Nationalism and a Common Narration

Sep 21 , 2019
By Etenat Awol

Among the issues brought for the consumption of a mass audience that deeply intimidates me these days is nationality. It is obvious that as a nation we need a common narration of history, a social arrangement of the society, political makeup and particular knowledge setups to exist together under the umbrella of a societal system and constructed law and order.

To live under a common defined system shared by all sects of society, a deep rooted belief held in the mind of every citizen serves as a masterpiece for long lasting bonds. In a book called The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, ideology is defined as a "socially necessary illusion" or "socially necessary false-consciousness," but they are not an ordinary falsehood. Though this definition of ideology seems a bit vague, it is clear that the prior objective of its core assumption understands how communal thinking influences public consciousness. Though I brought this definition of ideology intentionally to show how communal thinking is important to live together even if it is not factual. I believe in the 21st century, we as a nation are merely striving for factually-based communal narration.

This communal narration is set partly by the mass media that sets the daily agenda. It is an ever-entreating term for politicians, an Ethio-centric concept for academics and probably a shield for ignorant folks. Nationalism strives for possession and control of knowledge. That actually is about the mere need of possession toward knowledge, which explicitly shows the mentality of ignorance, of insecurity as a nation and a failed quest for commonalities.

The nationalist argument is that Ethiopians have our own alphabet, our calendar is a gift of thirteen months of sunshine, we are the origin of human beings, the cradle of civilisation, history and so much more. Some conclude from this that the significance of Western or external knowledge, thought and concept is less important, even unnecessary. You even catch known public figures accusing individuals of reading Western books, talking about Eastern philosophies and giving priority to Western technologies.

It is all good to have a country that is actually enriched with so much history and mystery. It is great to be an ancient civilisation and have indigenous knowledge, culture and everything else.

It provides the nation with a massive abundance of indigenous values to incorporate into the national identity and create integrity using those treasures.

But for the most part, these ancient assets of our country are used for the sole purpose of pride, big talk and some showing off. Claiming possession of the heritages and mysteries of the ancient world is not going to change anything for good. After all, if people are more open to exposing themselves to the world's renewed culture, history and knowledge, most probably they have deepened their domestic knowledge in the first place. Because the process of going through and reading the whole bunch of Shakespeare’s sonnets is unbearable without first having the urge of searching for new knowledge, ideas and genres developed in the very beginning locally.

The idea of insisting on controlling knowledge to the extent of possession is a huge contradiction to the universal nature of knowledge. Knowledge is not confined to any particular place or culture. Knowledge is naturally transferable and is not static. It is its very nature that makes the transition of knowledge inevitable, especially in this age of information and technology. The dissemination and diffusion of knowledge have become easy and smooth. It is impossible for a single idea or thought to stay exclusively in one nation or cultural enclave. It is easy to understand that peoples and nations are no longer in a position to separate themselves from the rest of the world and have a closed door policy.

In media, there is a valiant theory of conceptual analysis about the influence of mass media and general audience interaction that is called agenda setting theory. According to the agenda setting theory, the public is mostly influenced directly by the agenda of the mass media, especially if it comes from the national media. As this theory formulates its assumption by considering that mass audiences cannot avoid agendas or critically process the information set by the media. This gives the media the power to shape the mindset of the general public.

Therefore, the national media can play a role in setting a shared national narrative based on our heritage, national solidarity and culture. This is an identical narration that can bind us together as citizens.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 21,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1012]

Etenat Awol can be reached at

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