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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Jon ABBINK, Leiden University

‘Good governance’ has been defined as a necessary condition for (economic) ‘growth’ and ‘development’ not only in in developing world but also in the wealthier, developed nations. The global discussion on it since the 1989 World Bank report Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth is ongoing and has yielded a massive literature. ‘Good governance’ is still a contested concept of unsure definition, although it is held to be for the benefit of as many people as possible and as based on consent and commitment. While economic development has been visible in certain domains and African economies have indeed been growing in GDP, infrastructure building, export and formalizing the informal economy, the political stability and ‘inclusiveness’ of this growth have shown to be elusive. In fact, ‘good governance’ is usurped from above by internationally led ‘donors’ and national developmental narratives, imposed often via authoritarian political management techniques. The concept is thus, in policy practice, being depoliticized as a body of technocratic policy implementations by ‘experts’ directing a national economy. This paper, while recognizing the economic dynamism of Ethiopia in recent years, seeks to sociologically explore the ‘articulation’ of the ideology of good governance (in Amharic: melkam astetader) of the Ethiopian federal state with versions of proper governance, legitimate authority, just rule, accountability etc. as present in some local ethnic societies in Southern Ethiopia. Similarities and differences will be discussed so as to show that the concept of ‘good governance’ is multi-dimensional and evokes notions (and expectations) of just rule and fairness. It has ultimately moral dimensions, not primarily political-economic. The ideal of good governance was been taken up by many, in fact is being internalized, but remains ambivalent for citizens. The analysis reveals good governance to be a cultural concept, the scope, limits and appeal of which need to be constantly negotiated and reconciled in specific local settings. In the context of Ethiopia its constant reiteration as a policy aim also may have contributed to citizens’ renewed claim-making as well as their rediscovering their own (cultural) notions of proper governance.