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5. The impact of modern science and technology on human rights in Ethiopia

Background information
Firearms in rural and traditional ethiopia and human rights
Traditional work of women, science and technology, and human rights


Background information

In order to place Ethiopia in its geopolitical setting with respect to technology, we shall first have a very brief look at Africa in general. This is also necessary because the conclusions reached by this study will have implications that go beyond Ethiopia. We are conscious in attempting this that, since Africa is so vast and varied, a short introductory remark on it is doomed to be a gross oversimplification. However, the ideas on Africa that are generally prevalent are so vague that even a woefully inadequate reminder will serve a purpose.

Scientists seem now to agree that man originated at the foot of the eastern African mountains (500-800 m above sea-level). He developed and improved his first technologies there and added new ones to them before moving further afield.1 Further refinement of existing technologies and the addition of new ones occurred as man's ancestors migrated to the Ethiopian plateau and to higher latitudes in Eurasia.2 In environments more hostile than those at his centre of origin, where he had developed his earliest repertoire of technologies, man was perhaps stimulated to improve those technologies, and to add new ones, by the need to make the environment less hostile.3

The existence of technologies of various degrees of sophistication on the African continent is an important factor to be borne in mind in assessing the impact of modern technology on any part of the continent. Since the impact of modern technology on the traditional straddles so many areas of social, economic, and political life, this study had to make a choice of some selected areas for detailed study. We have chosen one which is primarily political and another which is primarily social in its impact. The two selected areas are firearms technology and the impact of technology on the traditional work of women. Both are examined against their historical setting without reference to which they cannot be adequately understood. It should be emphasized that these are only two among the vast spectrum of issues from which a selection could be made.

It is appropriate to begin a study of the impact of European technology on the traditional with a brief reference to the Industrial Revolution in Europe - the most dramatic technological development that has occurred in the last 300 years. The beginnings of this revolution were in post-Renaissance south-western Europe. North-western Europe soon caught up with and overtook the southwest. As the Industrial Revolution wrought vast improvements both in the scale and in the sophistication of industrial production, the technologies of warfare shared in these benefits and advanced to a level of attainment impossible but for that revolution. These technologies provided Europe with the means of colonization of other territories, especially those in which the technology of warfare lagged far behind. Southern and eastern Europe and the parts of Asia at approximately similar latitudes to Europe were technologically not inferior enough for western Europe to try to colonize them. Africa and southern Asia were inferior enough, at least in the technologies of warfare, to be occupied, and they became European colonies. Likewise, the Americas and Australia, which did not have a level of technological development comparable to that of northern Europe, also became colonies.

Colonization provided the backdrop for the introduction of the other technologies of the West.

The European technologies introduced by the colonial powers were often so different from the normal repertoire of native technologies that they could not be incorporated into those native technologies. Some modern technologies introduced into indigenous societies could not even be effectively maintained, let alone developed de novo. Predictably, therefore, the usual reaction of the native populations in many parts of Africa was either to accept any and every European technology that could be obtained, including the non-technological trappings associated with it - for example, the eating of wheat bread and the rejection of traditional foods - or to reject totally all European technology. Given the efficiency of the European technologies, many of the more important native African technologies died out in the process.

This did not happen uniformly throughout Africa. In northern Africa and the Horn of Africa, for example, the acceptance of the new technologies was less uncritical. As a result , much more traditional industry exists in these regions than in the rest of Africa.

Before the advent of European technology, the African homestead, as a functional component of the village in which it was found, was self-sufficient in producing, or receiving through exchange, and applying its technological hardware. The exceptions were the production of iron and iron implements, weaving (where this technology was traditionally in use), pot-making, and, in some areas, tanning, where the technological expertise was confined to a distinct group or caste. There was thus very little specialization of labour. The little specialization that existed tended to divide the society into castes or caste-like groups which were often considered inferior. At the same time, these groups came to be viewed with some degree of fear because of the special powers they seemed to exercise through their technology - a power that came to be associated with the supernatural.

These attitudes led, in many African societies, to the violation of human rights because the specialized group was often given a lower status and this status became hereditary. In Kefa in Ethiopia, for example, craftsmen were barred from giving evidence at court.4 This state of affairs had in turn a detrimental effect on technology, which was prevented from reaching its full stature because of such attitudes. This was an additional reason why the colonizers found local technology in an underdeveloped state when they entered Africa. If technology is to progress in any community, the Ethiopian experience examined here underscores the need for the exponents of that technology to receive adequate social recognition. If they are downgraded and despised, the possible contribution of their technology to the uplifting of that society is greatly undermined.

