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Ethnicity, Identification and Politics in the Horn of Africa

Ethnicity, Identification and Politics in the Horn of Africa

This area of research focused on the social construction of ethnic identity, and on its changing importance in state structures and policies and to individual lives in the Horn of Africa.

In Ethiopia, this research examined the impact of the government's radical post-1991 policy that federalized the country along ethnic lines, and provided each 'nation' or 'nationality' (as ethnic groups are referred to) with the 'unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession' (Ethiopian Constitution, 1995). The research examined what this policy meant for a relatively small ethnic group, the Konso of southern Ethiopia, who were designated a 'special wereda' by this policy. The right to self-determination was given to the Konso people: for the first time, many Konso people were employed in Konso government offices, and given the right to make policies and administrate 'their' people. The Konso vernacular language, previously unwritten and unrecognised by the state, was made the official language of administration and education. For a people who had previously been governed by a series of centralized regimes dominated by northern Ethiopians, the decentralization process was experienced as a radical reversal in state power structures and provided new opportunities.

Research into the wider theme of the changing processes of identification has also been carried out through work with the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. With Professor Günther Schlee, Liz Watson has edited two volumes of papers entitled Changing Identifications and Alliances in North-east Africa. These papers examine the nature of collective identity in the Horn of Africa, and the way in which it has changed as a result of different ecological, political, and historical processes. The papers also examine cross-cutting links that exist between groups, and the way in which they change over time - breaking down in hostility and conflict, or forming, facilitating peace and alliance.

The roundabout at the main crossroads in Karate town
The roundabout at the main crossroads in Karate town, the headquarters of Konso special wereda. The red, yellow and green flag is of the Ethiopian state; the board shows the symbols adopted by the Konso People's Democratic Organization, the Konso political organization in office: a 'traditional' Konso house, a Konso two-pronged hoe, and some sorghum.

Publications

  • Watson, E. E. 2002. 'Capturing a Local Elite: The Konso Honeymoon' in Wendy James, Don Donham, Alessandro Triulzi and Eisei Kurimoto eds. Remapping Ethiopia: Socialism and After. James Currey and Ohio University Press, pp198-218.
  • Schlee, G. and Watson E.E. 2009 eds. Changing Identifications and Alliances in North-east Africa, Volume I: Ethiopia and Kenya. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Schlee, G. and Watson E.E. 2009 eds. Changing Identifications and Alliances in North-east Africa, Volume II: Sudan, Uganda and the Ethiopia-Sudan Borderlands. Oxford: Berghahn.

Book cover   Book cover