Biruk Terrefe, University of Oxford - Oxford

A Party-State Derailed: The Techno-Politics of Infrastructure & Bureaucracy in EPRDF’s Ethiopia

After years of political turmoil, popular protests and demands for social change, one of Africa’s longest serving and powerful parties, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) dissolved in 2019. This thesis traces the disintegration of this party-state apparatus in its latter years through the analytical lens of the Addis-Djibouti Railway, a project that was part of the Ethiopian state’s larger infrastructure investment boom. Infrastructure projects of this magnitude encapsulate many facets of federal government’s ‘renaissance agenda’, the complex, negotiated and multi-scalar relationships between political and technocratic actors and lastly the center-periphery dynamics in a country defined by the ethno-federal architecture of its bureaucracy. How do we assess and reconcile the Ethiopian state’s simultaneous cohesiveness and fragmentation? This thesis argues that the infrastructure boom between 2012 and 2018 accelerated the political confrontation between party, state and society by opening up material ways for local bureaucrats and citizens alike to subvert the party through techno-political strategies. Through elite interviews, interviews with project-affected populations, participant observation and documentary research, the thesis examines key relationships, tensions, processes and ideologies that help us understand the EPRDF’s loss of hegemonic control over the state apparatus. In doing so, the thesis grapples with the simultaneous cohesiveness and fragmentation of the Ethiopian ‘party-state’ between 2012 and 2018 and contributes more broadly to our understanding of contemporary Ethiopian politics, the state and bureaucracy in Africa, and our conceptualisations of infrastructure.