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Work in Ethiopia

Le travail en Éthiopie

Rationalization, dominance and mobilizations

Rationalisation, dominations, mobilisations

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Published on Wednesday, March 06, 2019 by Céline Guilleux


Work is neither a subject omitted by the research on the Horn of Africa, however this is nor an object of study in its own right. Scholars generally subordinate analysis of work to analysis of development. On the one hand this concept of development is linked with an optimistic vision which highlights the successes of the developmental State implemented in Ethiopia. On the other hand, development is associated to a pessimistic view of the country, focused on poverty reduction.


Work in Ethiopia : Rationalization, Dominance and Mobilizations Call for Papers for Les Annales d’Ethiopie


Work is neither a subject omitted by the research on the Horn of Africa, however this is nor an object of study in its own right. Scholars generally subordinate analysis of work to analysis of development. On the one hand this concept of development is linked with an optimistic vision which highlights the successes of the developmental State implemented in Ethiopia. On the other hand, development is associated to a pessimistic view of the country, focused on poverty reduction.

The first vision points out the substantial growth that the country would have since a decade of years (in average more than 10%). Because of this growth, observers have qualified Ethiopia as new emerging country (Daziano, 2013). The growth would be the symbol of developmental State success (Johnson, 1982). Indeed, since 2001, EPRDF has followed this new ideological direction (Abbink, 2011, Clapham, 2018). The party has actually accepted to abandon the socialism for the benefit of State-led capitalism. In accordance with the Beijing consensus (Ramo, 2004), the Ethiopian economic policy relies on structural development in the country (Building dams, roads, Addis Ababa tramway or railway from the capital city to Djibouti is an illustration of this). This priority doesn’t involve necessarily any political liberalization. This position makes the State become a crucial actor to lead the economy, maintaining a protective distance from the private sector, in particular foreign companies (Rodrik, 2004), and fostering spill-over effects between various sectors (Hirshman, 1958). It deals with promoting the capacity to go beyond the natural endowment and comparative advantages which tend to confine African countries in low-income sectors. On the contrary, the second view stresses on the vulnerability of a country rated as the 174th place in the development index (on 187 in 2016), regularly affected by drought and followed food crisis, and one of the main beneficiaries of international aid for development in sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty becomes actually « a mobilizing motto for international organizations and NGO since the nineties » (Copans, 2014, p. 41). These both visions are far from antagonist, they reveal the contrasts of Ethiopian economical situation, they also meet on reducing the country to its (more or less advanced) position in an economical development process.

In this context, scholars study work on the one hand through employment angle and the potential of certain activities for creating job opportunities, thus for reducing poverty. By doing so, scholars risk either to fit research on the Procrustean bed of categories, often built in Global North and sometimes not able to report on Global South realities. We think for example at the debated notion of informal work (see among others : Fontaine, Weber, 2010 ; Lautier, 2004). Or they also assess public policies (or confirm their usefulness) without querying their ideological foundations. On the other hand, scholars address work in the prism of deviant activities (without questioning the implicite norm which distinguishes deviant activities from appropriated ones). Work is not what matters the most, scholars focus on workers as vulnerable people, who need help (or to be put back on the right track). This is the case of studies on sex workers (for example : Van Blerk, 2008), child labor (for example : Getinet Hailea & Beliyou Haile, 2012), or detrimental effects of working migrations (Saïd Chiré and Bezunesh Tamru, 2016). Recent studies on occupational health in Ethiopia follow the same logic, focusing first on pathologies instead of questioning work, workers and their working conditions (among others : Chercos Daniel Haile, Berhanu Demeke (2017), Kifle Manay ; Engdaw Dagnew; Alemu Kassahun ; Hardeep Rai Sharma ; Amsalu Senafikish ; Feleke Amsalu ; Worku Walelegn, 2014).

The Ethiopian State as well as international funders promote a research working to the benefit of the development, consequently promoting the both views of work described before. On the one hand, public policies by encouraging an active role of the State in the country industrialization, support also (and finance) studies able to give direction and to legitimate the public actions. The developmental credo is indeed based on a strong ideological discourse (Lefort, 2015), it represents equally an economical principle and a source of political legitimacy for the ruling party (Singh, Ovadia, 2018). We can consider the importance taken by think-tanks1 in Ethiopia, mainly focused on development analysis, as a sign of a subordination of research to the governmental purposes.

