Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Davide CHINIGO, Stellenbosch University

The Textile and Garment (T&G) sector has become a main strategic priority of Ethiopian industrial policy, which, altogether is expected to provide a main contribution to the country’s quest to attain rapid economic development over the next years. Global fashion brands and textile corporations started delocalizing production to Ethiopia attracted by a mix of incentives, such as import and export duty breaks and preferential trade agreements, as well as favourable structural conditions, including low cost of labour and availability of cheap water and electricity. Tigray has been at the forefront of such development and is currently regarded by many as the next ‘global textile hub’. The textile industry promises to hire tens of thousands of workers in the next few years, and to drive significant transformations in infrastructure and service delivery. This development comes as a game changer for the region, and more broadly for the country. It thus adds on existing trends of urbanization and transformation of the peri-urban economy from agriculture to manufacturing industry. This paper is meant as a preliminary attempt to reflect on the significance of the transformations underway, with a focus on the expectations of modernity that rapid industrial development brings with it, as well as its central contradictions. The article draws on discussions and interviews conducted with industrial actors, government offices, as well as trainees and workers in the textile sector in and around Mekelle. The paper proposes two main arguments. The first is that the narrative that identifies industrial development with the future of the country is central in shaping expectations of modernity and ideas of progress. The second is that in practice expectations of modernity that come with industrial development are mediated in many different ways, and intersect with a profound sense of uncertainty in the everyday, as well as with the ways in which people cope with it.