By contrast, perhaps because of their proximity to Europe, and also perhaps because their pre-colonial and cohesive Islamic and Arab culture gave them a degree of homogeneity, the North African Arab countries coped with European technologies more successfully. Moreover, even though their environment was not generally as favourable as that of some other parts of Africa for agricultural development, those of them that relied entirely on agriculture had quite sophisticated technologies and relatively efficient production. In modern times, with the additional advantage that many have of oil resources, they have been able to maintain their technology at a higher level, feed their populations and meet their other basic needs. This is, however, not true of the Sudan, which, largely because of its heterogeneity, has been too deeply embroiled in civil wars to develop itself effectively. In this context, the Sudan is more like a state of the Horn of Africa than of North Africa.

In the field of received technology, a distinction can be drawn between countries dependent on French and on British technological models. With the exception of the Horn of Africa, the rest of Africa is divided into francophone and anglophone camps, with a small group of portugophone countries. The differences between these two groups seems to emanate not only from language but also from culture and technological dependence on the metropolitan powers. During the colonial period, the egalitarian-minded, republican French seem to have taken their mission of "civilizing" Africa very seriously. Unfortunately, "civilized" to them meant "rendered French." The Úlite of the francophone countries thus show a great deal of dependence on French models. As a result, technological development in the post-colonial period has been uniformly low owing to the predisposition to import from France to ensure French quality and avoid inferior local substitutions. The less egalitarian, royalist British were more prepared to permit diversity to continue in their colonies, provided this did not interfere in colonial administration. More varied technological models, including the indigenous, could thus coexist more easily. The Úlite of the anglophone countries, more willing to accept differences from English stereotypes, thus led their countries along more diverse experiments in development. As a result, technological development in anglophone countries in the post-colonial era has also been varied, with West Africa, perhaps owing to its longer period of colonization, adopting European technology much more extensively than East Africa, where traditional technologies and modifications thereof are clearly noticeable.

In North Africa, proud of its Arab language and conscious of its Arab heritage, the issue of having been a French or a British colony is not as divisive as in the rest of Africa.

Southern Africa is dominated by the Republic of South Africa, where European settlers keep abreast of technological changes and control all power. This makes it, in terms of technological adoption and adaptation, analogous to a European country like North America and Australia, and thus it is beyond the scope of this study.

The portugophone countries became independent more recently. Their colonial wars were immediately succeeded by civil wars which are still continuing. Besides, their colonizing country, Portugal, is by no means the most technologically advanced among European countries. The likelihood of portugophone countries being ready for modern technological development was thus very remote.

In terms of area and population size, Ethiopia constitutes the bulk of the Horn of Africa. Since we will look at Ethiopia in more detail, we need not say much more here. Not only culturally, but also ethnically, both Somalia and Djibouti are similar to the lowlands of eastern Ethiopia. Their colonial history, which could have given them a different technological dimension, does not seem to have done so. Somalia has turned out to be in as much difficulty as Ethiopia, not only in coping with European technology, but even in coping with internal dissent and consequent civil wars. Djibouti, perhaps because of its small size, has remained peaceful and belongs to the francophone camp.

Background Information on Ethiopia

Ethiopia first appeared in recorded history in about the fifth century be. It began as a group of city states in what is now northern Ethiopia. These came to be united under the rule of Axum. In the first half of the fourth century AD, Christianity became the official religion of Ethiopia. Judaism, believed by many to have been introduced earlier, and paganism have also continued to exist. Islam came into the country while the Prophet Muhammad was still alive, and has been an important socio-political variable ever since. Ethiopia has thus always been a multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity.

In the Middle Ages, the larger part of the northern Ethiopian massif constituted the main Christian Ethiopian empire under the direct rule of the King of Kings. All around it were a number of vassal states, those in the eastern lowlands and in the southern highlands being Muslim, those in the south-western and western highlands being animist, and those in the north-west being Jewish and mixtures of animism, Judaism, and Christianity.

The population of the main highland Christian dominion, and probably also that of the satellite states, was divided into rigidly defined, hierarchically organized castes.5 At the top was the aristocracy, ranging from the royal family to the yeoman (shmaglle) class at the farm level. Its complement was the farm labourer or serf (mestegabr) class which worked on the land of the aristocracy under the supervision of the yeoman class. There were also a number of subsidiary classes and social strata. There was a class of professional soldiers (chewa), which, though rigidly defined, was not strictly a caste, since any individual or group from without could join it when forced to by authority or need. There were several closed classes of artisans (blacksmiths, goldsmiths, silversmiths, tanners, weavers, tailors, woodworkers, potters, etc.), and even musicians and professional beggars, which formed strictly endogamous castes. It is relevant to a study of technology in the Ethiopian context to note that the artisan castes, as already observed, were often credited with supernatural powers and much feared.

