Paper Presentation Invite: Social Movements and State Fragility in Ethiopia

Social Movements and State Fragility in Ethiopia: Lessons from the Oromo Protests and Government Responses of 2015-16.  A Symposium proposed to the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London on June 21, 2016.

In late July of 2015, President Barack Obama praised Ethiopia as a “model of development,” an example of a young democracy and an effective ally of the West in the war against terror.  Three months later, the country was rocked by massive protests in the Oromia region demanding an end to the one-party stranglehold on the political landscape, ethnic discrimination in allocating national resources, and the rule of violence in Ethiopia. In response, the state turned to coercion and violence to put down the uprising.

The dramatic turn of events has made exposed a structural weakness in the Ethiopian state, one which John Markakis has called the failure of nation-building.  After the #OromoProtests, the Ethiopian state is not going to continue business as usual. First, the use of external endorsement as a leverage to seek internal legitimacy has limits. Second, state violence further delegitimizes the state, necessitating further coercion. In this cycle of violence, the state is unlikely to win a protracted conflict against its own population. In time, the state recedes, extra-state entities will step up to supplant the state and provide social services and security for its populations. In this situation, state collapse becomes imminent.

A one-day symposium at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, will explore how apparently strong state institutions eventually produce weaknesses that in turn initiate tendencies towards coercion, illegitimacy, and fragility.  By addressing this phenomenon historically and ethnographically the papers intend to examine new frameworks for understanding the Ethiopian state and the changing contours of political legitimacy.

We invite paper presentations based on systematic research, observation, and experiences which address the changes, challenges, and future of the Ethiopian state.

Please send proposed topics to: at your earliest convenience.