Call for proposals: Ethiopia Without Meles. “Testing” the authoritarian regime

Guest Editor: Jean-Nicolas Bach
(Les Afriques dans le Monde, Sciences-Po Bordeaux)

“Ethiopia Without Meles: “Testing” the authoritarian regime”

The death of Meles Zenawi in 2012 marked the end of 17 years of his continuous leadership as Prime Minister over the Ethiopian regime. Three years later, one is still likely to see the pictures of the former head of executive, not only in the streets of the capital city, but also in remote rural areas. It seems « Ethiopia Without Meles » has been following the path shaped by its architect and paying tribute to him to better embrace the future. The apparent continuity of the regime and the smooth transition nevertheless raises many questions. It invites us to think about and, if necessary, reevaluate the role played by Meles as the head of the country: Who was Meles Zenawi? Did his death unveil or reactivate arenas of negotiations or hidden factionalisms within the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front – the ruling Front since 1991? Has it created new opportunity structures and possibilities? How has it impacted the “collective leadership” of the Front? What are the challenges of the generational renewal initiated by Meles after the 2010 general election? These are some of the key questions this Special Issue would like to address.

To this end, we suggest to revisit the immediate period after Meles’ death, which Ethiopia is still experiencing, as a “severe test” (épreuve, understood in the sense of pragmatic sociology). Such a “test” may shake and put into question routinized practices and may lead to specific individual or collective reactions and responses, whose dynamics and effects shall be grasped in the short term, but also in the long term. The “test” thus reveals mechanisms which where hard to detect before. A political sociology of the Ethiopian regime starting from the death of Meles, understood as a “severe test” shall thus lead us to renew the ways to decipher and highlight internal dynamics of the regime, i.e. not only its ideological foundations, but also its concrete administrative, economic, and security-related practices. We may thus be able to better distinguish between deeply rooted political features on the one hand, and the contingencies of Meles’s government practices on the other hand. This question shall be addressed by the different contributions to this Special Issue, from the perspectives of state and non-state organizations.

The former Prime Minister cannot be considered to bear sole responsibility for the authoritarian character of the Ethiopian regime (well discussed in the literature) as the 2015 election recently confirmed. Meles defined the Ethiopian party-system as a “dominant” one, but the party-system he experienced was rather “hegemonic” (Sartori 1976) because of the non-competitive political scene and the absence of any will of political change through election – the EPRDF and affiliated parties won 100 % of the seats in the lower Chamber in the May 2015 election. However, movements contesting the ethno-federal regime and governmental policies still exist and sometimes have increased in the last years. For instance, street demonstrations that have occurred since 2013, just one year after Meles’ death, have been the first initiatives of this kind since the bloody 2005 elections. Ethiopia without Meles has thus been deprived of political opponents in the Parliament, but possible contest or protest should not be underestimated. Contributions about legal opposition groups are thus welcome, as well as papers considering the origins, evolution and role played by armed groups.

The notion of « mobilization » for instance is indicative of the remaining impact of EPRDF’s “revolutionary democratic” ideology. In fact, it is based on a conception of politics according to which the power should strictly emanate from above, here the government, or the “vanguard elites”. The way these elites have conceived “participation” also relates to that very same logic where participating is synonymous with contributing collectively in order to achieve the political and economic project defined by the EPRDF. In this domain, one can wonder if the main lines drawn by Meles Zenawi at the beginning of the 1990s (or even before) have remained the same and question the level of originality of the Democratic Developmental State that has been implemented in the last decade (Lefort 2012; Planel 2014; Gagliardone 2014; Emmenegger 2015).

But the concrete implementation of the Democratic Developmental State still needs to be investigated, for it cannot be merely considered as practices inherited from Meles. What is and how can we study the Ethiopian Democratic Developmental State at work, for instance through the implementation of the Growth and Transformation Plan I (2010-2015) or the recent negotiations around the GTP II (2015-2010)? How do state agents concretely implement these political and economic projects, and how do they play with their margins at their scale, between the local and the central State (land reform, irrigation projects, agriculture etc.)? How do these projects impact the power balance between the regions? What are the concrete articulations of such a developmental project implemented with authoritarian practice of power?

After Meles, Ethiopia has also further diversified its external partners. Countries like Russia, Turkey, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and of course Asian partners headed by China, are not new actors in Ethiopia. But their increasing investment and involvement may result into weakening relationship toward other actors, like Western European countries. And even if the US State Department regularly criticizes the Human Rights Records of the EPRDF regime, both countries have deepened their relation since the 1990s –through fighting terrorism in the region especially. Have internal changes within the EPRDF impacted these logics of extraversion? And if they have, how?

