“Medemer” by Abiy Ahmed, Ph.D., An Interpretive Book Review in Two Parts

By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam

“Medemer” (original in Amharic), Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, 280 pp. (October 2019)

Part I — The “philosophy” of “Medemer”

Reviewer’s Note:
This review is intended for the benefit and convenience of English-speaking audiences who have a sincere desire to understand and rigorously critique “Medemer” philosophy for what it is and is not. It offers the reviewer’s personal reflections and perspectives on the Medemer idea or philosophy and aims to invite others to review the book and thoughtfully discuss its usefulness and relevance to Ethiopia.

In nearly fourteen years of uninterrupted weekly commentaries, I have done only one other book review.[1] “Medemer” is my second book review. I prefer to read/review books that have intellectual integrity, are thought-provoking and bring fresh perspectives.

This rather long interpretive book review[2], divided in two parts, aims to accomplish three objectives: 1) critically examine Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s [hereinafter “Author”] “philosophy” of “Medemer”, 2) comprehensively evaluate his historical and policy analysis and prescriptions based on “Medemer” principles, and 3) assess the relevance “Medemer” for nation- and consensus-building, political stability, good governance and economic prosperity in Ethiopia and beyond.

“Medemer” is a book of extraordinary complexity and simplicity[3]. It could be likened to an onion. It has different layers. In one layer, it is a philosophy as the author characterizes it. But in different layers, “medemer” could be understood as a vision, a theory, a road map, a paradigm shift, a mindset, a (meta)concept, an outlook, a call to action and an appeal to common sense.

The author broadly argues “Medemer” philosophy is a comprehensive socio-political economic perspective necessitated by the events of the past several decades in Ethiopia. It analyzes objective historical conditions and makes practical prescriptions for political reform and economic progress.

I regard “Medemer” not so much as a “book” but as the “philosophical” equivalent of an open source “software” such as Ubuntu[4] for use or modification as users/practitioners or other “developers” see fit.

“Medemer software developers” can fix bugs, improve functions, or adapt the “open source Medemer code” to suit their own needs, as indeed I have done so.

I believe the author’s intention is for people to read and critically evaluate “Medemer” and use it as an actionable set of ideas, a “philosophy”, a methodology or an approach to problem analysis and solving in politics, economics and society in Ethiopia and beyond.

“Medemer” is not intended to be a work of academic scholarship; and my review is not a conventional academic book review.[5] Rather, it is an expository review of the ideas, views, reflections and perspectives (or philosophy) of a political leader who burst on the Ethiopian and world scene barely 18 months ago and today is considered a wunderkind[6] in world politics, a fact validated in his award of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.[7]

Over the past year, I have written extensively[8] on “Medemer” from my own perspective and without the benefit of the recently published book or having ever discussed the idea with the author. [9] But I have followed and carefully considered the author’s comments and statements on Medemer in various forums. In the interest of full disclosure, I have written numerous commentaries[10] in support of the author’s ideas, including Medemer, and his extraordinary leadership in Ethiopia over the past year and half.

It has been said that “there is something more powerful than the brute force of bayonets: it is the idea whose time has come and hour struck.”

Throughout history, words and ideas have changed the world. “In the beginning was the word.”

In Ethiopia, for nearly five decades, we have tried the bayonet and the bullet. Words and phrases like “Red Terror”, “White Terror”, “Terrorism” have been used to kill by military and brigands-cum-civilian dictators who for decades turned Ethiopia into killing fields of Africa.

Today, Ethiopia needs words that heal, not kill.

I believe “Medemer” is a word/philosophy that heals.

The time has come and the hour struck to do battle of ideas in Ethiopia.

Let the best idea win the battle for the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people.

I hope Ethiopian intellectuals with honesty and courage will read “Medemer” cover to cover and engage the author in robust debate and discussion in all public forums.

Frankly, I am not optimistic that will happen.

So-called Ethiopian intellectuals, by and large, have long been intimidated into silence by military and civilian dictators. Many have silenced themselves dreading the slanderous vilification campaigns of ignorant ideologues, the affront of insolent mobs, the taunts, invectives and indignities of the feeble-minded and dim-witted whose “tongues outvenom all the worms of Nile and whose breath rides on the posting winds of anger and arrogance” to paraphrase Shakespeare. Others have simply gone AWOL. Suffice it to say, the vast majority of Ethiopian “intellectuals” have cowered and taken a vow of silence and live comfortably in a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” world. The few left standing hide in the shadows playing intellectual snipers under pen names and pseudonyms.

Today, Ethiopia’s men and women of ideas —  “Intellectuals” —  consist of talking heads, hordes of empty barrels and swarms of nameless, faceless and clueless hoi polloi social media ignoramuses who have the intellectual candle power of jellyfish. All I expect from them is to latch on a word or phrase in the book and spin it for disinformation, propaganda and lies. The good thing is that it is a matter of mind over matter for me. I don’t mind and they don’t matter.  

