Today’s changes in Ethiopia are rapid, confusing and disruptive. They
promise openness and democratization, but also contain perils. Like many
others, I am struggling to place them in a context that allows me to make
sense of what is happening now and what may happen in the near future.
I find much of the commentary on Ethiopia’s current predicament to
be polarized, generalized or not sufficiently attuned to the specifics
of the country’s recent history. In my case, one prism through which I
interpret Ethiopian developments is the analysis derived from numerous
discussions that I had with Meles Zenawi between 1988 and 2012.
I initially developed the framework of the ‘political marketplace’ as a
critique of Meles’s theory of the ‘democratic developmental state’. In
particular, I saw monetized or marketized politics as a threat to the stateled
developmental order that Meles envisioned: I argued that as well as
the two scenarios he envisaged, namely economic transformation versus a
relapse into poverty and chaos, there was a third: a political marketplace.
The rationale for this paper is that these two frameworks, the
developmental state and the political marketplace, offer analytical insights
that are important for understanding Ethiopia today.
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