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What the emperor saw on a morning drive – a short history of Indian educators in Ethiopia

The only African country to have never been colonized, Ethiopia developed its formal education system independently of former colonial powers. Nevertheless, Haile Selassie, under whose leadership the development of the education system began, involved several countries in the initial stages. From the 1940s onwards he hired teachers not only from Western countries but also from India to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding Secondary Education Sector. When Ethiopia enlarged its Higher Education Sector six decades later, around the turn of the millennium, again Indian educators were hired. Although Indian educators have played an important role in Ethiopian education since the beginning, documentation of this African–Asian entanglement has so far been lacking.

The film takes Emperor Haile Selassie’s inspiring state visit to India in 1956 as its point of departure. It outlines the importance that Haile Selassie attached to education as a vehicle for progress, and suggests some reasons for why he chose Orthodox Christian teachers from Kerala to assist in his plans to expand the education sector. Most of those teachers taught English and the Sciences at secondary schools throughout the country. One of the first batch of teachers who arrived to Ethiopia in 1947, Paul Gregorius, not only became a central figure in India’s Orthodox Church but also returned to Ethiopia as an advisor to Haile Selassie. Indian teachers continued to arrive in Ethiopia under the succeeding socialist government, which tried to extend education to the masses. Political and economic turmoil at the end of the socialist regime finally led to a brief hiatus in the arrival of Indians in Ethiopia’s educational institutions. With the turn of the millennium, the current government began a new endeavour to expand the higher education system, and Indian educators are once more arriving in Ethiopia, this time to teach in the mushrooming state universities.

In the short film, we hear from several people who share their insights concerning this part of Ethio–Indian history and relations: Dr. Asfa-Wossen Asserate, grandnephew and biographer of Haile Selassie; Rf. Dr. Jossi Jacob, professor of theology at Holy Trinity Theological College in Addis Ababa; Dr. John and Lissy Kunnathu, former teachers to Ethiopia; Dr. Hanna Getachew Amare, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Hawassa University; Dr. Mohit Bhatara, Professor of Psychology, Hawassa University.

The idea for the film developed during research conducted by Dr. Sophia Thubauville in the context of the interdisciplinary research project Africa’s Asian Options (AFRASO). Time constraints mean the film provides a mostly Indian perspective. Its main aim is to add individual voices and faces to the scientific research papers produced during that research. Recordings were done in Kerala in autumn 2017, in Ethiopia in spring 2018 and in Frankfurt in summer 2018. The film was sponsored by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). 

Thanks to: Rf. Abraham Thomas, Dr. Abraham Verghese, Dr. Asfa-Wossen Asserate, Prof. George C. Verghese, Dr. Hanna Getachew Amare, Dr. John Kunnathu, Joice Thottakadu, Rf. Dr. Jossi Jacob, Dr. Mohit Bhatra, Lissy Kunnathu, Padmakumar K. S. and all the Indian and Ethiopian colleagues who enriched the research preceding this film. 

Acknowledgement: Centre for Interdisciplinary African Studies – ZIAF, Africa’s Asian Options (AFRASO) – Germany, Goethe University Frankfurt, German Federal Ministry of Education and Research – BMBF.

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