On the other hand, international organizations and funders promote also this analysis angle whether by research or more often in expert reports2. We can particularly observe it in a country which benefit largely from international aid and concessional loans3. Despite of strengthening Ethiopian authoritarianism in the last years (Bach, 2016), donors justify the huge aid amount for Ethiopia due to the good « technical » gouvernance of funds given (Clapham, 2018) and the necessity to have a stable allied country in a region affected by numerous conflicts (Dereje Feyissa, 2012 ; Fantini, Puddu, 2016). Thus, aid takes part of a more economical than political moralization (aiming to promote a freely operating market economy). Ultimately, the « earmarking » of the research makes work in Ethiopia a blind spot of the knowledge. This call for papers requests to take a step to the side, following Everett Hughes’ precept (1990) which encourage to study « pretentious » professions with the same tools designed by sociology of work to analyze humble workers. Instead of complying with political and economical approach considering work in Ethiopia as a lever of development, we invite scholars to analyze work per se. From Ethiopia, we aspire to renew socio- anthropological researches on work in Africa, exhausted in the nineties and replaced by falling back on Western countries in the French-speaking sociology (Copans, 2014).

Two axes could be in particular heuristic. The first one aims to mobilize data collected about work and to analyze them through a new prism. We want to gather in this issue of Annales d’Éthiopie scattered knowledges and to propose a rereading focused on analyze of work and social relationship associated. The second axe proposed to question more precisely the effects of industrialization in Ethiopia on work. We suggest below non exhaustive areas for further consideration.

1. Work Organization in Ethiopia

Using classical questions, this axe aims to gather knowledge on work organization in Ethiopia to identify its potential specificities. On the one hand, we consider the division of labor and the dominance associated, in a country built on ethnic divisions (Ficquet, 2009) (1). On the other hand, we invite contributors to query relationship to work over time, through contemporary history of Ethiopia impacted by deep socio-political changes.

- Division of Labor and dominance in urban area How and between who is work divided ? In particular, despite the data about the ethnical patchwork which is at the foundation of Addis Ababa (Garretson, 2000; Harre, 2018), systematic data still miss on how this ethnical patchwork reflects also ethnical division of labor. Who cooperates with who ? To whom the « dirty work » (Hughes, 1990) is delegated, according to which criterium, with which justification ? Who resists and tries to make his.her work rewarded either in a collective way (in particular by the professionalization process) or in an individual one by accessing to upper positions ? Numerous data show that women contribute a lot to the Ethiopian workforce (Mammen, Paxson, 2000 ; Mitki, Berthomieu, 2008), but their participation to labor market is not synonymous of wage and job opportunities equality. However, researches are still focused on women as a familial pillar (Teshai Berhane- Selassie, 1997). Instead of considering women as lever for better health and solarization of children (Getahun, Villanger, 2018), we propose to explore female occupational aspirations, to analyze change in occupations and their feminization (for example : workers in garment are mostly women but tailors in the street are almost exclusively men), to explain female careers which achieve to break the glass ceiling. It could allow to enlighten in a new way the place of women on the Ethiopian labor market. Analyzing division of labor and dominance cause also us to reflect on its mirror : collectives within the workplace and outside, their shapes and their cooperative relationships.

- Occupational Life-courses Tackling work diachronically could provide informations about the career of Ethiopian workers. Which back and forth, which moves between different types of activities ? Which role have played some companies (in particular State-owned companies) in social mobility, under the Derg regime and after ? Which sort of social and economical resources use workers who have played their cards successfully ? To what extend economical and political changes in Ethiopia in the 20th and the 21st centuries have they impacted career shapes and structured different occupational generations with diverse aspirations ?

In this perspective, taking into account migrations (as well as internal displacements in the country or international migrations) is crucial for the analysis. For example, the return of the Ethiopian diaspora, attracted by economical opportunities of a country sometimes almost unknown, their confrontation to Ethiopian labor market or their difficulties to set up a business could be a fruitful fieldwork.

2. Work through Ethiopian industrialization prism

In this axe, we are waiting for articles, analyzing the effects of public policies and economical evolution on work, taking into account changes in the country during the last 20 years. Three directions could be prioritized. The Growth and Transformation Plan has led the Ethiopian industrial development, in particular export-led sectors and sectors using agricultural commodities in the country (as leather, floriculture) (Oqubay, 2015). Scholars have then investigated the concrete linkages of theses sectors and effects on the development of the country (Ayelech Tiruwha Melese, Helmsing, 2010 ; Altenburg, 2010). In this vein, this issue of Annales d’Éthiopie could question the effects of the State economical activism on work by describing for example the occupations in the industrial parks (1). Tax incitations, aimed to promote foreign direct investment, have facilitated the recent opening of the country (which has started in the 2000’s and has accelerated these last ten years). In this context, workers could face to new style of management, imported from global capitalism. Scholars could address this changeover or the confrontation between different management devices (2). Finally, the foundation of foreign industry associations or chamber of commerce on the one hand, and the popular protest on the other hand, let us see a changing balance between actors (companies, State, workers) that we propose to observe (3).