However, I urge Ethiopian intellectuals (that still register a pulse) to wake up from their slumber and vigorously tackle the ideas presented in Medemer. Review it. Critique it. Analyze it. Synthesize it. Comment on it. Appraise it. Improve upon it.

Better yet, if you can, present your own alternative and join the battle of ideas, the battle for the hearts and minds of Ethiopians.

I am sure there will be some who, after reading my book review, say I did not do this or that or address this issue or another in the book.

All I can say is this: As you point an accusatory finger at me for what I covered or failed to cover, be mindful that three fingers are pointing at you.

My challenge is: Write your review of Medemer and let’s have an open and public discussion.  

For my part, I shall help organize scholarly and academic discussions to critically review the ideas in Medemer.  I shall continue to comment and join in public debates and discussions on Medemer ideas.

In Part I, I discuss the author’s “theory” or “philosophy” of Medemer.

In Part II, I examine the application of Medemer theory/philosophy to Ethiopian political and economic realities.

Why did the author write “Medemer”?

I have no personal knowledge of the reasons that compelled the author to write the book. However, having read the book I have identified at least five reasons:

1) Ethiopians (Africans) need to develop a modern Afro-centric philosophy/system of ideas that reflects their history, culture, traditions and challenges;

2) Ethiopians (Africans) have failed miserably in their efforts to indigenize imported ideologies they barely understood and which at best have marginal relevance to their circumstances. Wholesale imported ideologies have done considerable long-term damage to Ethiopian (African) politics, societies and economies.

3) Ethiopians (Africans) should be eclectic and selective in adopting beliefs, ideas and methods from the West and the East and carefully integrate only those ideas that harmonize with the African experience, traditions, practices and realities.

4) Ethiopians (Africans) need to take a fresh look at their deeply seated and longstanding problems, issues and aspirations through an African lens and not through the distorted lens they have chosen or have been forced to use. Their lens should be focused squarely on contemporary African realities including poverty, disease, ignorance, one-man, one-party rule, widespread human rights violations, abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, corruption and so on.[11]

5) Ethiopians (Africans) can use “Medemer” as their own homegrown forward-looking philosophy/system of ideas to overcome the burdens of the past and to find a pathway to lasting peace and prosperity in their country and in the continent.

What is “Medemer philosophy”?

Over the past year, the author has talked about “Medemer” in his public speeches and official statements.

In some media accounts, Medemer has been equated with “synergy” and an attempt to transform a “mosaic into a melting pot.”[12]

In a recent speech[13] marking a breakthrough in the Sudan negotiations which resulted in power sharing between the military and civilians, the author explained “the people of Sudan have done well in choosing cooperation over competition which is essential to our collective survival”. He said, the Horn region must “act in synergy” and Medemer becomes a “yarn weaving us together collectively” and help us achieve “collectively what we can only imagine individually”.

In a radio interview in September 2019[14], the author explained the essence of Medemer in metaphorical terms (auth. trans.):

It is a lens through which we see ourselves and the world. It begins with the idea that nothing is full, there is always something lacking in individual or social life. For instance, let’s look at the family. They wish for their child to get an education. When s/he graduates, they wish s/he will get a good job, then start a family, have children, if all are one gender, then strive to have the opposite gender and so on. There is no end. There will always be something missing. We can meet our ever-changing needs by cooperating with and enlisting the help and support of others. So, humans must operate by balancing an existence based on cooperation and competition.

One prominent Ethiopian scholar has offered his own contrasting perspectives on Medemer ideas.[15] A journalist who has manifestly not read the book has offered cavalier remarks.[16]

In the dynamic processes of cooperation and competition, Medemer represents synergy (from the Latin root “syn” (“together”) and “ergy” (“work”)). Medemer  describes a synergistic process of coming together of individuals, groups, leaders and institutions to work more energetically, effectively and creatively for the common good and in the public interest[17]. That synergy, using a physics metaphor, would be like fusion in which nuclei combine to release vast amounts of energy. When individuals, groups, institutions, etc. come together in “medemer” form, they release a vast amount of social, political and economic energy.

Along the same line, in October 2018, I created[18] an equation for “medemer”: (where Sc is social capital defined as the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society; and Ac is defined as the number of active citizens involved in sustained engagement in their communities (at all levels: grassroots, civil society, villages, town, cities, nationwide activity).

This equation resonates an old Ethiopian saying. “If the silk in spiders’ web could be made into twine, it could tie up a lion.”[19]

I believe the author’s philosophy of Medemer supports the proposition that if 100 million Ethiopians could only lend each other a hand (“Medemer”) in good will and good faith, they could uplift not only their country but also the world. A large number of ordinary Ethiopians organized, coming together in consensus with a common agenda and set of goals and acting synergistically as one can defeat the greatest enemies of the Ethiopian people: poverty, disease, illiteracy, ethnic hate, corruption, bad governance and gross violations of human rights.

