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Foreign Affairs

The Power of One (Percent)

During law school, I learned of the "80-20 rule," which holds that 80% of effects are due to 20% of causes. For example, 20% of students are usually responsible for 80% of extracurricular activities - at dinner one night, I was part of a random conversation among friends which concluded with our dividing up the leadership positions of every conservative group at the school for the next year.

I thought being part of the 20% was notable, but Ethiopia's Catholic population puts me to shame. A Q&A with Bishop Saldarriaga, apostolic vicar of Soddo-Hosanna, mentions the following statistic:

Although Catholics number less than 1% of the population, the Catholic Church runs more than 90% of the social programs in Ethiopia.

An "80-20 rule" is impressive, but a "90-1 rule" is uncanny.

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My undergraduate history thesis, back in the days when I was a pro-life Democrat, and more WORLD HISTORY than Great Books oriented, was titled "The Failed Attempt to Make Ethiopia Catholic," about the Protuguese embassies and Jesuit missions there in the 1500s to early 1600s. Ethiopia remains a fascinating country to me, due to its mountains and its detached-from-Christendom Christianity.

So thanks for linking the interview--and yes, the key fact should shame the Coptic Orthodox.

One note, though. Bishop Mejía characterizes the Muslim view (30% of the population) of Ethiopia's Christian identity as follows: "[it] has always been considered -- even from the beginning of Islam -- a Christian country in Africa, and they have accepted that. During the persecution against Muslims, even during the time of Mohammed, Ethiopia welcomed Muslims as refugees, and from that day the Muslims promised that they would respect Ethiopia. This is a tradition, an oral tradition, that holds up to now."

That may be a tradition useful for maintaining social peace in contemporary Ethiopia, but Ethiopians also know that there were several periods in their history--the early 1500s and mid 1700s, when various Muslim-allied forces threatened to wipe out the ancient kingdom. A lot of tit for tat in that history, a lot of merely tribal and merely warlord agendas at work as well, but had a sustained Muslim conquest of the highlands occurred, it is likely Ethiopia would have been made as Muslim as Asia Minor or Lebanon. That almost certainly would have occured in the 1500s had the Portuguese had not shown up to give the king some European guns, along with some (later problematic) Jesuits.

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