Workineh Kelbessa

"Tübingen is one of the leading educational centers in Germany in particular and the world in general."

Workineh Kelbessa's research focus is on Environmental Philosophy and Development Ethics. He came back to Tübingen in September 2018 for the conference "Digitalisation in Africa - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Technology, Development, and Justice".

Workineh Kelbessa

Professor at the College for Social Studies
Addis Ababa University
Personal Site

In Tübingen

  • 2011 research fellow at the Forum Scientiarum of the University of Tübingen
  • July, 2015 public lecture on “African Environmental Ethics” at the International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities
  • September 2018 "Tübingen Reloaded", speaker at the conference "Digitalisation in Africa - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Technology, Development, and Justice"
at International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW) of the University of Tübingen

What is your main research field and its importance in a broader context?

"My research interests include environmental philosophy, African philosophy, comparative philosophy, development ethics, climate ethics, globalization, philosophy of love and sex, and indigenous philosophy. I have tried to tackle major global problems faced by the world, and especially pressingly in the nations of Africa: environmental challenges, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the question of how to promote economic growth and environmental protection in a way that is both sustainable and also benefits all members of the natural environment, and the causation of drastic climate change. In this endeavor, I have also emphasized time and again that indigenous knowledge cannot be seen as the only source of insights and values to resolve complex philosophical and ethical issues in Africa, but rather should be treated as a legitimate voice that need to be taken very seriously by policymakers, and as such should be put into serious conversation with scientific knowledge and perspectives from other continents."

Why did you get interested and involved in a research stay in Tübingen?

"My colleague, Dr. Niels Weidtmann, Director of the Forum Scientiarum of the University of Tuebingen told me about Tübingen University. I was a research fellow of the Forum Scientiarum in 2011. I found out that Tübingen University is a congenial and stimulating setting for my research on environmental ethics incorporating African perspectives. Its library holdings are very good. It provided me with a cosy and stimulating intellectual atmosphere for work and supported my study in various ways during my first visit in 2011. That is why I decided to pursue my research there in 2015 after the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation approved my application for return fellowship." 

What was your most rewarding experience during your stay here?

"My research stay at the University of Tübingen was the most memorable and productive year in my academic career. Indeed, the Forum Scientiarum was very generous in supporting my activities.  I had an opportunity to benefit from unique expertise and resources of the University of Tübingen. Overall, my visit is a successful academic tour that met my scholarly and professional expectations."

"African and German philosophies are some of the lenses through which to look at the world."

Which tangible outcomes of your stay are most important? What is planned for the future?

"I feel that my stay in Tübingen was an enriching experience for me both personally and professio-nally. I have profited a great deal from my discussions with various scholars. I believe I have considerably strengthened my capability in my research during my stay in Tübingen.  Among others, I had time to read and discuss new research areas and topics including climate change ethics, jus-tice, globalisation, global governance, HIV/AIDS, African philosophy, environmental ethics, intercultural philosophy and the like. I published two articles, one book chapter and one joint paper. 

Moreover, I gave a public lecture on “African Environmental Ethics” at the International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities, Tübingen University on July 21, 2015. The lecture was organized by the Internationales Zentrum für Ethik in den Wissenschaften (IZEW) and the Forum Scientiarum of Tübingen University. It was well attended by students and professors. I also presented my paper titled “African Environmental Ethics and Environmental Challenges” at the 12th International Conference of the International Society for Environmental Ethics held in Kiel, Germany from July 22-25, 2015.

Moreover, I actively participated in public lectures organized by different departments of Tübingen University. Furthermore, I participated in the Awards Ceremony of the “Alexander von Humboldt Professorship 2015 – International Award for Research in Germany” and the Annual Meeting of the Ale-xander von Humboldt Foundation on 12 May 2015 and June 10-12, 2015 respectively.

2018 at the conference in Tübingen "Digitalisation in Africa - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Technology, Development, and Justice"

"Another important achievement of my stay in Tübingen was the collaboration made between the Department of Philosophy of Addis Ababa University and the International Centre for Ethics in the Sci-ences and Humanities of Tübingen University from 2015-2018. I was the Coordinator and Mentor of the Learning and Exchange Programme ASAprenuers in Germany and Ethiopia (via the Engagement Global gGmbH, funded by the German Ministry of Development Cooperation). I would like to develop further collaborative research projects on different issues with my colleagues in Tübingen in the future."

If someone asked you about your impressions of Tübingen, what you reply?

"I would stress that Tübingen is one of the leading educational centers in Germany in particular and the world in general. I was part of a vibrant community that celebrates its diverse culture. I enjoyed the company and hospitality of colleagues there. University professors and ordinary citizens in Tü-bingen have been very friendly to me. I would also like to inform the person how the Welcome Center of the University of Tübingen would make his/her stay in Tübingen enjoyable by organizing different events for international students and researchers."

Is there something you think German academia could learn from academia in Africa or vice-versa?

"Yes, I think so. There are different ways of seeing the world. African and German philosophies are some of the lenses through which to look at the world. Both indigenous and modern scientific knowledges are locally produced in a particular culture in a specific historical era, and have some-thing to contribute to the protection of the global environment. All knowledge has always both a local and global aspect in the sense that it is in principle an achievement of humankind as a whole, and it is communicable. Indigenous knowledge has something of value that modern science lacks, and vice versa. 

For instance, German scientists and philosophers can learn from African ethics and try to solve the problems of climate change, as the African value system teaches “the interconnectedness of life” on Mother Earth. African worldviews include intergenerational ethics that teaches that natural resources should not be overexploited beyond limit and the land should be taken care of for the benefit of both humans, including future human generations, and nonhuman species. Thus the current generation should not engage in activities that will endanger the survival of future generations. So, Western and other nations can learn from this ethical principle – the intergenerational dimensions of global climate change – and pay attention to the wellbeing of future generations besides their current interests. 

African scientists and philosophers can also learn a lot from German scientists and philosophers. They can enrich their knowledge in different fields by critically approaching the scientific and philo-sophical findings of the latter. Therefore both groups should make in-depth consultation and ongoing dialogue with each other. This can promote reciprocal information flow in a wide variety of fields."

Thank you for the interview!