The Culture of Power in Contemporary Ethiopian Political Life

By Carlson, Andrew J. | African Studies Review, September 2005 | Go to article overview

The Culture of Power in Contemporary Ethiopian Political Life


Carlson, Andrew J., African Studies Review


Sarah Vaughan and Kjetil Tronvoll. The Culture of Power in Contemporary Ethiopian Political Life. Stockholm: Sida, 2003. 177 pp. Annexes. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Price not reported. Paper.

Commissioned by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, this pilot study of contemporary political culture is designed to inform preparation of the Swedish Country Strategy of 2003-2007. Similar studies of Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Mali are under way. An executive summary indicates one target audience: development bureaucrats. But this study should have a wider audience among those interested in contemporary Ethiopian politics.

The authors bring a multidisciplinary perspective to their analysis. Sarah Vaughn, a research consultant and honorary fellow of the School of Social and Political Studies of the University of Edinburgh, first came to Ethiopia as a relief worker in the 1980s. Since then she has written extensively on Ethiopian political history. Kjetil Tronvoll, director of the Horn of Africa Programme at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo, has served as an election observer and written on democratization, human rights, and conflict. Their aim is not to provide "an exhaustive description of current circumstances" but rather "a review of issues relevant to political culture and the operation of power" (25).

Their analysis covers "four arenae" of power relations: "the popular, associational, political, and state spheres" (25). The first includes neighborhood (kebele) and district (werede) politics. The associational sphere comprises religious institutions, nongovernmental organizations, media, and commercial activity. The governmental sphere focuses primarily on the federal and state structures, including the judicial, executive, and legislative institutions. The fourth arena covers the party system, which is divided into parties belonging to the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, parties affiliated with the front, and opposition parties. This approach to contemporary Ethiopian political culture is useful and informative. …

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