Running Out of Space: Ethno-federalism, capitalist restructuring, and the political economy of peri-urbanization around Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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Haile, Fikir Getaneh
Political Studies , International Political Economy , Political Ecology , Peri-urbanization , Ethiopia
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital and largest city, has long been expanding horizontally into the surrounding rural areas, creating profound transformations in these spaces. In recent years, these transformations have ignited violent confrontations between rural and urban land uses and livelihoods, turning the spaces in the peripheries of the city into sites of tension, conflict, and political instability. While the issue of land governance has been a central area of research in the political economy of Ethiopia, the existing literature offers few insights on the distinct geographies that are emerging amid the material and socio-environmental transformations occurring in Addis Ababa’s peripheries. To speak to this silence, this dissertation employs a Marxist Political Economy – Political Ecology (MPE-PE) lens and a three-phase qualitative research plan involving desk research, archival research, and interviews to unpack the link between the Ethiopian ethno-federal state, capitalist expansion and restructuring, and the emergence of distinct, dynamic, and politically volatile geographies around Addis Ababa. The dissertation advances the argument that the transformations unfolding in the city’s peripheries are best conceptualized as peri-urbanization, a historically and materially constituted process of socio-environmental transformation driven by the geographical expansion of urban capitalism and shaped by the multi-scalar exercise of material and political power. The dissertation additionally reveals that, situated within the dynamics of global capitalist governance, peri-urbanization around Addis Ababa is facilitated by the Ethiopian ethno-federalist state’s exercise of material, discursive, and coercive power but has paradoxically served to weaken and destabilize the state. The dissertation offers two key insights that contribute to the academic and public debates. First, utilizing the MPE-PE theoretical framing, it provides a comprehensive conceptualization of the Ethiopian state and the class and ethnic dynamics of power therein, providing a novel theorization of the authoritarian, developmental-capitalist, ethno-federal state. Second, identifying the multi-scalar drivers, unique material and socio-environmental conditions, and distinct features of Addis Ababa’s peripheries, the dissertation offers an original conceptualization of peri-urban geographies. In so doing, the dissertation provides theoretical and empirical insights that contribute to the literature in Ethiopian Studies, International Political Economy, and Political Ecology.
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