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  • Writer's pictureyabebal fantaye

The Barefoot Revolution

Updated: Dec 1, 2019

One of the important decisions Abebe Bekila had to face in 10 September 1960 was to run like others with a shoe or like what he got used to barefoot. His courage to choose his own way and do what he has been prepared to do is what the Barefoot Revolution is modeled after. Image credit: Wikipedia

Core Concept

What is the connection between Ethiopian hero Abebe Bekila and the Barefoot Revolution, which is the conceptual parent of the Astrobus-Ethiopia project? Before answering this question, let us review the main activities and decisions Abebe had to do before competing in the Rome Marathon at 10 September 1960.

Between 1957 and 1960 Abebe and other Ethiopian runners were training in their homeland barefoot. Abebe and Wakjira passed selection process and came to Rome for the competition. In Rome they were faced with many important questions, but one very important one was related to running with shoes or barefoot. If they run barefoot, it might seem as though Ethiopians are too poor to afford a shoe. Moreover, people in Rome were laughing at them for walking everywhere barefoot, they had to hide in a tent to escape the shame. Before the competition Abebe and his compatriot Wakjira tested running with shoes, but the outcome was not good - they both developed blisters. They were underdogs, with nothing to show. Despite all these mental and physical pressures, however, both decided to run barefoot, as that is their way, the way they can stand a chance to be better than the best. And it worked! Abebe Bekila won the Gold Medal, the first Black African to do so, and broke the world record time. Poor, yes, barefoot yes - but victorious! Following on his step, many more people from Eastern Africa become legends in the long distance running.

Now let’s return back to the main question we wanted to answer in this section: what is the connection between Abebe Bekila and the Barefoot Revolution? It is the following:

  • Being confident in one's way of doing things - focusing only on what is essential.

  • Doing what is necessary - preparing in advance.

  • Aiming to be the best one can be - strive to set a new record.

  • Inspiring generations.

These are the principles of the Barefoot Revolution! The triumph of Abebe Bikila is our inspiration. Abebe Bekila was not just an Ethiopian hero, he was an African hero too. The Barefoot Revolution considers itself a pan-African initiative striving to triumph in the systematic thinking space.

Basic Premise

What are the basic ingredients of systematic thinking? We, at barefoot revolution, believe that it consists of two elements: abstraction, to decompose an observation or a set of questions into pieces of ideas in suitable spaces, and critical thinking, to compose these suitably abstracted insights to build further understanding of the question at hand. In other words, abstraction produce brain tools, and critical thinking combines these tools in a certain fashion to make progressed insights - production of new useful knowledge. Exercising this cyclic process at scale, we believe, is a key strategy to propel our country, and the world at large, to new heights in the civilisation dimension.

The next important question for us is how we can communicate this belief to our brothers and sisters across the whole country, and the world at large? We are addressing this question by using the basic ingredients listed above and have reached to the following strategy: expose the presence of these ingredients across every successful human endeavor such that our audience start practising this mind technology in their daily life. In short, we want to show the cyclic process of abstraction and critical thinking, using multidisciplinary activities, is the mind technology underpinning every human progress across civilizations.

Basic Strategy

The many activities organised under the Barefoot Revolution, for example in the Astrobus-Ethiopia project, are to follow the following strategy as the baseline.

  • An activity should be designed to allow the audience

  • Appreciate (actively aware) the abstract components, and the abstraction process

  • Actively participate in the critical thinking process of >> making the abstraction >> composing the abstract components to gain insights

  • Perceive the objects and ideas involved in the activity from a different angle - acquiring multiple interpretations. For example for a star, an object on the sky, sun from very far, a source of electromagnetic radiation, etc. For enjera, a food, a tool to teach density of holes, a soft material with brown and white color, etc.

Bigger Picture

The bigger picture of the Barefoot Revolution is to significantly contribute to the realisation of an African continent that proactively shape the course of global history in a positive way. We start our initiatives by focusing our limited resources and focus in one country, Ethiopia. We hope to expand our reach to other African countries in due course. Our strategies are built by combining the following four action operators - propagators of our effort to achieve the mission stated above. Each of these operators will consist of many individual working groups across different projects.

Knowledge Operator: the continent must adopt a home grown strategy to the mechanism of generating new knowledge and assimilate existing ones. The knowledge operator must propagate efficiently the past knowledge the continent has produced but neglected to the present, and index and disseminate what is being done presently into society to bring positive change. Global wisdom, school of thoughts, and sphere of knowledge must be appropriately incorporated. Knowledge about Innovation that helps produce more capacity must be accelerated.