Following the author’s argument, the outcome of the collaborative synergy in Medemer is not limited to the pursuit of aspirations of a just, egalitarian, democratic and humane society. It also includes synergistic grassroots engagement in cleaning streets, planting trees and volunteerism in all aspects of society.

In the author’s Medemer synergy, the idea I believe is that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, for an organization or society to be successful, the functional elements cannot consist of merely individuals working independently and exclusively in their own self-interest. They must be part of a larger community that shares a common purpose, goals and objectives and apply social, political and economic synergy to create a public good.

In my view, the author’s discussion of “Medemer” in light of the fractious nature of Ethiopian politics has a broader meaning which incorporates the idea of “synthesis” (not only synergy) or the combining of the constituent elements of separate parts into a single or unified entity.

In that sense, Medemer reflects the dynamic process of combining (adding together) disparate ideas and actions into an integrated whole. In Hegelian dialectics, ideas and actions are in a constant state of conflict and harmony. For every thesis there is anti-thesis and ultimately synthesis, repeating the cycle. To satisfy human needs, there is competition which by itself is a source of destructive conflict. Cooperation is needed to avert conflict and create constructive cooperation. Thus, synergy produces synthesis recreating a dialectical cycle.

Medemer philosophy aims to bring synthesis to Ethiopia’s fractious politics. It aims to harmonize the politics of identity, sectarianism and communalism into a synthesis of nation-building, civility, tolerance, love, understanding and forgiveness.  

Medemer defies simple definition. Those who are seeking a glossary definition of the term are unlikely to find it. The author explains the basic idea of Medemer could be deduced from the etymology of the word “demere” in Amharic, which means “‘gathered, put together in one, added, accumulated”.

Despite its lexical roots, Medemer as discussed in the book is fundamentally a system of re-imagining Ethiopian (and African societies) society in a contemporary context. It is a vision of a society based on a balanced system of cooperation and competition. It completely rejects notions of division in society by class, ethnic, racial, sectarian, communal, ideological, linguistic, etc. classifications.

The author suggests “Medemer” philosophy/lens assumes human beings conduct their affairs in the context of cooperation and competition. It posits competition is a key element of the struggle for existence and self-preservation. It occurs in a web or ecosystem of socio-political and economic relations.

The uneven distribution of resources creates cut-throat competition, corruption and exploitation in society as a small group of political and economic predators and parasites feast on a large defenseless group of prey (masses). In its extreme, such competition creates a dog-eat-dog jungle world where the strongest, the most cunning, the clever and quick-witted survive and the rest unable to compete simply fall between the cracks, disengage or are discarded.

Medemer philosophy favors cooperation over competition because humans as social/political creatures (animals) maximize their rational self-interest through cooperation. Drawing on natural analogues, the author posits the precedence of  cooperation over competition. Human and non-human animals generally tend to work together in order to create benefit for themselves. They generally avoid destructive competition that leads to mutual or self-annihilation.

In my assessment, Medemer represents not just a philosophy (a set of abstract ideas) but a weltanshauung, a cognitive worldview and an orientation encompassing the individual’s and society’s knowledge and outlook of the world and the place of humanity within it. The author discussed this aspect of Medemer at length in his radio interview referenced above. Specifically, Medemer is a worldview rooted in Ethiopian traditions, cultures, history, politics and economics.

The author argues social problems cannot be solved by governmental action or extraordinary individual effort. Social groups and institutions must be directly engaged in working together in harmony for a common destiny. In doing so, they can promote a culture of peace, cooperation, tolerance and civility. Institutions such as churches, schools, civil society institutions, businesses, etc., play critical roles in this regard.

The author discusses in some detail the political and economic circumstances that facilitate Medemer using existing underlying stock of social capital, networks, etc. in a historical and institutional context.

Beyond being an outlook, Medemer as a philosophy in my assessment is essentially about inclusiveness. It resonates the principle, “Without you, there is no me. Without me, there is no you.” As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Indeed, without each other in Ethiopia, there is only “the other”.[21]  The “other” who is the enemy. The “other” who must be annihilated. The “other” who is a stranger among us, even though in every way s/he is one of us, our flesh and blood.

In my view, applied broadly to Ethiopian society, Medemer creates a simple calculus: Without Oromos, there are no Amharas; without Amharas, there are no Tigreans; without Tigreans there are no Somalis; without Somalis, there are no Sidama; without Sidama, there are not Woleyita; without Woleyita, there are no Afari; without Afari, there are no Harari; without Harari, there are no Anuak; without Anuak, there are no Gurage and on and on. Amharas, Oromos, Tigreans…. and the other groups can work cooperatively and even competitively for their collective betterment and prosperity.

When Ethiopians of diverse backgrounds come together, they function like fingers on the hand. They can make a fist and repel aggression. They can open their palms and give each other a hand up. They can do all things that the so-called developed countries have done by harnessing (Medemer) their collective energies.

Medemer philosophy could serve as our lifeline to save us from sinking aboard a ship of fools.[20]

In this regard, I believe Medemer is a (metaconcept) multidimensional concept.

