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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Kristin FEDELER, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Triggered by the catastrophic 1984-85 famine, the Derg regime launched the large-scale resettlement of drought-affected populations towards the Blue Nile Basin, particularly the Metekel 'awraja' along the Beles River. With Italian support, the first Tana-Beles Project was implemented between 1986-1992 with the primary objective not only to provide basic emergency relief, but to develop a mechanised agro-industry, based on an enhanced hydraulic infrastructure. However, while Ethiopia was politically transformed by the overthrow of Derg in 1991, Italian cooperation projects in the Tana-Beles area were abruptly discontinued. Assetless settlers, who had worked in collectivised schemes, paradoxically returned from mechanised to plough agriculture; general socio-economic conditions deteriorated significantly. Aware of the area's great development potential, and with financial and strategic support from the World Bank, the incumbent Ethiopian government launched the "Tana-Beles Integrated Water Resources Development Project" in the mid-2000s, targeting especially private sector investment into large-scale irrigated agriculture. A key feature of the scheme was the construction of the 460 MW Tana-Beles Multipurpose Hydroelectric Power Plant completed by the Italian contractor Salini Impregilo between 2005 and 2010. My paper analyses these two phases of hydraulic development in the Tana-Beles Basins from a comparative perspective with a focus on the Ethiopian and international institutional actors involved in the planning, financialisation and implementation of the projects. Leaning on Lefebvre's concept of spatialisation, my work seeks to understand how these national, bilateral and multilateral agencies with their respective ideological and scientific approaches engage in or contribute to practices of "encadrement" (Clapham 2002) of water, land and people within the structures of modernist developmentalism. Methodologically, I combine elements of historiography, new institutionalism and organisational sociology as guiding approaches with an emphasis on the interrelationships between the different statal, parastatal and private bodies and the resulting outcomes thereof. Findings may eventually be contextualised with the broader development projects in the Blue Nile Basin to provide a constructive case study of historical initiatives, challenges and possible future trajectories.