Remembering P.T.W. Baxter, renowned anthropologist and pioneer of Oromo studies

PTW_BaxterMarch 5, 2014 (OPride) – Paul Trevor William Baxter, who spent nearly six decades studying the Oromo, has died this week in a hospital in Stockport, England, his grandson Mark Baxter confirmed to OPride on Tuesday.

Baxter is survived by his loving wife of 69 years, Pat, his son Adam as well as four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.His elder son, Tim, unfortunately predeceased him.

Baxter began his anthropological study in the early 1950s as a graduate student, combining academic analysis, field research and unconventional insights about imperial Ethiopia into his work. In 1978, Baxter published his seminal article “Ethiopia’s Unacknowledged Problem: the Oromo” in the esteemed British JournalAfrican Affairs. As his long time friend and colleague Bonnie K. Holcomb, Senior Research Associate at George Washington University’s Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies explains, “with that act, he lent his intellectual and moral support as an established and respected scholar to those of us who were struggling to be heard as we confronted Ethiopianist scholarship which was exceedingly resistant to Oromo studies in those days.” Baxter’s undeniable arguments solidified the exigency of Oromo scholarship and marked a turning point for scholars focused on this systematically ignored group.

Born in 1925, Baxter studied at Cambridge and Oxford Universities. His interest in studying the Oromo, Ethiopia’s single largest ethnic group, dates as far back as 1952 when he first sought permission from Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime to conduct research on the Gadaa system. When Ethiopia, whose policies systematically repressed the Oromo, denied him permission, Baxter went to Northern Kenya, where he spent two years studying the social organization of the Borana Oromo. His 860 page dissertation, “The Social Organization of the Oromo of Northern Kenya”, which became an indispensable resource was published in 1954.

“He was one of the first brave and courageous intellectuals who put the Oromo nation on the intellectual map of the world and opened the door for Oromo studies in the Diaspora,” said Dr. Asafa Jalata,  a professor of Sociology at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “We can say that all Oromo scholars are his students in indirect ways. His contribution to telling the Oromo story has inspired a generation of Oromo social scientists. He remains an intellectual model for Oromo scholars and others who do not bow down for powerful elites and states to receive benefits and prestige in the mainstream institutions.”

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