In “Medemer society”, there is a need to establish norms and rules for cooperation, competition and networking and the creation of a national movement that is driven by synergistic civic engagement at the grassroots level and among public and private institutions to achieve a variety of common goals including development and democracy. Individuals must strive to play fair by the rules of Medemer society. For instance, corrupt practices by public officials not only harm the society by diverting resources but also rob public confidence in the system of cooperation and competition.

In “Medemer politics”, social synergy occurs in collaborative networks at the institutional and grassroots levels. In my analysis, “Medemer Politics” is a stark contrast to the zero-sum politics of the past 27 years. I have discussed that issue in a previous commentary extensively[22]. For instance, in 2008, in “elections” for regional parliaments 1,903 of 1,904 seats were won by one party. In 2010, tone party won 99.6 percent of these seats in parliament followed by 100 percent in in 2015. Such victory occurred in a country boasting 79 registered opposition political parties.

Ethiopia’s political problems are rooted in ethnic identity, ideological polarity, lack of democratic political culture, etc. These problems can be solved when institutional stakeholders work at the grassroots level for a common goal. Political parties need not be splintered into 108 separate token entities. They can come together into three or four cohesive organizations and present a formidable multiparty political challenge and choice by energizing and mobilizing the grassroots.

The essence of Medemer democratic politics from the author’s perspective is bring together the now 108 or so “political parties” into a reasonable number of 3 or 4 political parties that can successfully compete for electoral victory. Medemer politics requires political competition based ideas, programs, principles, etc., and not ethnicity, religion, language and so on.

In Medemer politics, the old approach of “tear down and discard everything of the past” has no place. The author argues we should preserve what is best from the old and the past and introduce innovations to improve the lives and conditions of the people.  Medemer, in this regard, is a critique of the approach to change particularly in the past one-half century. The author rejects the tendency Ethiopians have shown to always tear down everything of the past and urges that it is far more profitable to build upon what has already been done. Medemer politics argues for use of political energy not to fight the old and tear down the past but to build a brave new society of the future that thrives on consensus and cooperation for a common destiny.

In “Medemer economics”, the starting point is the jarring realization that poverty in Ethiopia is deep-rooted and spans centuries. Some 85 percent of the population makes a living in subsistence agriculture. Solving them requires the synergistic interaction of entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, planners and leaders. The author explains the necessity of sustaining economic development and prosperity by making basic reforms in the financial sectors, opening up key economic activities to private investment, creating more job opportunities for youth, ensuring fair distribution of benefits to the population and enhancing the agricultural, manufacturing and mining sectors through direct foreign investment. The Medemer economy aims to create new structures and instruments of community development that deliver balanced, equitable and sustainable development as an alternative to the uneven, inequitable development driven by massive state spending and foreign debt. The author has proposed a medemer-based economic strategy which aims to innovate on the “developmental state” through “homegrown economic reform.”[23]

Medemer also has in an intellectual dimension. The “Medemer intellectual” is not tied to the tired and discredited ideologies of the past or the unimaginative and sterile analysis of identity politics or the discredited ideas of socialism and totalitarianism. Medemer offers the intellectual a new way of thinking which examines historical failures and successes for the purpose of reinventing a new society based on a set of core beliefs in society around shared goals, dreams and aspirations. The author argues the best role for intellectuals is to bring diverse viewpoints, facts and analysis to the marketplace of ideas and try to sell them to the people. By bringing together scattered ideas, discarding old ones and adding new ones, it is possible to develop a syntheses that can help guide Ethiopia out of the shoals of  political turbulence, economic decay and social strife.

In my view, the author presents a far more nuanced and delicately complex conception of Medemer which combines social, economic, political and philosophical ideas and approaches. Because of that, I characterize “Medemer” as a metaconcept, a conceptual system that incorporates a variety of ideas necessary for rational deduction and inferences about the future of Ethiopia. In the “metaconcept” of “Medemer”, one finds not only philosophical and policy prescriptions but also a general call to all segments of society to dare to think differently, creatively, imaginatively and honestly.

The necessity for Medemer philosophy in Ethiopia

The author lays out the genesis of his “Medemer” ideas in a conception of human nature driven by three interrelated needs or desires: 1) the need for survival and self-preservation, 2) the need for self-dignity and identity actualized in the pursuit of equality and purpose, and 3) the need for freedom actualized in terms of personal autonomy, self-determination and individual liberty. The author argues these three factors together define core aspects of human existence though these needs are rarely fully satisfied. However, these needs, which could be contradictory or complementary, must be met to some extent to make the person whole.

Undergirding these need/desires is the author’s notion of “free will”, broadly understood as the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded. Thus, in the Medemer conception, man has the power expressed through free will to change his natural ecosystem or social environment for good or ill. Man chooses to make peace or war, or to compete or cooperate.

In my understanding of the author’s argument, free will in Medemer is intimately tied to moral responsibility, ethical imperatives and self-control when people take actions. He implicitly rejects causal determinism which assumes every event and choice is caused by some event in the past or in history.

