AEGIS European conference on African studies edition:3 location:Leipzig date:4-7 June 2009
Seventeen years after being a major force behind the success of a broad-based revolution -a particular good start from a state-building perspective- the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) now heads the government of one of Africa’s “strong” states, Ethiopia. With rural development and poverty reduction national policy priorities, the Ethiopian government effectively channels aid and development interventions through a well-oiled and branched state apparatus down to the grassroots level. In this paper we analyze how local actors in rural Tigray on the one hand appropriate these interventions to strengthen the TPLF and the state and on the other hand instrumentalise the TPLF’s revolutionary legitimacy to build “development success”. The paper is based on long-term ethnographic research on local politics and rural development in one district in Tigray. It takes an actor-oriented approach and focuses on local government officials and farmer representatives, who mediate between the government agencies that undertake rural development programmes and the farmers whom they address. To reach the target numbers of programme beneficiaries, these local development brokers “mobilize” farmers to participate. They capitalize upon the historical legitimacy of the 1975-1991 revolution against the military Derg dictatorship in which the TPLF and Tigray’s rural population successfully joined forces. They revitalize farmers’ collective memory of this alliance and reinvent the revolutionary grassroots institutions through which it was realized. The effects of mobilization on participation in development are the largest among farmers who are members of the TPLF. A TPLF-development nexus arises, structuring local political career opportunities along the lines of development. The government ends up ineffectively in bringing the democratization and sustainable development it has promised and misses chances to have its legitimacy built from below.