The coming into Ethiopia of Western technology in the form of firearms started a process that shook the entire society and drastically changed the class stratification of the Middle Ages. The details of this process6 cannot be fully treated here.

Even since the re-establishment of contacts with Europe in the sixteenth century, Ethiopia has shown a desire to acquire European technology. Alvares7 has recorded that Emperor Lbne Dngl (1508-1540) wanted artisans from Europe. According to Basset,8 Emperor Sertse Dngl (1563-1595) wrote to the King of Spain requesting that he send artisans who could make cannons and gunpowder. According to Mhrka Dngl and Tekle Sllasie,9 during Emperor Sussnyos's time (1605-1632), a number of new technologies were introduced into Ethiopia by European artisans, including a flour mill which required no human or animal power and which, therefore, was presumably a water mill,10 a new kind of bridge made with stone and lime,11 and a palace also constructed with stone and lime.12 It should be noted, however, that though the use of lime to make strong cemented walls to support vaulted buildings appeared new to Emperor Sussnyos's chroniclers, and presumably to the Emperor and his court, churches similarly constructed had already been reported in Tigray and Wello.13 The supposedly new introductions of Emperor Sussnyos's time later gave rise to the much grander castles of Gonder.14 However, there was considerable religious turmoil, both against the newly introduced Catholicism and among sects in the old-established Orthodox Church. Combined with this were continuing population movements caused by Oromo immigration which, together with the more complete severing of the sea route by the Turks, brought about an instability which weakened the central government and resulted in the break-up of the country into small principalities.

A large part of the old empire was reunited by Emperor Theodros (18541867), who tried to establish a firearms industry in Ethiopia. After him, Emperor Menelik (1889-1913) tried to introduce a European way of life. The trend was continued until the onset of the Ethiopian revolution in 1974, with a five-year, qualitatively different phase during the Italian occupation (1935-1941). In this phase, though much technological hardware obviously came into the country with the Italians, Ethiopian technological development was arrested, as the native Ethiopians were not allowed access to education beyond basic literacy in Italian. Nevertheless, owing to the length (over 50 years) of stay of the Italians in Eritrea, many people living there informally acquired a knowledge of some European technologies and they played an important role in the spread of European technologies to the rest of Ethiopia in the post-ltalian period.

Military technological hardware was used by the Italians against the Ethiopians for military and punitive purposes. In Addis Ababa between 19 and 21 February 1937 alone, about 30,000 people were killed and much of the city was burnt down.15 However, modern technology was abused not only by the Italians, but by the feudal establishment as well. For most of them, European technology was only the means for increasing personal power and obtaining personally useful services. An extreme example is given by Isenberg and Krapf,16 who visited Ethiopia in 1839-1842. They report that an Albanian built a bridge over the River Beresa in northern Shewa, and Sahle Sllasie, King of Shewa, declared that it was for his use only. In one year, four people were drowned trying to ford the river beside that bridge!

The European technological introductions, which increased dramatically in the twentieth century, were often governed by the same philosophy as that of King Sahle Sllasie, though, owing to the overall increased awareness in the country, much less blatantly so. Respect for human rights was generally secondary to questions of gains in personal power, wealth, and other advantages on the part of the top members of the aristocracy. Transportation and telecommunications technology and the associated infrastructure made it possible for the few in the centre to accumulate power in their hands, thus eroding whatever autonomy peripheral areas might have enjoyed. Even cultural difference from the established centre came to be viewed as tantamount to declaring oneself not to be Ethiopian. The long established pluralism of Ethiopia, therefore, started to be diluted.

In short, European technologies have been used to centralize power and to erode traditional group and individual human rights. In the context of meeting basic needs for survival (health, food, shelter), however, there have been some noticeable gains. Even if modern medicine is not accessible to all Ethiopians, its availability has been increasing and more and more people are thus saved from suffering and premature death. The small gains in housing construction arising from the availability of new building materials, has, however, been more than offset by the unhygienic conditions arising from people crowding into urban slums.

A subsistence agricultural economy is often prone to famine. Because of the international mass media, such famines are brought to the attention of the world and modern transportation facilities bring food donated from various countries to the starving. But these facilities, which bring food into the country, cannot be used to address the more basic problem of transporting food within the country from surplus to deficit areas. Moreover, if there has been any improvement in the subsistence agricultural system attributable to modern technologies, it has been more than offset by increases in the overall population and especially in the number of urban people who need food from the countryside.

