Unity in Diversity through Global Civilization Initiative

The birthplace of human civilization has been pinpointed by archaeologists and historians as Mesopotamia-a region where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet. Often referred to as the cradle of civilization this area spans across modern day Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, Kuwait and Turkey. Over time, civilization disseminated to numerous countries worldwide including ancient civilizations like Aksum, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome and others. In later periods, religion emerged as the primary catalyst for building civilizations.

When European colonial powers came to Africa, it was in the name of civilizing the “barbaric and savage” people. This was a cover to exploit the natural resources and labor power of the sons and daughters of Africa. For many years the colonial powers had stolen the wealth of the African people. During this time they believed that there was only one civilization in the world. Therefore, in their writings, they did not say many “civilizations” but only one “civilization”. That civilization was the Western Civilization. This shows that they did not recognize the former ancient civilizations.

During the Cold War, there were two major ideologies i.e. capitalism and socialism. The conflicts and proxy wars of the then period were based on ideology. In 1991 the Cold War stopped to exist just after the crumble of the Soviet Union into many states. Following this grand change in the world, various researchers forwarded their views and theories about the future of the world.

In 1993 Samuel Huntington presented his research saying that in the future there will be a “Clash of Civilizations”. It can be said that this study was an acknowledgment of the existence of many civilizations in the world. According to his study after the Cold War people’s cultural and religious identities will be the main source of conflict. After the time of devastating attacks by Al Qaeda on two American buildings on September 11, 2001, Samuel Huntington’s research was taken as correct and proof of his in-depth analysis. Following this incident, many Muslims were mistreated in different parts of the world.

Setting aside Samuel Huntington’s theory of the “Clash of Civilizations”, a new paradigm shift came up with the notion of the “Alliance of Civilizations”. This means that there will be alliances and cooperation among various civilizations rather than fighting with one another. This notion was accepted by the United Nations and it is being in the working structure of the global organization as of 2005.

In March 2023, China came up with another grand notion of “Global Civilization Initiatives”(GCI). President Xi Jinping proposed the GCI at the CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-level Meeting through video link and delivered a keynote address in Beijing on March 15, 2023. According to his initiative, there are many civilizations in the world and there is a need to establish an international forum and to discuss among themselves.

President Xi has also emphasized that such dialogue and communication among various civilizations is a base for world peace and a  chance to learn from each other. He stressed that tolerance, coexistence, exchanges and mutual learning among different civilizations play an irreplaceable role in advancing humanity’s modernization process. He also underlined that appreciating and understanding the value of different civilizations will allow them to avoid imposing their values or models on others and creating conflicts.

The Global Civilization Initiative focuses on four aspects. The first is to advocate respect for the diversity of civilizations. This aspect focuses on the principles of equality, civilized discussions and inclusiveness, cultural exchanges, learning from each other, and increasing the sense of living together.

The second is to advocate the common values of humanity emphasizing peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom. Based on this aspect countries should avoid imposing their values or models on others and create conflicts. The third is to advocate the importance of inheritance and innovation of civilizations. This aspect underlines that countries should use and develop their history and culture properly.

The fourth is to advocate robust international people-to-people exchanges and cooperation. In this aspect, countries should create a global network for dialogue and cooperation between civilizations, and expand the ways of cooperation so that there can be mutual understanding and friendship among the people of all countries and jointly promote the development of human civilization.

Considering the above grand notions, a Chinese expert said that through GCI “China is trying to share its wisdom and plans to bring new hope for all nations to consider together on how to escape the trap of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and find a path that can help the world sail through the current turbulence”.

A Kenyan expert also said that “The initiative advocates multilateralism. This form of multilateralism is more global in its outlook and is bringing the Northern and Southern hemispheres together…the notion of a superiority complex regarding other civilizations must be rejected. Therefore, different civilizations can coexist and support each other”.

In explaining GCI Ambassador Zhao Zhiyuan of China in Ethiopia said “Since China and Ethiopia signed an agreement for cultural cooperation in 1988, there have been frequent mutual visits of cultural delegation and art groups…Universities and colleges on both sides have conducted many exchanges. Amharic has been a university major in China, and two Confucius Institutes have been set up in universities and colleges in Ethiopia. Mutual learning of languages brings closer people’s hearts.”

Historically there was a cultural troupe of China that came to Ethiopia in the 1950s even before the establishment of the formal diplomatic relationships between the two in 1970. The Chinese Hubei Art Troupe and the Art Troupe of China Conservatory visited Ethiopia in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Several Ethiopian Art Troupes had also visited China. As the continuation of such cultural relationships between Ethiopia and China, recently, “Zhejiang Wu Opera Performance: Enhancing China-Ethiopia Cultural Exchanges Themed Theatrical Performance” was conducted at the National Theater of Ethiopia on 9 September 2023.

According to GCI different civilizations have different values. There should be respect for one another. GCI is against discrimination and interference against other civilizations by categorizing people as civilized and uncivilized (barbaric/savage). GCI promotes sharing wisdom and learning from one another. Thus GCI is not designed to promote the civilization of China to others, but China also needs to learn from the civilizations of other countries. The successful mediation of China between Saudi Arabia and Iran can be regarded as a fruitful dialogue between various civilizations and interests in solving problems and to move forward.

 Similar to China, Ethiopia is also an ancient country with more than three thousand years of history. This will make Ethiopia to be part of the civilization dialogue in the GCI. The powerful Aksumite civilization left behind a great deal of archaeological material in the northern part of the country. Moreover, Ethiopia is the cradle of mankind and uses Geez Script which is the only writing system in Africa. There are also many fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia.

As one account shows, during the fourth Century A.D., there were four great powers in the world. These were China, Rome, Persia, and Aksumite Ethiopia. This account clearly shows that Ethiopia is in the category of ancient civilization. Starting from the second half of the third century up to the beginning of the tenth century twenty-four Aksumite rulers had minted their coins. During this time many countries in the world were exchanging through a barter system. Sources show that the coins issued by the kings of Aksum circulated widely in international trade. The rock-hewn churches, Aksumite obelisks, and other archeological findings show that Ethiopia has so much wisdom that she can share to other countries of the world.

To sum up, there is no one universal civilization in the world but there are many civilizations. All civilizations are equal. There is a clash of interests than a clash of civilizations. Civilization is all about our past, present, and future. To avoid clashes among different civilizations dialogues, exchange of culture, mutual learning, and respecting the diversity of civilizations is of paramount importance. GCI promotes unity in diversity to make this world safe and secure for all of us living in this world. As one of the oldest countries, Ethiopia also deserves to be part of the forum of civilizations of the world.


(This author is a researcher in International Relations and Diplomacy, Institute of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, melakumulu@yahoo.com)


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