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About this book

A Tributary Model of State Formation: Ethiopia, 1600-2015 addresses the perplexing question of why a pedigreed Ethiopian state failed to transform itself into a nation-state. Using a comparative-institutionalist framework, this book explores why Ethiopia, an Afroasian civilizational state, has yet to build a modern political order comprising a sturdy state, the rule of law, and accountability to the ruled. The book provides a theoretical framework that contrasts the European and the Afroasian modes of state formation and explores the three major variants of the Ethiopian state since 1600 (Gondar, Shewa, and Revolutionary). It does this by employing the conceptual entry point of tributarism and teases out the implications of this perspective for refashioning the embattled postcolonial African political institutions. The primary contribution of the book is the novel framing of state formation through the lens of a landed Afroasiatic peasantry in giving rise to a fragile state whose redistributive preoccupation preempted the emergence of a productive economy to serve as a buoyant revenue base. Unlike feudal Europe, the dependence of the Afroasian state on arm’s-length overlordship rather than on tightly-managed landlordship incentivized endemic extractive contests among elites with the capacity for violence for the non-fixed tribute from independent wealth producers. Tributarism, I argue here, stymied the transition from a resilient statehood to a robust nation-statehood that befits an open-order society.

This book will be of interest to scholars in economics, political science, political economics, and African Studies.

Berhanu Abegaz is Professor of Economics, College of William & Mary (USA).

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

The Theoretical Framework

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. The Making of the Modern Political Order

Abstract
A modern political order stands on three interlocked legs that are hard to put in place simultaneously: a centralized state authority to contain widespread private violence, the rule of law to restrain abuse by powerholders, and an acceptable mechanism for the accountability of the rulers to the ruled. Precolonial political orders emerged in an environment where external threats loomed large, internal political fragmentation and contestation were high, and a weak incentive to build a solid fiscal base to support a viable state. The forms state formation assumed varied widely across time and among world regions. We need to identify, without falling into the trap of historicism or Eurocentrism, the conditions under which a given pathway can lead to the emergence of a viable modern political order.
Berhanu Abegaz

Chapter 2. The Tributary-Civilizational State

Abstract
There are many roads to political and economic development. In the ages of European Discovery and Commerce, Afroasia was a pioneer in establishing centralized states, albeit within loosely-defined territories which were occupied by culturally kindred but diverse peoples. Post-feudal Europe was, however, the leader in forging a coherent political order—comprising territorialized states, the rule of law, and functional mechanisms of accountability. The West European order was one that successfully monopolized large-scale violence (via a salaried professional army), established robust central bureaucracies, honored the rule of law, and protected wealth creators from myriad myopic redistributors under the cloak of officeholding.
Berhanu Abegaz

Three Ethiopian Tributary States

Frontmatter

Chapter 3. The Gondarine Tributary-Military State

Abstract
This chapter provides a critical analysis of the suggestive but largely descriptive literature on Ethiopian agrarian history in search of an explanation for why war makes and then unmakes the tributary state. Using a theoretical framework developed in Chap. 1 for thinking about the dynamics of transition from a civilizational-state to a territorial state, we explore the self-limiting but functional rist and gult land institution of Ethiopia. This politico-economic institution and the hostile external climate together conspired against the metamorphosis of the Gondarine state (GS) into a territorially-defined tax state (Table 3.1 for a comparative summary). However, Gondar provided a template for a modern Ethiopian state which compares quite favorably with its Afroasian peers.
Berhanu Abegaz

Chapter 4. The Shewan Fiscal-Territorial State

Abstract
As the two restorationist emperors, Tewodros II and Yohannes IV, reached the limits of what can be done to reclaim the supreme authority of the post-Gondarine Crown, the regional kings of Shewa and Gojam, with ambitions to claim the emperorship, launched aggressive territorial expansions in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. By 1900, the central province of Shewa won the competition to become the seat of a much larger Ethiopian state under a remarkably restorationist Emperor Menelik II.
Berhanu Abegaz

Chapter 5. The Ethiopian Revolutionary State

Abstract
This chapter explores how the twin forces of post-war globalization and the imperatives of modernization changed the terms of power play between Ethiopian state elites and non-state actors to produce radical institutional changes. The Revolutionary State (RS) upstaged the old order but failed in many important respects to devise enduring institution that resonate with societal norms and changing needs. One consequence of the changes in the material basis of the state is the hyper-centralization of the state and the other is the institutionalization of a mixed bag of inclusion and exclusion, both of which undermined many laudable gains in the project of nation-state building during 1855–1974 in exchange for largely symbolic victories.
Berhanu Abegaz

A Modern African Political Order

Frontmatter

Chapter 6. Implications for Reforming the Postcolonial State

Abstract
This chapter distills the central lessons from the positive analysis for the normative task of rebuilding a postcolonial state that is capable, legitimate, bound by the rule of law, and subject to accountability mechanisms that resonate with enduring African core values. There is much to preserve from the colonial and postcolonial legacies, but there is also much room for new ideas and institutions. One lesson is the need to ensure secure property (especially land) rights to families and corporate groups. Another is decentralized self-governance either in a unitary form or a federal form. A third is the anchoring of state revenues, the types of taxes collected from citizens as well as resource rent from the domestic economy, to cement the nexus between public financing and government accountability to citizens.
Berhanu Abegaz

Backmatter

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