Since the revolution of 1974, though the government has enacted legislation to enable it to foster more actively than hitherto the development of science and technology, it has been too deeply embroiled in civil war to make substantial headway in implementing it. The civil war situation has also increased the use of modern technologies for destruction and human suffering. However, there have also been some efforts to use science and technology for the betterment of human life, for example in the provision of safe piped water to village communities.

A number of factors contribute towards creating this sorry state of science and technology in Ethiopia. There is as yet no coherent science and technology policy, though, for the first time in the country's history, a draft has now been developed by the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission and is being discussed. As a result, the importation and adoption of modern technologies has been haphazard. The combination of this lack of policy and the country's overall poverty have made the funding of science and technology woefully inadequate.

Technological hardware is, to a large extent, determined by existing factories and enterprises. Most of these were created in pre-revolution days by individual entrepreneurs from all over the world, who made their investments in the context of a total absence of science and technology policy. They therefore bear little relationship to the technological needs and capabilities of other factories and cottage industries or even to the natural resources that should have complemented or supplemented them. Even enterprises and institutions established by the post-revolutionary government are not entirely free of this problem, as the "advisors" that influenced the technical decisions on them hailed from different countries with varied backgrounds and interests.

Research and development (R&D) is in its infancy in most scientific fields. It depends mainly on donor funding. This means that R&D priorities are largely set haphazardly by the whims of individual donors.

As a result of all these factors, the development of science and technology in Ethiopia has been very unsatisfactory. To make matters worse, the uncritical importation of technological hardware has killed and is continuing to kill cottage industries. For example, enough iron used to be smelted in traditionally constructed kilns to make the country self-sufficient in iron. Now, the smelting cottage industry has totally disappeared and the country imports all its iron and steel. Some cottage industries (e.g. spinning and weaving) have survived and even continued to develop. For example, because Ethiopians value their traditional costumes and these have also become attractive items for visitors and for export, the traditional technologies to produce these have not been replaced by modern technologies. The working conditions for the people have also been improved, particularly where workers' cooperatives have been set up.

Historical Development

As described in the preceding section, Ethiopia has a complex background and includes many nationalities. As a result of this heterogeneity, Ethiopia had no codified uniform norms constituting a legal system. Such norms as existed were, by and large, customary. This meant that it had as many norms as nationalities- and even more, for it was often the case that more than one norm existed in a nationality. These norms, moreover, were amorphous.

This does not mean that Ethiopia is entirely without written law. There was some written law in Ethiopia as far back as the sixteenth century. The Fetha negest, the law of the kings, proclaimed by Emperor Zera Yacob, dealt with both spiritual and temporal matters. There are also the Bible and the Koran.

When modernization of the country's legal system commenced in the twentieth century, however, insufficient effort was made to study the country's customary and written laws with the aim of using them as possible sources. Instead, the eclectic "importation" of legal norms was preferred. This brought about the promulgation of constitutions and codes comparable to those of the developed countries as far as their modernity was concerned. This took place up to the middle of the 1960s, beginning with the promulgation of the country's first Constitution in 1931. This constitution did not, however, deal extensively with human rights, unlike the Revised Constitution of 1955.17

Our aim is not, however, to discuss the historical development of the country's legal system. For this, we refer the reader to other works.18 We will only look briefly at the legal background to human rights in Ethiopia.

The incorporation of human rights in Ethiopia's legal system began with the federation of Eritrea with the rest of Ethiopia on 11 September 1952. Eritrea had been made an Italian colony in 1890 and had remained so until 1941, when it became a British protectorate. The constitution for Eritrea was drafted under the auspices of the United Nations during the process of federation.19 Thus, it is no wonder that its provisions on the rights of citizens were almost identical with those embodied in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.20

Ethiopia is one of the founding members of the United Nations. The country's Revised Constitution of 1955 incorporated norms for human rights that have equivalents in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the Eritrean Constitution.21 Whatever norms on human rights existed at that time in Ethiopia were by and large customary and hence amorphous.

The outbreak of the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution was a milestone in the development of norms for human rights in Ethiopia. This had been preceded by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of the United Nations of 1966, which formulated the rights of man as a whole. Given this background, it is not surprising that the Constitution of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia of 1987 embodied both political and economic human rights.22

Essence of Human Rights as Embodied in the Constitution of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

It is common practice to classify human rights guaranteed by the constitutions of states into civil, political, social, and economic rights.23 If we follow this classification and examine the Constitution, we find right of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, equality before the law - rights that are commonly known as civil rights - provided under Articles 47, 48, and 35 of the Constitution. The right to elect and be elected, a right that can be cited as a political right, is embodied under Article 50 of the Constitution. the right to work, the right to education, and the right to health care, rights that can be cited as social and economic rights, are embodied under Articles 38, 40, and 42 of the Constitution.24

