Revolutionary democratic state-building

Party, state and people in the EPRDF's Ethiopia
Vaughan, Sarah
Taylor & Francis
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Journal of Eastern African Studies
Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4, May 2011, pp. 619-640

An ideology of "revolutionary democracy" has driven the project of state building in Ethiopia over the last 20 years. This paper explores the relationships that the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government have sought to forge with the Ethiopian state and its people, by means of the various political organizations (parties, fronts, mass associations) that organize, represent or control them. It examines continuities and shifts across a series of iterations since the late 1970s: the Front's politico-administrative organization in 1980s Tigray; the party-led construction of the federation, civil service reform and political "gimgema" in the 1990s; the politicization of capacity building as the focus shifted to the developmental state following party splits and "renewal" from 2001; and the reconstruction of party structures distinct from those of the state in the wake of a strong electoral challenge in 2005, culminating in sweeping electoral wins in 2010. Despite its imprecision, the notion of revolutionary democracy has anchored shifting constellations of party?state relations, and changing strategies of political mobilization and organization, in the all-encompassing and fundamentally non-liberal political aspiration characterized by the Prime Minister as forging a direct ?coalition with the people?. Whilst the ruling party has been widely criticized for failing to compromise or collaborate with alternative sources of authority, the paper suggests that this reflects a set of deliberate political choices that are both ideologically and sociologically reinforced. Processes of state building are at root about power, and as such their assessment calls for a nuanced understanding of context. The paper traces the role of ideological, historical, institutional and cultural influences and continuities in the Ethiopian case.

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CITATION: Vaughan, Sarah. Revolutionary democratic state-building . Oxon : Taylor & Francis , . Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4, May 2011, pp. 619-640 - Available at:

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