Ethnicity and Power in Ethiopia
This thesis explores why ethnicity was introduced as the basis for the reconstitution of the Ethiopian state in 1991, examining the politicisation of ethnic identity before and after the federation of the country’s ‘nations, nationalities and peoples’ was instituted. The establishment of the modern Ethiopian empire state in the nineteenth century, and the processes of centralisation and bureaucratisation which consolidated it in the mid twentieth, provide a backdrop to an emerging concern with ‘regionalism’ amongst political circles in the 1960s and 1970s. Ethnicity operated as both resource and product of the mobilisation by which the major movements of armed opposition to the military regime of the 1970s and 1980s, later the architects of ethnic federalism, sought control of the state. Under federalism through the 1990s, political representation and territorial administration were reorganised in terms of ethnicity. A stratum of the local elite of each ethnic group was encouraged to form an ethnic organisation as a platform for executive office. Meanwhile ethnic groups and their elites responded to these new circumstances in unanticipated but calculative ways, often radically reviewing and reconstructing not only their sense of collective interest, but also the very ethnic collectives that would best serve those newlyperceived interests. The architects of ethnic federalism are influenced by a Marxist formulation of the ‘National Question’ which incorporates contradictory elements inherent in the notion of ‘granting self-determination’: the conviction that self-selected communities respond better to mobilisation ‘from within’, in their own language, by their own people; and the notion that ethnic groups are susceptible to identification, definition, and prescription ‘from above’, by a vanguard party applying a checklist of externally verifiable criteria. These two sets of assumptions correlate with tenets of instrumentalism and primordialism respectively, which are, as they stand, equally irreconcilable. An investigation of theoretical approaches to ethnicity and collective action suggests that many conflate the ‘real world’ and ‘socially constructed’ referents of the ethnic profile of an individual (the constituents of the individual state of being an ethnic x), with the fully constructed collective accomplishment which creates members of an ethnic group (conferring the social status of being an ethnic x, of which those referents are markers). Differentiating the two, and exploring the recursive relationship between them, by means of a consideration of calculative action within the framework of actors’ categories (emerging from emic knowledge systems) and shared social institutions (premised, whether their referents are ‘natural’ ‘social’ or ‘artificial’, on collective processes of ‘knowledge construction’), may improve analysis of the causes and operation of collective action associated with ethnicity and ethno-nationalism. Ethnic federalism in Ethiopia offered the prospect of a shift away from the ‘high modernism’ of that state’s past projects to ‘develop’ its people, apparently in favour of the collective perspectives of groups of its citizens. The coercive and developmental imperatives of the state that guided its implementation, however, have militated against the substantive incorporation of locally determined social institutions and knowledge.