It is also common to draw a distinction between rights and freedoms. This distinction is followed in the Constitution. Thus, equality of women and men, equality of spouses, and entitlement to work, to cite but a few of the human rights, are referred to as rights under Articles 36, 37, and 38 of the Constitution. The entitlement to speak freely, to publish freely, to assemble and demonstrate are, on the other hand, referred to as freedoms.25

Articles 35 to 58 of the Constitution of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) of 1987, found in chapter 7, part 2, entitled "Citizenship, Freedoms, Rights, and Duties," shows that these provisions embody, to a large extent, norms for human rights as so far declared by the United Nations.26 It has, however, been stated that "[a] constitutional civil rights provision is often an empty vessel if left unattended, that is if not associated with an appropriate statute law." 27

Let us, therefore, briefly examine Ethiopia's legal system in order to ascertain the extent of implementing legislation on human rights.

Implementing Legislation and Human Rights

Since it is common knowledge that a right implies a duty, if a right exists a corresponding duty must be enforced on someone else who is likely to violate that right, either because of self-interest or in the process of the discharge of a public function. Irrespective of its contents, therefore, in order that it may be enjoyed by its holder, others must refrain from interference, unless, as is visualized under Article 58 of the Constitution of the PDRE,28 its exercise is limited by law "only in order to protect the interest of the state and society as well as the freedoms and rights of other individuals." This provision is almost identical with Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

It must be pointed out that almost all of the codes in Ethiopia were promulgated under the country's 1955 Constitution.29 It may thus be appropriate to ask how legislation passed, by and large, with the aim of ensuring the observance of human rights, as embodied in the country's Revised Constitution of 1955, could be of any use in ensuring the observance of human rights as embodied in the Constitution of the PDRE of 1987.

As far as civil and political rights are concerned, what was guaranteed by the Revised Constitution of 1955 and what is guaranteed by the Constitution of 1987 are more or less the same. This can be easily ascertained by comparing civil and political rights embodied in both constitutions with the relevant provisions of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The only difference is that the 1987 Constitution embodied economic and social human rights as well.

Thus, the observance of civil and political rights embodied in the 1987 Constitution can equally be ensured by the penal and civil sanctions provided in the penal, civil, and criminal procedure codes promulgated under the 1955 Revised Constitution.30 These laws remain in force until replaced by new laws by the Declaration of Establishment of the PDRE proclamation 2/1987.31

As regards the protection of economic rights embodied in the 1987 Constitution, implementing legislation can be of use if, and only if, the economic conditions necessary for their realization exist. Ethiopia being one of the least developed countries in the world, the enunciation of these rights could at best be programmatic. The legislature does not ignore this. An examination of the relevant provisions of the Constitution shows that the implementation of such a right is made conditional upon the achievement, at a national level, of the economic condition necessary for its realization.

It is common knowledge that the abuse of civil and political rights is largely committed by officials entrusted with the curtailment of such rights in the interest of the public at large, in accordance with certain procedures defined by law. It thus becomes legitimate to expect that, where constitutions guarantee these rights, corresponding penal laws must make the abuse of such rights a crime..

The Ethiopian Penal Code32 meets these expectations. An examination of its special part shows that:

(a) Public servants, even when lawfully authorized to carry out searches or to effect seizure, who forcibly enter a person's house or premises or who execute acts of search, seizure or sequestration other than those authorized by law, or without due regard for the conditions and forms thereby prescribed,

are, under Article 415, punishable with simple imprisonment for not longer than one month;

(b) Any public servant who arrests or detains another except in accordance with the law, or who disregards the forms and safeguards prescribed by law,

is, under Article 416, punishable with rigorous imprisonment not exceeding five years, and a fine; and

(c) Any public servant charged with arrest, custody, supervision, escort or interrogation of a person who is under suspicion, under arrest, summoned to appear before a court of justice, detained or interned, who, in the performance of his duties treats the person concerned in an improper or brutal manner, or in a manner which is incompatible with human dignity, or with the dignity of his office, especially by the use of blows, cruelty or physical or mental torture, be it to obtain a statement or a confession, or to any other similar end,

is, under Article 417, punishable with fine or simple imprisonment

These crimes carry heavier penalties under the revised special penal code proclamation 214/1981.33 Moreover, an examination of the Civil Code shows that the official and the state could be held jointly liable for whatever damage the person whose right is abused may have suffered as a result of the abuse.34 It thus seems clear, as far as implementing legislation aimed at ensuring the observance of civil and political human rights is concerned, that there is already sufficient legislation on the statute book.

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