People of OU: the History Department’s Getnet Bekele


Photo courtesy of Boydell and Brewer

Dr. Bekele’s book “Ploughing New Ground” examines the relationship between agricultural food cultivation and environmental change in Ethiopia. The book won the 2018 Bethwell A. Ogot Prize for best book in East African Studies.

Teaching primarily in the historical fields of environment and development, economic history, conflict studies and African history, Getnet Bekele, Ph.D. — associate professor of history at Oakland University — works to facilitate a better understanding of the effects of colonialism and environmental change on Africa in his OU students. One aspect of the colonial and post-colonial African political landscape of particular interest to Dr. Bekele is how power structures are constructed and maintained in African societies and politics. 

The relationship between structures of power during the colonial and postcolonial era in Africa have always been of great interest to Dr. Bekele. In examining the historical effects of European colonialism and its resource extraction based economies, he hopes to come to a better understanding of the plethora of issues facing Africa today. 

“My research right now focuses on a couple things,” Dr. Bekele said. “One thing that I focus on is called ‘spatiality,’ or socially constructed places and spaces [in Africa] — really how they interact with power and power relations…I’m focusing on urban areas and how the organization of these urban spaces has affected social change and transformation. I have to go back to Africa to do field work for this, so you may imagine how this is going at the moment.” 

Dr. Bekele’s research also focuses heavily on the agricultural and economic development of Ethiopia. The author of a book examining the relationship between agricultural food cultivation and environmental change in Ethiopia — which was awarded the African Studies Association’s 2018 Bethwell A. Ogot Prize for best book in East African Studies — he is also the author of four articles studying Ethiopia in academic journals. Recently, much of his time has been devoted to the tense hydropolitics of the Blue Nile and the three African nations that jockey for control of its precious water resource. 

“I am spending more time on the hydropolitics of the Nile River,” Dr. Bekele said. “Ethiopia is building this dam on the Blue Nile, and it has created a lot of anger and consternation between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan who share this water. This and my work in spatiality are where I will be investing much of my research time in the coming years, but still, for these two I must do a lot of field work.” 

In his spare time — which Dr. Bekele admits is rare given how busy he is — he tries to diversify how his time is spent, attempting to experience as many aspects of life as possible. An avid soccer player who plays as much as his schedule allows, Dr. Bekele also is an accomplished sitcom connoisseur and a seasoned traveler of both the continental United States and abroad. 

“I play soccer a lot,” Dr. Bekele said. “I enjoy traveling a lot and I’ve been to many parts of the United States and the world. I like cities, and I like to go to Chicago once and a while. Being an urban setting, it relates to my academic interests as well. Also, I enjoy going to Mackinaw. Since my school days, almost every year after it opens I go. This may be political, but I like going to Ann Arbor!”