Resistance of the Hamar to the Development Imperatives of the Ethiopian State: An Ethnographic Analysis

This project investigates the politics of “development” in Ethiopia by examining the implications of recent development projects – mechanized agricultural investment, conservation of wildlife, and the “education for all” program of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) government, as implemented in the territories of the agro-pastoral Hamar communities, in the lower Omo Valley of Southern Ethiopia.

In recent years, the relationship between the local population and the Hamar district administration has been growing increasingly tense. Numerous disputes of lesser or greater severity erupted in open, armed confrontations that reached a climax in 2015 when all-out war broke out between the Hamar and the district police. The issues that led to the outbreak of the conflict have been topics of intense debate among the Hamar community, the local authorities, and neighbouring communities who were directly or indirectly involved or affected by the conflict. The Hamar identify three major issues as the causes of the conflict: 1) dispossession of grazing lands, 2) the denial of access to Mago National Park, 3) problems related to the schooling of girls. For their part, the local authorities blame the Hamar for being resistant to modernization, characterizing the communities involved in the conflict as “closed”, locked in their own traditions and stubbornly opposed to change of any sort. To support their characterization, they cite the Hamar people’s rejection of education and their insistence on hunting game and grazing in the Mago National Park and in the territories earmarked as investment zones.

In this project I address two basic questions. First: What are the motives and interests of the national government of Ethiopia in implementing its development programs in Hamar and its vicinity? Second: In which ways have the Hamar experienced and responded to the development projects of the government? Using this approach, I hope that this project will inform and stimulate debate amongst those involved in planning and executing development projects, and those who are experiencing these projects at the margins of the state.

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