear voices. We, as educators should work hard go guard our youth against such grave dangers. It is our duty to do so.

Indeed, one has to give warnings regarding Dr. Fikre’s book. No sane learned scholar will pass a student in a history class who quotes the countless misleading information he provides in his book. Let me give Dr. Fikre just a few examples as to why as a pedagogue, I would rather be labeled paternalistic than leave young Ethiopians eager to learn their country’s history confused and in limbo after reading his monograph. Would one expect any Ethiopian historian pass a student in his class who quotes from his book and claims that “Humans originated in Gojam near Lake Tana” while scientific enquiry has proven unequivocally that based on the theory of the Eve Hypothesis and mitochondrial DNA (See Alison Jolly, Lucy’s Legacy, Harvard University press – Jun 30 2001) as well as the lesson from the fossil of the first human: Homo sapiens Idaltu (see Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Random House, 2014.) homo sapiens evolved in Afar 200,000 years ago strengthening the theory that modern humans came into being in the Afar depression and then spread across the rest of the planet?

Prof. Fikre: do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that there was “an Oromo Solomonian Dynasty?” in existence in Ethiopian history? Was this phenomenon ascertained outside the Meriras manuscript you swear by or was it conceived in a dream? To get your facts straight regarding the origin and subsistence of the Solomonian Dynasty in Ethiopian historiography, read Mamman M. Adamu “The Legend of Queen Sheba, the Solomonic Dynasty and Ethiopian History: An Analysis,” African Research Review, Vol. 3 (1), 2009 ISSN 1994-9057 (Print) ISSN 2070-0083 (pp. 468-482) and Mordechai Abir, Ethiopia and the Red Sea: The Rise and Decline of the Solomonic Dynasty and Muslim European Rivalry in the Region, Routledge, 2013.

Do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that “an Oromo person called Medebay, faced with his book being confiscated and burnt by Ethiopia’s first Solomonian dynast, Menelik l, let a cow eat his book and later when the cow was killed and quartered, parts of the writing of the book were found inscribed in its stomach?” Indeed, it would be a serious transgression to teach this conjured up fable as fact to our impressionable young people. (See detailed history of all global writing systems, in Peter T. Daniels and William Bright (Editors) The World’s Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, 1989. If you want to understand the background history of the Ethiopian writing system, read in-depth the work of a genuine Ethiopian scholar of Oromo ethnicity, Dr. Ayele Bekerie, (whom you quote elsewhere,) Ethiopic: an African Writing System: Its History and Principles, Red Sea, September, 1997.)

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