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Ethiopia: The ŒBlank¹ Figure of (Post)Colonial Discourse & Theory

Mekonnen Tesfahuney





Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never colonized. The definitive moment was March 1 1896, which saw the defeat of the 20,000 man strong Italian army, at Adwa in Northern Ethiopia. The Ethiopian victory rebuked European colonial sensibilities and supremacist conceptions of self. Ethiopia ­ together with Japan & Thailand -thus presents a unique and radically different location vis-a-vis dominant catographies structuring global space along the binary axes of colonizer/colonized.

Ethiopia's repulsion of European colonial ambitions secured her status as an independent black nation. In effect, Ethiopia reversed the all too dominant ontological primacy accorded to European, white agency and subjectivity. Europe's failures to incorporate Ethiopia within colonial space disrupted established Eurocentric canons, colonial and imperial praxis. In the aftermath of Adwa, European narratives re-constituted Ethiopians as "white people" or members of the "Aryan race." Europe's recuperative strategy in dealing with the singular event of Adwa, was to fold it within the supremacist canon and present it as an affair between whites and hence equal subjects. Eurocentric/colonial discourse whitewashed the bifurcation that subtended colonial space, practice and imaginary, by denying agency and subjectivity qua ³Other².

Ethiopian history and society cannot be framed in the familiar story of colonial rupture and intervention, of a before and after colonialism. Thus, questions of identity, subjectivity and agency for example, cannot be theorized or "read-off" from the colonizer/colonized binary & key concepts in postcolonial theory [mimicry, subaltern, third space]. In this sense, Ethiopia's radical difference and irks postcolonial theory. If, whitewashing history was the redemptive maneuver of colonial discourse, silence and erasure were the stratagems used by postcolonial theory.

Michel Serre¹s notion of the ³excluded middle/third² [le tiers exclu] is used to elaborate on the dynamics of absence and the blank figure in colonial discourse and postcolonial theory. The material and figurative currency of Adwa constitute a Œblank¹ space. As a singular event, Adwa opened up lines of flight in the striated spaces of colonialism and sparkled-off anti-colonial, anti-racist and redemptive struggles globally. A complex topos, whose transversal cartography conjoins disparate places [Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Poland, Guyana, UK; Jamaica, USA, China, etc.], biographies [Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela, Tupac, etc.], and movements [Black Consciousness, Ras Tafarianism, Afrocentrism, Maoist guerrilla warfare, etc], can be traced.

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