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Ethiopia: The Last Two Frontiers

Copyright Date: June 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Provides the gist of one scholar's knowledge of this country acquired over several decades. The author of numerous works on Ethiopia, Markakis presents here an overarching, concise historical profile of a momentous effort to integrate a multicultural empire into a modern nation state. The concept of nation state formation provides the analytical framework within which this process unfolds and the changes of direction it takes under different regimes, as well as a standard for assessing its progress and shortcomings at each stage. Over a century old, the process is still far from completion and its ultimate success is far from certain. In the author's view, there are two major obstacles that need to be overcome, two frontiers that need to be crossed to reach the desired goal. The first is the monopoly of power inherited from the empire builders and zealously guarded ever since by a ruling class of Abyssinian origin. The descendants of the people subjugated by the empire builders remain excluded from power, a handicap that breeds political instability and violent conflict. The second frontier is the arid lowlands on the margins of the state, where the process of integration has not yet reached, and where resistance to it is greatest. Until this frontier is crossed, the Ethiopian state will not have the secure borders that a mature nation state requires. John Markakis is a political historian who has devoted a professional lifetime to the study of Ethiopia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa. He has published several books and many articles on this area.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-949-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps & Tables
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Preface
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. Acronyms
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  6. Glossary
    (pp. xiv-xv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    This is the tale of a long drawn out struggle to forge a nation-state in Africa. Lasting over a century, it has made much progress, yet it is nowhere near an end. Waged against determined opposition, it has incited endless conflict and stained the pages of the country’s history with the blood of generations. Today the struggle continues, and so does the bloodshed and the misery it brings. ‘In a world that consists mainly of states … trying to become nationstates’ (Claude 1986: 3) the story is not uncommon. In this world, where the pursuit of that exalted end justifies...

  8. PART I The Lowland Frontier

    • 1 High & Low Land: A Study in Contrast
      (pp. 23-44)

      ‘Ethiopia is a mountainous land’ runs the typical introduction to the country, referring to the massive plateau at its centre that stands at an average elevation of 2000-2500m above sea level and boasts of peaks soaring above 4,000m. Yet this accounts for only half this state’s domain of 1,127,127km². The hot and dry land below 1,500m the mountain folk call kolla and normally shun, makes up the other half. ‘Ethiopia is a land of sharp contrasts’ is another familiar rubric, which is nowhere more apt than in the multifaceted contrast between high and low land and the peoples who live...

    • 2 Afar & Somali
      (pp. 45-64)

      The focus of this study is on the lowland periphery because its part in the story is little known and, even more significantly, because this region poses a critical test for the nation-state building project. Obviously, a similar treatment for the highland periphery is essential for a comprehensive treatment of this topic. However, the large number of societies involved, the variety and wealth of their cultures, the diversity of their interaction with the centre, and the uneven degree of their respective integration in the nation-state make this a formidable enterprise well beyond the scope of the present book. Moreover, some...

    • 3 Borana, South Omo, Gambella, & Beni Shangul Gumuz
      (pp. 65-87)

      This chapter presents the profiles of communities that make their home in the south-western lowlands. An extraordinarily diverse collection, they defy categorisation under conventional criteria and none is offered here. They range from small to miniscule, and inhabit a veritable beehive of human creativity in a seemingly pristine physical setting, a magnet for anthropologists, some of whom have devoted their professional lifetime to providing us with what we know about these people. Sharing an ecological niche and living in physical proximity, they interact in many ways and have common historical experiences. Even so, they defend their distinct identities and cultural...

  9. PART II Building the State:: The Imperial Model

    • 4 Winning an Empire
      (pp. 89-107)

      Empire building in this corner of Africa follows the classic pattern of expansion from a dynamic core state whose energy spills over its borders to conquer neighbouring lands, from which it draws resources and additional strength for further conquests abroad. The core state in this tale is Shoa, the southernmost Abyssinian province, and the following pages recount the initial phase when the foundations of the imperial state were put in place. Building an empire is a monumental feat of construction, justly celebrated in history. It is also a deed of enormous destruction for those who are swept aside in its...

    • 5 Building the Imperial State 1916–1974
      (pp. 108-130)

      The conquest of the Ethiopian empire took the last quarter of the 20th century. Building a state capable of ruling it took twice as long. In fact, building did not begin in earnest until the end of World War II. The intervening period was consumed in a struggle for power at the centre that ended with the accession of Haile Selassie to the throne in 1930. Soon afterwards Ethiopia was attacked for a second time by Italy and had a brief taste of European colonial rule (1935-1941). The Italian interlude was a mini-rupture that separated the struggle for power at...

    • 6 Imperial Rule in the Periphery
      (pp. 131-160)

      Controlling the periphery, exploiting its resources and binding it closer to the centre preoccupied the imperial regime throughout its reign. It shaped nearly all the important policies it formulated and consumed most of its energy and resources, economic, military and political. By contrast, the Abyssinian provinces in the north were ignored and stagnated as a result. The focus of the regime’s efforts was on the highland periphery, where a measure of success was achieved, as noted in the first part of this chapter. Little progress was seen in the lowland periphery, where the regime became involved in debilitating struggles to...