The author argues the dominant modern ideological systems have sought to meet basic human needs in various ways. He contrasts liberalism and socialism and identifies the key ideological differences in their comprehension of equality and freedom. Liberalism, the author argues, in its original formulation evolved as a belief in the right of individuals to freely pursue their own goals by self-chosen means without infringing on the liberties of others. Liberalism as an ideology promoted individual freedom, rule of law and private property, with the free exchange of goods and ideas. It strongly resisted state economic controls.

His conception of liberalism has Lockean roots. Government is created in a social contract for the purpose of protecting and preserving the individual’s natural right to life, liberty and property and always careful not to violate these rights. He argues liberalism is the ideological foundation for the Industrial Revolution based on a free market economy regulated by the Invisible Hand[24]. As liberalism is a reaction to tyranny, it promotes limited government and sees answers in a market economy.

According to the author, the primary function of government in a liberal society is the protection of the pre-existing rights of the individual. The government grants no rights, but merely acts as an arbiter to prevent others from infringing on each other’s rights.

Socialism, he argues, is a reaction to liberalism. The concentration of power and wealth in a liberal system gives rise to inequality. Workers are exploited and mistreated. Since workers create wealth through their labor, they should be primary beneficiaries. The socialist solution is to bury capitalism and on its grave build an economy that maximizes equality even at the cost of political liberties. But socialist systems often morphed into totalitarianism.

Reconciling freedom and equality is at the core of modern political struggles. In a liberal democracy, the aim is not to abolish capitalism which is the source of inequality but to fix it by using social welfare programs that minimize inequality and meet basic needs.

The author perceives the confluence of the ideological struggle in the Ethiopian student movement of the 1960s as a critical historical watershed. He argues the demand for change and revolutionary sentiment expressed in the student movement was uninformed, shallow, doctrinaire and dogmatic. The student movement had a superficial understanding of socialism. The students had little understanding of their country’s history or longstanding and deep-seated problems. Their understanding did not go much beyond sloganeering about workers’ exploitation and rights. But the whole effort was ahistorical as there were few industries at the time and the number of workers was minuscule.

With the student movement in Ethiopia in the 1960s, the tendency was to demonize those who did not agree to the established orthodoxy of a few leaders. Dissent was stamped out in vilification campaigns. In the post-1960s period, this trend contributed significantly to political polarization which inevitably produced social and political divisions.

The author laments the fact that rebellious youth of the 1960s and early 1970s got drunk on foreign ideas they did not understand. The same dynamics drove the military Derg which dethroned the monarchy and adopted socialist policies wholesale without much understanding or capacity to properly apply it to local conditions. To maintain power, the Derg copycatted the red and white terror campaigns of other socialist countries to deal with its opponents and dissenters. When the command economy of socialism did not work, in the end the Derg tried the mixed economy of capitalism. But that was too little too late.

The author argues the failure of socialism left a major gap in the political debate. That vacuum was filled by debates over ethnicity, religion, language, region, etc. Following the fall of the Derg, there was Western pressure to liberalize the economy, open the political space, allow free press, public demonstrations and formation of new political parties and so on.

The Derg’s socialism morphed into TPLF/EPRDF’s “revolutionary democracy”[25] (RD) with unmistakable hostility to “neoliberalism”.[26] But RD, the author argues, had the wrong view of progressive forces which led to wide scale persecution and bad governance. RD was supposed to be a temporary transitional process but ended up being permanent having tied the economy to all aspects society.

The developmental state (DS) which was the outgrowth of revolutionary democracy was intended to achieve the miraculous transformation of the “Asian Tigers”[27]. But in Ethiopia that was hindered by limited foreign investment, absence of the rule of law and due process and cronyism. The DS restricted political space. Ultimately, the RD originally designed to benefit the peasants ended up creating a single-party system, led to the control of the bureaucracy and destruction of the opposition.

As the capitalist mode became dominant, RD was unable to withstand the diverse economic demands and pressures. Unable to deliver economically, RD’s principal focus became the creation of a strong party instead of a strong civil service which in turn created massive political crises.

The author argues the object lesson from the experiences of the past decades is that wholesale importation of foreign ideologies which the elite in Ethiopia neither fully understood nor could execute has proven to be harmful. This necessarily posits the question whether Ethiopians could craft their own “ideology” or philosophy rooted in their own history, culture and realities. Such a task need not be a rejection of foreign ideologies. It must however be critical, eclectic, syncretic and ultimately aim to create a society that values cooperation and collaboration and minimize conflict.

Ergo, the need for medemer philosophy.

The author argues there are various obstacles to acceptance and practice of Medemer.

These obstacles I describe as “Medemer-phobia syndrome”.

By phobia I mean an “exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, events or situation.” (Notethere are no ready English language equivalents to the terms of art used by the author. The translations of key words and phrases used by the author are the reviewer’s and may not entirely reflect the Amharic meaning, denotation and connotation intended by the author.)

