Accepted Paper:

Facing the Party: Reactions to political control among Ethiopian civil servants  


Labzaé Mehdi (Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne)

Paper short abstract:

The paper looks at Ethiopian civil servants' reactions to the harsh political control put in force by the ruling party in the public service.

Paper long abstract:

Ethiopian civil servants work in a highly politicized environment. The Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front, ruling party since 1991, has developed mechanisms of political control that constraint bureaucrats in their everyday work. Although party membership is not compulsory for public servants, they can hardly climb the hierarchy in the civil service without being party members. Party officials decide about the bureaucrats' carriers and control their actions, most notably through an evaluation process called gimgema. Born when the EPRDF was still a guerrilla movement, the gimgema was first a socialist practice of evaluation through public criticism and self-criticism. Nowadays, it perfectly fits with neoliberal injunctions to transparency and commitment, but it is practiced in a highly politicised state apparel where the EPRDF leaves little room for critique. Civil servants failing at the gimgema can be dismissed or jailed.

The paper looks at how civil servants react to this harsh political control. While some of them enrol in party structures to protect themselves from political interferences, many prefer to keep away from politics, at the risk of being enrolled by force or punished for their lack of commitment. If evaluations are a stressful time for many, some agents use it to settle personal conflicts. The paper stresses the consequences of political control on the public agents' way of handling their daily work, in a context where any initiative and action can be interpreted as a fault. Eventually, the paper looks at opposition, diverting and avoidance strategies put in force by some agents.

Panel P080
African bureaucrats and emotions at work