- Working in an Industrial Park Even if only a few parks are in operation, « what working in an industrial park does it mean ? » could be an interesting question. First, from the workers point of view, what sort of relationships have they with workers of the other companies in the park ? What are the effects of pooling services ? How workers in different companies do they compare working conditions ? What sort of collective organization could be raised due to this proximity (whether occupational, union or community-based) ? Then from the point fo view of companies, what type of relationships do they develop with the communities beyond the park ?

- Foreign Investment impact and management devices What sort of working relationships (and according to which reference standard ?) foreign managers and Ethiopian workers do they build up ? The issue of cooperation between partners in Ethiopian and foreign investors joint-venture has to be documented. These joint-ventures or partnerships may they induce new management devices of work and workforce ? A fieldwork on State-owned enterprises bought by foreign investors could also support the more global hypothesis of an acculturation to the management standards and rationality promoted by global capitalism.

- Collective mobilizations

Mobilizations can be the one of intermediary organizations, created to make the companies voice heard. The new licensing for foreign companies associations and the development of industry associations take part into the emergence of new actors in the regulation of work. What sort of relationships do they build up with State (writing the History of investors demands, identifying changes occurred with the Investment Policy Dialog Plateform implemented by the government in 2016... could help to understand the evolution of these relationships) ? What connections have they with historical actors such as Addis Chamber or Unions ? What is the potential specificity of the stance of each actor ? In this power game, which place for demands about work per se ? Work analysis could also address work in theses associations and workers running them.

The second type of mobilization deals with popular protest. Articles could underpin demands linked to work by analyzing social movements in Ethiopia these last ten years. For example, the Oromo Protest in 2015 has embodied land grabbing criticism (Lavers, 2012 ; Planel, 2007). Nevertheless the fact that factories which benefit from the lands may not have fulfilled their commitment particularly in terms of employment, has exacerbated the criticism. For the first time, economical investment were a target of a huge popular discontent. What do these social movements reveal about working demands of their members ? What these social movements have possibly changed ?

Submission guidelines

Deadline for full article submission: May 15th 2019

(max. 50 000 signs, English or French), Please send your article by email to the following address: secretariat.scientifique@cfee.cnrs.fr (guidelines)

Editors for the special issue

Constance Perrin-Joly

Annales d’Éthiopie Journal

Annales d’Éthiopie is a multidisciplinary academic peer-reviewed journal with an international scientific committee, published by the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies (CFEE) and De Boccard, with the support of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and under the patronage of the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation and the Cultural Heritage and of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It covers all scientific fields, from the natural sciences (paleontology and earth sciences) to the humanities and social sciences and publishes articles on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Submissions, in English or in French, are anonymously evaluated by two external referees. Articles published in French are accompanied by an English short version. The journal, launched in 1955, is currently engaged in the creation of a systematic online archiving system, available for consultation one year after the publication of paper copies.


1 The Global Go To think tank Index Report ranks 8 think-tanks in Ethiopia on 95, including EDRI (Ethiopian development research institute), governmental think tank ranked at the 10th position. This latter boasts on its website having trained 12 PhD (since its creation in 1999) and supervised currently 6 PhD candidates.

2 For example, the ILO program against Child Labor (Guarcello, Rosati, 2007) ; ones of the Work Bank on micro-credit and SME financing (World Bank. 2015) or on migrations (World Bank, 2010).

3 91,5 millions euros for humanitarian aid from the EU in 2017. The World Bank has announced loans of 4,6 billions euros for Ethiopia in 2018, 1,2 billions added released at the end of the year; Emiratis have announced an investment of 3 billions dollars in Ethiopia.


  • Wednesday, May 15, 2019


  • travail, Éthiopie


  • constance perrin-joly
    courriel : cperrinjoly [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • constance perrin-joly
    courriel : cperrinjoly [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Work in Ethiopia », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, March 06, 2019, https://calenda.org/575746

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