Those who have fear or anxiety about “Medemer” avoid efforts aimed at building national consensus on a common destiny or shared national goals. They would rather foment dissensus and cause ethnic, communal and sectarian strife. The author argues, Ethiopians need national unity. They cannot exist as geographical fragments, monads. Nations, nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia share a common destiny emanating from historical, cultural and social ties. But those afflicted by “Medemer-phobia” will spread fear and loathing to keep the population in a state of alarm and uncertainty hoping it will open an opportunity for them to grab power.

There is “maquref” (“pouting”). To me “maquref” in Medemer means “If I don’t get my way, I will take my ball and go home.” Medemer requires give and take, making compromises and negotiations. But those who insist on “my way or the highway” throw obstacles in the way.

Indifference is another obstacle the author identifies as an obstacle. Some people who in principle agree with Medemer philosophy nonetheless dismiss it and remain silent out of suspiciousness, cynicism or pessimism. They see an imaginary hidden agenda in Medemer.

There is “engedenet” (“estranagement”) or keeping distance and failure to be engaged. Those afflicted by engedenet prefer to watch from the sidelines unable or unwilling to be directly involved in Medemer experience. They think they can get a better opportunity by waiting it out.

Another obstacle is “walta regetenet” (“narrow-mindedness” or “dogmatism”). Those suffering from this affliction are sources of polarization. They see things in stark contrast of black and white. They do not appreciate reality is shaded and with gradation. There is nothing that is all bad and all good. Human beings have some elements of each. It has been said, “If men were angels, government would not be needed.”

There are those afflicted by “gize takakinet”. These are the sticks-in-the-mud. They drive looking in the rear-view mirror. They are stuck in the past and unable to change or work synergistically. Medmer is a forward-looking philosophy and requires people to look at yesterday to learn lessons and not repeat mistakes.

There are those who engage in simplification of issues. They see problems and issues without a context. They lack imagination. They thrive on disconnected ideas. They make mountains out of molehills.

The culture of disregard for professions is another obstacle to Medemer. There are those who do not value professions. They demean and disrespect those who have skills. They look down on musicians, metal workers, pottery makers, tanners and so on. They look at merchants as thieves. Such attitudes undermine and devalue professions and retard the country’s economic development.

There are those who are ill-tempered and hardwired to think negatively are obstacles to Medemer. They are bereft of useful ideas but thrive in opposing whatever is trending.

Those who operate without a conscience, lack a moral compass and are driven by greed and self-interest represent an obstacle to Medemer.

Malingering (“ligmegenet”) and those who intentionally avoid responsibility and procrastinate constitute another obstacle to Medemer.

Does “Medemer” philosophy hold true in nature?

In his references to the natural order of things, it is clear the author believes “Medemer” philosophy is not mere abstraction or theoretical construct but empirically demonstrable in the natural order of things.

In my view, the author’s conception of “Medemer” is rooted in two organic propositions: cooperative collective action and individual-level competition. The author contends cooperation and competition exist in the very nature of things. Organisms function in an ecosystem and to survive and thrive must alternatively engage in cooperation and competition. But competition is more of an exception than a rule. Competition often ends up being a zero-sum game in which the winner takes all. It has a high tendency to lead to cyclical conflict in nature. Therefore, organisms as a rule maximize their survival by engaging in cooperative, not competitive, behavior. Their own needs and desires force them to cooperate to ensure their long-term survival.

In nature, things grow and develop in a process of accretion (“Medemer”) or growth by gradual buildup. Small things add up to become big things. Galaxies, stars and planets are formed from clouds of gas and other small objects stuck to each other that grow bigger and bigger in a gravitational process. Similarly, in human society, hunter gatherers evolved into pastoral societies followed by agricultural, industrial and post-industrial societies through collaborative and cooperative action. Ultimately, survival and success are achieved not on the basis of individual effort but as a result of the collective efforts of many individuals.

On the other hand, organisms are inherently competitive in the struggle for existence. In the non-human animal world, the majority of species live in “societies” (schools of fish, herd of elephants, pride of lions, pack of wolves, etc.) and in associating with each other they find the best strategies in the struggle for life, survival and propagation of the species. The animal species that thrive in individual struggle (bears, platypus, koalas, leopards, etc.) are not as successful as the “social animals”.

The fittest of the species that survives is not necessarily the strongest or the most aggressive but the most cooperative. Those that are the most cooperative and willing to work together define the principle of survival of the fittest by maximizing their chances of survival.

Thus, the foundation for the survival and continuation of any species is mutual aid cooperation (“Medemer”), not cut-throat competition. For instance, insect societies are observed showing perfectly well-organized groups of individuals engaged in peaceful cooperation and helping each other. “Extreme cooperation” is observed among ants, termites, bees and wasps create cooperative colonies with a single reproductive female supported by thousands of non-breeding workers. Extreme destructive competition is rare in nature.