Economy Operator: our continent should be able to acknowledge and reward appropriately the people, organisations, and other stakeholders for their contribution in transforming the continent to a place where its people proudly and enthusiastically call it home. These rewards in the current era are strongly correlated with financial gains, and opportunity to access the global market, which all are dependent on the economy related aspects of the country such as business policies. Moreover cutting-edge knowledge production, military posture, and an ability to capitalise emerging science and technologies require a big economy. Hence the Barefoot revolution economy operator is set to devise and implement strategies that will build a strong and sustainable economy.

Pride Operator: we need our people to strive to achieve cutting-edge and world leading results in many fields of human endeavour. Same as what Abebe Bekilla and those who followed after him did at the Olympic and other international sports arena, we want to position Africa such that its scientists, technologist, social workers share fairly Nobel awards, Field Medals, and other world renowned crowns with the rest of the world. We want the continent to have an equal say, with equal power in enforcing it, to what the future of humanity should be. The pride operator will propagate this core thinking across all our endeavour.

Scale Operator: the African continent is one of the biggest in size, and has a fast growing population with many people living across across diverse cultural, geographical, and intellectual divides. The scale operator is there to ensure the Barefoot revolution inspired solutions recognise these opportunities and challenges and incorporate scale thinking in all projects.

The following diagram relates the four fundamental action operators, and the sub operators that gets formed when two operators are chained.

Astrobus-Ethiopia Project

The stated mission of Astrobus-Ethiopia is stimulating a culture of scientific thinking by promoting science education and creating public awareness. We plan to achieve this by focusing on the fundamental idea underpinning astronomy, art, and innovation, which is abstraction and composition.

We design activities to provide an opportunity for the public to explore, learn and understand the main elements of modern civilisation, and how it is realised, i.e., how ideas are created, imagined, tested, visualised, transformed, and applied. By allowing students to use artistic methods to show their understanding of scientific concepts or objects, we help them make transitions and connections that are important not only for communication but also for the development of innovative problem solving skills.

The environment we create facilitates the acquisition of new insights either in science or art space, and encourage the composition of these insights to solve real challenges in society. Furthermore, through interactions with role models especially for underrepresented groups such as girls we help reverse negative stereotypes and influence the perception of the students individual abilities which in turn impacts the society’s perception.

Proof of Concept


Our first Astrobus-Ethiopia event, which was held on October 2017, was able to successfully deliver scientific and abstract topics in ways that are accessible and relevant to the lives of the audience we encountered across our travel in the Southern part of Ethiopia. We were also able to spark interest in science and education in general by providing a much-needed interaction with role models. The incorporation of art and innovation with science contributed significantly to the success of the project inspiring students to appreciate the power of abstraction, and the importance of scientific and critical thinking to positively progress in every aspect of their lives.

We recorded interviews, written comments and social media post engagements to evaluate the impact of our activity. Based on the data collected our main impact was, as we anticipated it, inspiring students to follow their dreams with full engagement. The following message we received from one of the participants in our facebook page better summarizes Astrobus’ impact:

“my name is tesfahun I attended your conference in wolayita sodo. to be honest I really moved and inspired now my life is on better track . because of all the advices I got from you guys now am ready to accept any challenge on my way and turn into an opportunity. so thank so much and I got one questions when we gonna see you around? I mean do you have plans to come back to wolayita in the future?”


Continuing on the success of the 2017 event, we plan to carry on the process of exposing the power of abstraction together with critical thinking as a means to progress in the civilisation and knowledge ladder.

At the moment we have more than seven teams from basic astronomy, satellite technology, mobile app development, robotics, plant based medicine, to photography, literature, fashion design.

The event will be held from 5-18 Dec 2019. We will be traveling to the Northern part of Ethiopia, crossing Feche, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axsum, Mekele and back to Addis Ababa.

Brief History:

Astrobus-Ethiopia was proposed in September 2015 to the OAD-IAU call for projects by Ethiopian astronomers from all over the world in collaboration with two other international collaborators. This project, the Astrobus-Ethiopia, plans to carry out outreach activities in different cities in Ethiopia by traveling on a bus with the aim of promoting astronomy education, and stimulating a culture of scientific thinking through the use of exciting astronomy, art and innovation activities.

The project won the 2016 IAU-OAD funding, and was awarded a total grant of 7500 Euros. A further funding of 5000 Euros was raised from the AIMS-ARETE Junior chair funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. In addition, a crowdfunding through the Fiat Physica platform raised 500 Euros for buying 4 Celestron telescopes to be distributed to schools across the cities Astrobus-Ethiopia visits. IAU-OAD additionally donated 12 Galileo telescopes which we distributed across schools in Ethiopia.

The seed fund of 5000 Euros for the 2019 Astrobus-Ethiopia project is obtained from AFIELD - an international network of creative and civically minded communities that supports projects are at the crossroad of art and social engagement. Further funding is acquired from the Ethiopian Space Society (ESSS).

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