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War and the Politics of Identity in Ethiopia

War and the Politics of Identity in Ethiopia: The Making of Enemies and Allies in the Horn of Africa

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    War and the Politics of Identity in Ethiopia
    Book Description:

    Images of war, narratives of suffering and notions of ethnicity are intrinsically linked to Western perceptions of Africa. Filtered through a mostly international media the information of African wars is confined to narrow categories of explanation emergi

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-776-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Preface & Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Selected Glossary
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Acronyms
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. One Introduction Making Enemies & Allies
    (pp. 1-22)

    Images of war, narratives of suffering and notions of ethnicity are intrinsically linked to Western perceptions of Africa. Filtered through the medium of a limited number of sources – mostly international reporters unfamiliar with the local context, or foreign diplomats aloof from everyday politics and sufferings in the country in which they serve – the information and pictures of African wars are confined to narrow categories of explanation, categories emerging from and adapted to a Western history and political culture. This book aims at reversing this process; looking at war and its sufferings from the point of view of those who undertake...

  7. Two Land, Hierarchy & Alliances in Highland Ethiopia
    (pp. 23-35)

    The people of the present-day Tigray regional state¹ in northern Ethiopia and parts of the Eritrean highlands – pride themselves on being direct descendants of some of Africa’s oldest civilisations; the kingdoms of Da’amat (ca.700-400 BC) and Axum (ca.100-800 AD) (Marcus 1994). These civilisations were founded on Africa’s most efficient and innovative agricultural production system, where the ox and plough were paired to produce optimal yield (McCann 1995). The subsistence sedentary agricultural society of the Abyssinian² highlands developed well-organised local communities, where principles of kinship and descent guided the habitation pattern and access to land. Today, we find the descendants of...

  8. Three Historical Trajectories of Enemy Images
    (pp. 36-60)

    The land is our father, the enemy our brother,’ (Tig. ‘Meretna Abona Eya Eti Tselaei dima Hawna’) was the expression used by an elderly Tigrayan peasant to explain to me the convoluted reasons for the Eritrean-Ethiopian war (1998-2000). This expression captures the essence of what constitutes social order in Tigray and the ancient highlands of Abyssinia – individuals’ relationships to land and kin, and the conflicts surrounding these relationships. Land is a symbol of fertility and provides a person with a place of belonging and of resources, facilities which it is also the responsibility of a father to provide. The Tigrayans...

  9. Four Alternating Enemies & Allies Ethnicity in Play
    (pp. 61-98)

    With the outbreak of war, the bilateral relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia changed from that of allies to enemies overnight. The alteration in the formal relations between the two states immediately influenced the notion of a wide range of collective identities in the region. This chapter explores how the outbreak of war shaped a Tigrayan discourse on identity, inspired by popular perceptions of history and culture, and influenced by official rhetoric and policies. As such, it demonstrates the palpable potency of ethnicity and its manipulative and flexible qualities (Wilmsen and McAllister 1996). The chapter is thus about the creation of...

  10. Five War Behind the Front Lines Individual Approaches
    (pp. 99-129)

    The Tigrayans seemingly accepted and adapted quite quickly to the new war situation and the radical constraints it implied. People continued to support the TPLF in words, by joining the military, by participating in rallies in support of the war, and with voluntary contributions in money or kind to the war-front. The whole population condemned the Eritrean invasion and apparently accepted the shift of perception of Eritrea from friend and ally to enemy and alien. If we delve beneath the public discourse, the official rhetoric and everyday poetics, however, a different picture emerges. At an individual level people acted and...

  11. Six Reconstructing ‘Ethiopianness’ Competing Nationalisms
    (pp. 130-174)

    This chapter will pursue the metaphor of ‘who is the enemy’ within a national Ethiopian context of identity discourses. The aim is to shed light on the construction of Ethiopian national identities, and to see how these relate to the perceptions of identities as explored in the two previous chapters. It will be revealed that similar processes are also taking place within the field of national identity discourse; there is not one commonly subscribed to the understanding of one Ethiopian ‘enemy’ with which one homogenous understanding of national identity can be contrasted. Several competing, and sometimes contradictory, discourses of enemy...

  12. Seven Ethiopia & its Malcontents Purifying the Nation
    (pp. 175-196)

    Socially created identities refer not only to a relevant other, but are also linked to space and territory – whether individuals belonging to the family farm, the ethnic group’s identification with a homeland, or the nation’s claim to a specific territory of the state. As such, land is not only a territory considered as an exclusive domain of an individual or group, it is also subject to cultural and social organisation and becomes part of individuals’ or groups’ symbolic representation of the world (Malkki 1992). ‘Human societies’, writes Mach, ‘have physical and conceptual relations between themselves and their land’ (1993: 172),...

  13. Eight Conclusion Arresting Ethiopian Nationalism
    (pp. 197-207)

    War destroys the cultural web of significance as it existed until the outbreak of violence. However, as this book has illustrated, the outcome is not a cultural vacuum, since war concurrently spins new webs of significance – created by and fitted into the new socio-political environment caused by the war. Furthermore, the new cultural understandings created by war are of no less ‘cultural’ significance or value than the socio-political dynamics created during peace-time.

    The Eritrean-Ethiopian war was ostensibly fought over a sliver of land. But, as perceived by peasants and politicians alike, the war had everything to do with notions of...

  14. Postscript: After War, New Enemies
    (pp. 208-217)

    The cycle of war in the Horn of Africa seems to be incessant. Instead of peace and stability, it is more likely that conflict appears after war. As this postscript is being written, eight years after the signing of the Algiers peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 12 December 2000, the two countries are yet again closer to war than ever before. The Algiers agreement has collapsed and the UN peace-keeping mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) terminated its operations during the summer of 2008 and pulled out all troops and military observers from the two countries.¹ The failure...

  15. List of Official Interviews
    (pp. 218-219)
  16. References
    (pp. 220-232)
  17. Index
    (pp. 233-240)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-243)