Even at the molecular level, the Medemer analogy holds true. For instance, there are different types of cells in the body, as there are individuals and groups in society (body politic). These cells work “cooperatively” to create particular types of tissues, e.g. bone, muscle, blood, sperm cells. When cells (individuals) fail to cooperate and begin (act) reproduce uncontrollably because of mutation or other factors, they become cancerous and destroy the immune system ultimately killing the organism.

Aristotle wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal.[28] Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

In my analysis, the “Medmer Individual” depicted by the author has attained a certain state of consciousness and realizes the importance of synergistic collaboration for the tasks of nation-building and collective progress. In this sense, Medemer aims to harness the aspirations of individuals and unleash their energies for the collective good. In contrast, the singular pursuit of individual self-interest is ultimately self-defeating. We are involved with each other as individuals. Our destinies are intertwined.

To paraphrase John Dos Passos, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the [African] continent, a part of the main [Ethiopia]; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Ethiopia/Africa is the less…

To be continued…. Part II, “The Praxis of Medemer”


[1] See, “Reflections on Prof. Mesfin’s “Adafne”: Saving Ethiopians From Themselves?”, http://almariam.com/2015/11/01/reflections-on-prof-mesfins-adafne-saving-ethiopians-from-themselves/

[2] This review is entirely my personal and completely independent assessment of the book and does not in any way represent the author’s personal or official positions.

[3] Many of the ideas expressed and discussed in the book by the author simply do not have ready English equivalents. My translation of terms and concepts discussed by the author will likely be lacking. I leave the issue of translational accuracy to the professionals with the requisite linguistic skills and other reviewers and commentators on the book.

[4] Ancient Zulu and Xhosa word which means “humanity to others”); https://help.ubuntu.com/lts/installation-guide/s390x/ch01s01.html

[5] A conventional academic book review provides a descriptive and critical analysis of the work and evaluates the quality and significance. Uses literary and disciplinary standards; evaluates how well the author has succeeded in meeting the objectives of the study, and presents evidence to support this assessment.

[6] https://www.afp.com/en/news/15/abiy-ahmed-meteoric-rise-man-trying-remould-ethiopia-doc-1l81i62

[7] https://www.prio.org/About/PeacePrize/PRIO-Directors-Shortlist-2019/

[8] Available at almariam.com

[9] In the interest of full disclosure, my readers know that I am a staunch supporter of PM Abiy Ahmed. I gave him my full support the day he was appointed Prime Minister. I am proud to say I fully share in his vision, hopes and dreams for Ethiopia; http://almariam.com/2018/04/08/my-personal-letter-to-prime-minister-author-ahmed-of-ethiopia/

[10] See e.g. “Medemer or not Medemer, That is the Question for All Ethiopians!”,  http://almariam.com/2018/08/26/medemer-or-not-medemer-that-is-the-question-for-all-ethiopians/   ;

The Praxis of Medemer in the Horn of Africa, http://almariam.com/2019/03/07/the-praxis-of-medemer-in-the-horn-of-africa/  ; “Medemer in America and Ethiopia: My Personal Tribute to the Life, Achievements and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”, http://almariam.com/2019/01/20/medemer-in-america-and-ethiopia-my-personal-tribute-to-the-life-achievements-and-legacy-of-dr-martin-luther-king-jr/ ; “Ethiopia’s Youth and the Power of Medemer”, http://almariam.com/2018/10/08/author-ahmed-ethiopias-youth-and-the-power-of-medemer/ ; The Power of Medemer and the “Disarming of the Ethiopia Opposition”? http://almariam.com/2019/08/11/raising-the-white-flag-the-power-of-medemer-and-the-disarming-of-the-ethiopia-opposition/

[11] Africans have not had much success generating transformational ideas in Africa. In the post-colonial period, we tried PanAfricanism based on the belief that  Africans in the continent and Africans in the diaspora were bound in a single garment of destiny and must unite to collectively uplift themselves. PanAfricanism died on the vine as Africa fell in the grips of dictatorship. We also tried Negritude (affirmation or consciousness of the value of black or African culture, heritage, and identity) but that idea engaged few outside the African intellectual community. One African country tried the idea of ujamaa (familyhood) to increase self-reliance resulting in a disastrous program of “villagization” and nationalization of businesses and industry. Africans even toyed with the idea of African socialism, trying to Africanize Western socialism with little success. A cabal of junta leaders tried to implement the idea of “military socialism” in Ethiopia in the 1970s resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people through political violence and millions more in famines, depraved indifference and criminal negligence.For the past 27 years, the idea of “revolutionary democracy” was the (dis)order of the day in Ethiopia. That idea proved to be nothing more than an aggregation of inane catch phrases, lamebrained slogans and silly mantras. It became the justification for the greatest rip-off of a nation in the 21st century. In the end, Africa became the battleground for Western ideas of communism, socialism, capitalism and other “isims”.

