Accepted paper:

The politics of hydropower development in Ethiopia: the case of Gibe III Hydroelectric Project


Edegilign Hailu Woldegebrael (University of Paris Ouest-Nanterre)

Paper short abstract:

This study, intends to address issues related to the state-led hydroelectric development interventions and state power in Ethiopia by using the Gibe III project as a case study from multi-scalar perspectives.

Paper long abstract:

The project of state building and the quest for modernization via economic development have been an evolving concern for successive Ethiopian regimes since early 20th century. Previous attempts, however, failed to buy the much needed legitimacy and the consequent development. The current ''ethnocratic''-regime with democratic pretensions under Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which is in power since-1991, has continued with this age-old agenda albeit with different strategy. The government has, in a James Scott's scenario of high-modernist paradigm, bent on "technology-driven development" and top-down planning under rhetoric of "developmental state" since early 2000s. This type of "high modernism" is most evident in the massive hydraulic infrastructural projects occupying the core of EPRDF's state building project both in symbolic and material terms. One of the most controversial mega-schemes is the Gibe III hydroelectric project, which is the second largest project in the country. A less deterministic-analytical framework informed by insights from theories of political ecology and state will be used to understand the issues related to governance and state power exercise by using this project as a case study. Accordingly, a qualitative approach based on field research conducted both at national and local scales from July 1 to December 30, 2016 and document analysis, will be employed to understand the problem. Hence, the paper hopes to contribute to debates on the contemporary revamp of high-modernism and state power from African states by providing a fresh interpretation to the themes of hydroelectric development and state building in Ethiopia.

panel P043
'Electric scrambles', past and present: renovating the politics of the kilowatts and the megawatts across African polities