The Land of the Scribe and the Thumb Print: The Sociology and Politics of Literacy in Ethiopia

Sineshaw, Tilahun
Date of publication: 
Mon, 1996-01-01

The foci of this article are two-fold: The first is to provide a critical overview of the history of literacy in Ethiopia and the
second is to highlight the sociological, political, and historical contexts within which literacy evolved over the centuries.
Built-in these discussions is a tacit theoretical underpinning that views literacy as a construct which intersects
socio-economic, political, ideological, and historical dimensions. Such a conception understands literacy as a human
activity which transcends the narrow confines of rationality and technicality. Rather, it regards literacy as a
process-oriented human endeavor that encompasses both technical, cultural, and ideological dimensions and expressions all at the same time. The title of this article, Ethiopia: The land of the scribe and the thumb print reveals the gist and the leitmotif of the paradoxical literacy situation of Ethiopia: Despite the possession of centuries-old literacy, Ethiopia's rate of literacy achievement remains to be one of the lowest in Africa which, indeed, is paradoxical.