Land Acquisitions, the Politics of Dispossession, and State-Remaking in Gambella, Western Ethiopia

Fana Gebresenbet


This paper argues that development through large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) in Gambella, western Ethiopia, belies a state-remaking project under a dispossessive political economy. This argument is based on fieldwork in Gambella, Addis Ababa, and Minneapolis and is situated within the broader development agenda pursued by Ethiopia’s ruling party. The political economy of LSLAs tells us that the deals are not occurring in a predominantly economic manner; rather, extra-economic state intervention clears the way for, facilitates, and ensures sustained accumulation. This political intervention is “unlocking” and making the lowland resources accessible and extractable by the state, while a concomitant villagisation project is guaranteeing continued accumulation by disempowering the local population by making the community legible, governable, and controllable. Through a combination of these processes, the Ethiopian state is mastering, and building itself in, Gambella’s lowlands.

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