The results of these mutated ideologies in Africa were revolutionary wars, class wars, ethnic wars, border wars, civil wars, secession wars, Cold War, proxy wars and the rest. These ideologies were based on fundamental principles that I believe were not only incompatible but also destructive of African history, traditions and aspirations. These ideologies posit: 1) There must necessarily be winners and losers in politics. Winner takes all. (For instance, in a given election one party wins 100 percent of the seats in parliament, but no less than 99.6 percent in worst case situations.) 2) Only one party, one leader, one group must be in power to the exclusion of all others and perpetually. 3) Power comes out of the barrel of the gun and is maintained by a vast military, security and police system. 4) The purpose of politics is to seize power, rob the public treasury and cling to power by hook of crook for as long as possible. 5) Negotiations, compromise, mediation, accommodation and conciliation are political weaknesses to be avoided at all costs. 6) Rule of law means law of those who rule at gunpoint, at knife point. 7) The common good, the greater good and the public interest is secondary to the personal/ethnic interests of those in power.

[12] https://allafrica.com/stories/201808200833.html

[13] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_ZZRjGlRyQ&feature=youtu.be

[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_b4FuqSM_c  ; forward clip to 12:50

[15] See presentation of Prof. Dagnachew Assefa at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jCNIFC6sV8&feature=share

[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=Et_a_8nR-v4

[17] https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Jaede.pdf

[18] http://almariam.com/2018/10/08/author-ahmed-ethiopias-youth-and-the-power-of-medemer/

[19] The strand of spider silk that looks like one is actually many thin threads stuck together, thus medemer.

[20] An allegory about a dysfunctional and anarchic society; Book VI of Plato’s Republic; https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/republic/section6/

[21] http://almariam.com/2019/01/20/medemer-in-america-and-ethiopia-my-personal-tribute-to-the-life-achievements-and-legacy-of-dr-martin-luther-king-jr/

[22] http://almariam.com/2017/07/02/the-zero-sum-games-of-the-t-tplf-in-ethiopia/

[23] http://almariam.com/2019/10/12/innovating-the-developmental-state-through-homegrown-economic-reform/

[24] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/invisiblehand.asp

[25] https://ecadforum.com/blog/revolutionary-democracy-in-ethiopia/ ; “Revolutionary Democracy prioritizes group rights over individual rights, advocates for strong, interventionist government and the presence of a dominant political party that stays in power for a period long enough to facilitate socio-economic transformation. The distinctive attributes of a Liberal Democracy include free and fair elections, economic freedom, genuine separation of the powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, human rights, a multiparty system, the rule of law, freedom of speech, free trade and the protection of private property.”

[26] http://folk.uio.no/daget/neoliberalism.pdf

[27] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/four-asian-tigers.asp

[28] Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, section 1253a;      http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:abo:tlg,0086,035:1:1253a


  1. Professor Al Mariam, thanks for your English review of the PM Medemer book. I would like to include the following:
    የመደመር መሰረቱ በክልል ሳይሆን በጋራቤት ነበር።

    ኢትዮጵያውያን ጅንሳቸውን (ዘራቸውን) የሚንቁ ከሆነ ብርቱ ሕዝብ ለመሆን ለመቸም አይደርሱም። መንግሥታቸው ራሱን የቻለ ነው ቢባልም እንኳ ለይስሙላህ ይሆናል። ምንጊዜም የነጮች መሳሪያ ከመሆን አያልፍም። ንጉሦቹም ይታለላሉ፡ ያንድ የራሳቸው መከበር ብቻ ለመንግሥት ዘላቂነት የሚበቃ ይመስላቸዋል። አንድ ሰው ግን ምንም ቢከበር ዘላቂነት የለውም። የዘላቂነት ኑሮ የተሰጠው ለሕዝብ ብቻ ነው፡ በትውልድነት እየተሸጋገረ ዘላቂነት ያገኛል።

    …ሕዝቡም ገና ከህጻፃንነቱ ያልወጣ፡ አስተካክሎ መመልከት የማይችል በመሆኑ ለያንዳንዱ ለራሱ ብቻ ለጊዜው የሚሆነውን ክብርና የግል ጥቅም ፈላጊ ነው። በጋራቤት የሚሆነውን የዘለቃ ክብርና ጥቅም አይመለከትም፡ ይህም እያደር እየተለመደ ባሕሪውን እያጒደለ ወደ ከብትነት ይወስደዋል።

    ነገር ግን ጊዜ መቸውንም ተለዋዋጭ ነው፡ የሕዝብም አስተያየት ጊዜውን እየተከተለ መለወጡ የማይቀር ግዴታ ነው፡ ብቻ ጊዜውን ጠብቆ ይፈጸማል።

    አንድ ሰው በተፈጥሮ ምንም ጊዜ ዐቅመቢስ ነው። ሕዝብ ግን በድምርነቱ በጅምላነቱ ትልቅ ኃይል ነው። (ከፊታውራሪ ተክለ ሐዋሪያት አውቶባዮግራፊ 1953)::

  2. Jawar’s home is being repossesed for failing to make payments for too long. He claimed he was misled into a deal thinking he had a free government subsidized housing, since he runs a non profit media company.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here