In fact, Ethiopia stands as the big and stable country in the Horn of Africa. Above all, Ethiopia has proved its capacity to intervene in neighboring countries. Ethiopian troops are now in the Abiey region in Southern Sudan (with 4 000 men composing the UNISFA under a UN mandate), in Darfur under a hybrid UA/UN mandate, and also since 2014 in the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Despite its increasing military and diplomatic involvement in the region, Ethiopia has remained less affected by terrorism (al-Shabaab for instance) than its Kenyan or Ugandan counterparts – which might be explained by the efficiency of its intelligence services. The contributors to this Special Issue shall question the evolution of these regional policies after Meles’ disappearance concerning Ethiopia’s regional involvements. While Ethiopia had always been intervening unilaterally in Somalia, the Ethiopian decision to join the AMISOM troops at the beginning of 2014 may be a good case in point. Also, the nature of the relationships between Addis Ababa and Asmara remain very tense – a tension that could increase as hardliners within the ruling Front could take leading offices in the coming years on the one hand, and Ethiopian armed opposition groups operating from Eritrea are now claiming thousands of armed men ready to attack EPRDF’s troops on the other.

In order to grasp the multifaceted consequences of Meles’ death as a “test”, the different socio-political scales shall be articulated, as well as long- and short-term periods. Contributions stressing and analyzing periods of fear or confusion – or on the contrary the absence of fear and confusion – for state and non-state agents, will be most welcome. We will also appreciate contributions on the way Meles, after a long reign, has become a new historical figure of the “millenary” state and how it participates to the (re)definition of national imaginaries.

Contributions based on the following themes (but not only) may be considered:

  • Redefining power and domination within the ruling Front: redefining the balance of power between the components of the EPRDF ; ideological evolution, from “revolutionary democracy” to “democratic developmental state”; inheritances of Meles Zenawi and family adjustments.
  • State agencies: how do administrations and their agents work (at various scales) in the post-Meles Ethiopia; land reform; agriculture; livestock economy; veterinaries; culture and heritage related policies.
  • Ethiopian armies and security forces after Meles; explaining Ethiopia’s regional interventions; changing role of Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa.
  • At the margin of the state: post-Meles Ethiopia and the opposition groups in Ethiopia and out of Ethiopia; militantism; militant biographies; politics and religions testing the Ethiopian laicism.


30 October 2015: Article proposals (max. 1 page) should be sent to Jean-Nicolas Bach (

10 November 2015: Accepted proposals notified to authors

25 January 2016: Articles submitted to the guest editor for review by the editorial board (max. length 50’000 characters, spaces and footnotes included)

15 April 2016: Final versions of articles selected by the guest editor and the editorial board submitted.

Articles can be written in French or English (the journal will translate the accepted articles in French). Publication of the special issue, with the articles accepted by the editorial board: June 2016.

Indicative bibliography

Jon Abbink & Tobias Hagmann (eds.), « Twenty Years of Revolutionary Democracy », Journal of Eastern African Studies, vol. 5, Issue 4, December 2011.

Yannick Barthe, Damien le Blic, Jean-Philippe Heurtin, Eric Lagneau, Cyril Lemieux, Dominique Linhardt, Cédric Moreau de Bellaing, Catherine Rémy, Danny Trom, « Sociologie pragmatique : Mode d’emploi », Politix, 2013, 3/103, p. 174-205.

Rony Emmenegger, « Decentralization and the local developmental state: Peasant mobilization in Oromia, Ethiopia », Africa, Forthcoming.

Iginio Gagliardone, « New media and the Developmental state in Ethiopia », African Affairs, 113/451, 2014, p. 279-299

René Lefort, « Ethiopia : Meles Rules From Beyond the Grave, but For How Long ? », Open Democracy, 26 novembre 2012,

Thomas Osmond & Cedric Barnes (dossier dirigé par), « Éthiopie : Le Fédéralisme en question », Politique africaine, n° 99, 2005.

Sabine Planel, « A view of a bureaucratic developmental state: local governance and agricultural extension in rural Ethiopia », Journal of Eastern African Studies, 8 (3), 2014, p. 420-437.

Gérard Prunier & Eloi Ficquet (eds.), Understanding Contemporary Ethiopia, Monarchy, Revolution, and the Legacy of Meles Zenawi, Hurst, London, 2014.

Giovanni Sartori (1976), Partis et systèmes de partis. Un cadre d’analyse, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2011.



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