  10. PART III Rebuilding the State:: The Socialist Model

    • 7 The 1974 Revolution
      (pp. 161-181)

      The fall of the imperial regime in 1974 was brought about by a revolution whose radical nature invited comparisons with the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions.¹ Like those historic events, the revolution in Ethiopia swept away the material and social foundations of an ancien régime, ruling out the possibility of restoration. Unlike them, it failed to produce a new social order; thus it proved barren. The upheaval divided the centre and created a political vacuum inviting intervention by the army, and a military regime ruled Ethiopia for the next seventeen years. The radicalism that inspired the revolution owed nothing to...

    • 8 Building the Socialist State 1974–1991
      (pp. 182-201)

      The annihilation of the radical factions in the centre was a Pyrrhic victory for the Dergue, because it shifted the focus of opposition to the periphery, where other nationalities emulated the Eritreans by launching their own ‘national liberation’ struggles. Among them were the Oromo, Sidama, Somali, Afar, Anywaa and Berta. The conflict in Eritrea widened to involve the Christian community, and the war there went on for fifteen more years to sap the strength of the regime in Addis Ababa. What sealed the regime’s fate, however, was a rebellion that broke out in Tigray, deep in the Abyssinian heartland, which...

    • 9 The Socialist State in the Periphery
      (pp. 202-227)

      Lowland experience of military rule fell into two distinct phases. The first was the initial, fleeting period of political agitation by the student zamatcha, and the commotion and discord it caused in some communities. The second and longer phase covered the regime’s efforts to start the process of lowland integration into the renovated Ethiopian state. These had diverse effects in different regions. Areas where a degree of settlement and urbanisation had already taken place and sizeable numbers of highlanders were present, such as the Awash River Valley and the Borana Plateau, were most affected. Areas chosen for highlander resettlement, such...

  11. PART IV Rebuilding the State:: The Federal Model

    • 10 Building the Federal State 1991–1995
      (pp. 229-254)

      In the century-old life of the nation state-building project in Ethiopia, the latest phase has been the most ambitious. The reforms brought by the last rupture purported to deal with the core issue that had been ignored so far, ‘the relationship between a Christian-dominated and Amharic-speaking centre and the various peripheral peoples and regions’ (Clapham 1995: 117). The reforms concerned two key facets of this relationship, cultural and political. The first is the national identity of the state, an issue posed earlier in the riddle ‘who is the Ethiopian?’ The answer was bold and inescapably controversial: to wit, there are...

    • 11 Ruling the Federal State 1995–2010
      (pp. 255-278)

      When the EPRDF came to power in 1991, it found the country’s economy in ‘a coma’.¹ Its strategy for economic recovery focused on rapid growth in agricultural production to feed the population and provide raw material for industrialisation, and depended on the use of inputs, whose cost the producer had to bear regardless of results. Because generally the results did not justify the cost, the strategy failed. The regime then shifted its focus from the peasant to the land itself, and adopted the simple method of exploiting this resource by leasing it to private capital for large scale, commercial cultivation....

  12. PART V The Federal State in the Periphery

    • 12 The Highland Periphery & the Lowland Afar
      (pp. 279-305)

      Regime change marked a major shift in the centre/periphery interaction, which now proceeded under a new political order and new perspectives. Federalism offered the opportunity to remove two features of this relationship that had disrupted and threatened to derail the process of statebuilding. The introduction of a decentralised federal system of government promised to end the centre’s historical monopoly of ruling power, while the reformulation of Ethiopia’s national identity on the basis of cultural pluralism lifted the burden of cultural inferiority from the periphery and the threat of forced assimilation. This was a fundamental shift that opened new and hopeful...

    • 13 The Somali
      (pp. 306-328)

      The readiness of the Somali rebels to accept the EPRDF offer was a welcome surprise for the incoming regime. ‘We never expected the Somali to take part in the July conference and to change their minds about joining Somalia’, said Meles Zenawi.¹ In the preparations for the July 1991 Addis Ababa conference, the EPRDF searched for representatives of Somali organisations that had long been inactive and whose leadership was not easy to locate. With Sudanese assistance, they found the remnants of the WSLF leadership hiding in a Mogadisho cellar to escape Hawiye vengeance. They were brought to Khartoum with their...

    • 14 Borana, South Omo, Gambella & Beni Shangul Gumuz
      (pp. 329-353)

      The southern and western borderlands are the remotest and least known parts of Ethiopia. Managing federalism in this immensely complex and challenging setting would have been extremely difficult under any circumstances. The EPRDF did not make it easier by failing to depart from the rigid formula used to administer the highland periphery, that is, the ‘Peoples Democratic Organisation’, the vehicle steered by ‘regional intellectuals’. The problem here is the sheer inadequacy of this vehicle, which made centre intervention all the more necessary and obvious. Save in the most superficial sense, decentralisation has been a failure: in reality, the result was...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 354-359)

    Nation building was the lodestar of African nationalism in the heady days of decolonisation half a century ago, and it was in keeping with the times that Ethiopian nationalists launched their own project. Universally regarded as the political hallmark of modernisation, nation building acquired an aura of predetermination and inevitability derived from this connection; since modernisation is inevitable, so is the success of the project. Encouraged by social scientists who confidently predicted the passing of traditional society (Lerner 1958), this teleological perspective illuminated the nationalist mindset in the early post-colonial era.

    It took the experience of a few decades to...

  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 360-374)
  15. Index
    (pp. 375-384)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 385-385)