War and the Politics of Identity in Ethiopia

War and the Politics of Identity in Ethiopia

The Making of Enemies and Allies in the Horn of Africa

Kjetil Tronvoll


James Currey



Examines war and the impact of warfare on identity formation in Ethiopia.
Images of war, narratives of suffering and notions of ethnicity are intrinsically linked to Western perceptions of Africa. Filtered through a mostly international media the information of African wars is confined to narrow categories of explanation emerging from and adapted to a Western history and political culture. This book aims at reversing this process; to look at war and suffering from the point of view of those who fight it and suffer through it. In doing so it reveals that the simplistic models explaining contemporary wars in Africa which are reproduced in a Western discourse are basically false.
This book examines the understanding of war and the impact of warfare on the formation and conceptualisation of identities in Ethiopia. Building on historical trajectories of enemy images, the recent Eritean-Ethiopian war (1998-2000) is used as an empirical backdrop to explore war's formative impact, by analysing politics of identity and shifting perceptions of enemies and allies.

KJETIL TRONVOLL is Professor in Human Rights, Peace and Conflict Studies at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo. His other publications include Brothers at War: Making Sense of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War (co-author; James Currey/Ohio University Press, 2000) and The Ethiopian Red Terror Trials: Transitional Justice Challenged (co-editor; James Currey 2009) .


March 2009
1 line illustrations
256 pages
21.6x13.8 cm
Eastern Africa Series
ISBN: 9781847016126
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
James Currey
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Table of Contents

Introduction: making enemies & allies
Land, hierarchy & alliances in Highland Ethiopia
Historical trajectories of enemy images
Alternating enemies & allies: ethnicity in play
War behind the frontlines: individual approaches
Recontructing 'Ethiopianness': competing nationalisms
Ethiopia & its malcontents: purifying the nation
Conclusion: arresting Ethiopian nationalism
Postscript: after war, new enemies


Offers a methodical, original, and highly informed account of the contested political identities that have marked Africa's second most populous country in the past two decades. (...) This book deserves the attention of all students of contemporary Ethiopian (and Eritrean) politics. Moreover, it provides critical insights for scholars interested in the ethnography of war, nationalism, and border studies in Africa. AFRICAN AFFAIRS

An informative and essential read for anyone wishing to understand the dynamics of both war and its aftermath (the peace) in Ethiopia. AFRICAN STUDIES BULLETIN
Provides impressive ethnographic illustration of the shifting notions of identity provoked by the war with Eritrea. It also casts a searching light on the nature of the Ethiopian regime. INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
This book represents yet another fine contribution to the study of the politics of Ethiopia by Kjetil Tronvoll. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW
An informative and essential read for anyone wishing to understand the dynamics of both war and its aftermath in Ethiopia. LUCAS BULLETIN
Detailed and well written. Recommended. CHOICE
exceptional depth ... coherent, well-written, and constantly stimulating. Professor Christopher Clapham
Tronvoll's historical reading of how old enemies become friends, and vice versa, is a worthy contribution to the still small but growing ethnographic literature on war. Professor Johan Pottier

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