Accepted Paper:

Biopolitics and the developmental state in Eritrea  
David O'Kane (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

Since independence in the early 1990s, Eritrea's government has pursued a biopolitical strategy of national development. This paper outlines the ways in which this high modernist developmental model has affected a society that is still largely rural and/or pastoralist.

Paper long abstract:

The revolutionary nationalist regime in the Horn of Africa country of Eritrea is engaged in a process of state intervention in society with goals of national development. This paper describes the critique of this process and its attendant problems for the human rights of the people of Eritrea using the concept of biopolitics. Based on the work of Michel Foucault, the concept of biopolitics refers to the way in which modernist regimes make life itself the object of power - a classic example is the policy of eugenics, which was by no means confined to fascist regimes in the twentieth century. The Eritrean state does not engage in eugenic measures, but it acts to (at least partly) ensure food security through state aid programmes, increase access to health care, and to regulate, discipline and mobilise the population of Eritrea through (for example) compulsory military service and a national (and nationalist) state education system.

Thus, the contemporary Eritrean experience represents an example of the introduction of political methodologies orginating in the modernist regimes of twentieth century Europe into a twenty-first century African society contending with the problems of underdevelopment, poverty and the ever-present threat of external aggression from its larger neighbour Ethiopia. This paper outlines the ways in which this state project of biopolitics has affected Eritrean society.

Panel W004
Europe in Africa – Africa in Europe: Borut Brumen Memorial