Gerd Meuer mit Nobelpreisträger Wole Soyinka
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"It's not part of our culture..."

(On Ethiopian NON-culture, written in 1993 while in Addis Ababa)

"Don't do it! It's not being done here! Why should you take a risk? After all, it's not part of OUR culture!" How often have I heard these remarks ever since I arrived in Addis? Not that I wanted to write respectless grafitti on city walls - and there are some inviting walls on Bole Road! Not that I wanted to chase any girls or jump from the roof of the municipality for kicks. 
Heavens no, nothing like it. All I wanted to do was what I have been doing elsewhere in Africa, especially Nigeria: I wanted to speak my mind in either the local paper or on local radio and that in a satirical way, thereby joining my loose-tongued brothers like Peter Enahoro, Sad Sam or the many satirists that you find in the Lagos "Daily Times", the Dakar "Le Soleil", the Abidjan "Fraternit锂 Matin" or on local French-speaking radio stations. (Yes, they do have REAL newspapers and satirists in those and on radio!) "No don't", I was always told. "You'll be in trouble, because "it's not part of our culture" and "you tend to forget that you are not in Africa here".
Here I go then: and so "I am not in Africa" here in Addis??? Strange, very strange, indeed! For, if this is so, then what are the OAU and the ECA and others doing in Addis? May be they should be moved to Abuja, Nigeria, after all - or maybe be to Johannesburg in a free Azania - to Africa, that is? Just the funny idea of a Ferenji.
And here I go again: again and again I am being told that "this or that is not part of our culture", something which - really – I have not heard elsewhere in Africa - sorry, in Africa - in my thirty years of studying, working and living on the continent. Does this simply mean that the others (sorry, they are Africans) have NO culture of their own (because they were colonized, as my Ethiopian friends always say..)? Or could it simply be that they don't talk so much about it...and simply have it, live it? Culture, I mean!
Could be that this talk of "our culture" - which even non-English-speakers pronounce in English! - is what Sigmund Freud would have called a 'defensive mechanism'...but then a mechanism to defend against what? Maybe against the dynamics of culture, because if culture is not dynamic, not changing, not an open one then it is a dying one. 
By the way, what is all this talk about "Ethiopia never having been colonized" - whereas AFRICA was? Should the Africans for ever and ever develop a sort of inferiority complex out of it? I think they shouldn't and less and less do - rather they are joining me as a Rhinelander (from Germany's Rhine Valley), whose forefathers were colonized by the Romans (the forefathers of the Italians) two thousand years ago. And how happy we are that they "colonized-civilized" us - bringing wine, Roman Poetry, the art of house-building, hot baths and beautiful mosaics and glass-making to us - the "barbaric" Germans. 
Each time the city-fathers of my home city COLOGNE (which simply means COLONY) start digging up the roads to build an underground railway they have to stop work for years...since each time the workers hit upon some more Roman antiques. Which are then very carefully dug up and then put into our "Roman-Germanic Museum"... to stay there to be admired and not to be shipped back to Rome. After the Romans became somewhat decadent later some of our own enterprising young men went in the direction of Rome and also left some artefacts behind. And when the Romans find them they keep them in their musea as proof of a history which has been rather lively (both ways) over the centuries. Any comparison to the Axum Obelisk now in Rome? Wow! I hear: "don't do it, don't touch it!" Accepted, for that is an entirely different story! But is it really? Now, if you really want to know what I think about it, you really have to invite me to speak out. So, do come and invite me and let's have a lively debate which is part of a LIVING culture. You really want to know about the Obelisk? Well, here goes: it was stolen, okay. Agreed! Now it has been in Italy for several dozens of years and been admired not only by the Romans but also by scores of tourists who see it as an example of fine Ethiopian art. 
So why not leave it there to be admired instead of shipping it back at great cost? Why not pressurize the Italians into adding a didactically well-prepared documentation centre on Ethiopian history and culture - and Italian fascism? All this as a contribution to Senghor's "civilisation de l'universel"?
And at the same time use the money - saved on transport of a heavy Obelisk - to buy medicine, agricultural tools and water pumps? It would make today's Ethiopians survive and allow them to be culturally active again. I know, I know, I am not going to be patted on the back for this my very prosaic proposal but then I would feel pretty akward in the company of opportunistic professors and elderly members of parliament in Britain and elsewhere, who - at no cost - have jumped on the "give-it-back-to-us"-bandwagon. That wagon, for me at least, is already too crowded. Joining it really isn't "part of MY culture"!

to be continied...