Ethnicity, Ethiopia, Ethnic federalism, GERD, Developmental Language, Identity Politics


This paper attempts to show how the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) ’s economic and political gains could help develop a shared outlook to regulate Ethiopia’s opposing political trajectories, i.e., the ethnocentric and pan-Ethiopian nationalist camps. Presently, different ethnic-based “in-group and out-group” contrasting political discourses have dominated Ethiopian polity. The paper reviews and exposes relevant philosophical concepts, including “mirror identity,” primordial and instrumental conception of ethnicity. Notably, following Anderson’s (2006) line of thought, nationalism as a “cultural artefact” and expression of an “imagined community,” the paper argues that GERD could serve as a shared symbolic and developmental language to reshape Ethiopian national consciousness and imagination by improving the political and economic domains of the country. Accordingly, the GERD covertly or overtly helps reform the polity’s self-recognition mechanisms and circuitously re-approaches outstanding political differences by inspiring trust-based relations among major political actors. Ethnocentric motivations raise political questions such as secession, the right to linguistic and cultural recognition, economic equality, and political security and representation by using their respective ethnic lines as means of political mobilization. In current Ethiopia, political identities have been practically blended with ethnic identity. In this sense, as diverse ethnic groups exist, political borders sustain among the multiple ethnic-based nationalists and between pan-Ethiopian and ethnocentric actors. Thus, a comprehensive dialogue and constructive political cross-fertilization are required between various political actors, horizontally and vertically, among ethnocentric nationalists and the pan-Ethiopian advocates. In Ethiopia, the realization of internal political consensus requires an instantaneous remedial mechanism. Accordingly, the politically drawn antithetical ethnic demarcations and occasionally fabricated historical narratives have undeniably pushed politics into unfavourable conditions. That is why, as the paper maintains that developmental projects such as the GERD would have pertinent economic and political mechanisms to developing a national sentiment, which in turn symbolically facilitate national consensus among the major political actors. Hence, borrowing Fukuyama’s (2018) notion of “creedal national identity”, one could resonate that developmental projects can help realize symbolic worth by constructively enabling citizens to recognize their countries’ foundational ideals and elevating common factors. The present paper does not examine the GERD project’s external geopolitical and legal concerns concerning scope, although these topics are worth examining for further investigations.


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