Capital of Rebels? From secessionist agitators to urban financiers in an Ethiopian provincial capital

Authors: Daniel Thompson*, Emory University
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Africa
Keywords: urban space, national identity, rebellion, Ethiopia, Somalia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This presentation examines urban spatial and social manifestations of an about-face in allegiance that transformed secessionists and their sympathizers in diaspora into financiers of a new project of city- and nation-building. Jigjiga, the capital of Ethiopian Somali Regional State (ESRS), was a historical hotbed of anti-Ethiopian agitation and operated as a garrison town for much of the past century. In 1995, ethnic-based federalism was introduced in Ethiopia, but the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) continued to instigate violent rebellion. An autocratic administration that came to power in 2010 violently smothered rebellion and invited diaspora Somalis—the main rebel financiers—to become “Ethiopian Somalis,” incentivizing them to invest in urban development and build up the country. Drawing on a 12-month ethnographic study of urban governance and business investment in Jigjiga (2017-2018), I explore how officials and investors in different social positions understand what it means to be Somali and Ethiopian in Jigjiga, and to construct a city in the image of this new hybrid national identity. The presentation first examines how ethnic-based rebellion has been simultaneously monumentalized and erased in the city’s architecture and public discourse. It then shows how ethnic segregation has yielded to class-based division, with government officials and wealthy diaspora investors separated from locals. Finally, I demonstrate how the increasingly visibility of the political class’s wealth in Jigjiga’s urban fabric shaped experiences of marginalization among Jigjiga’s population, contributing to the overthrow of the regional regime, ethnic violence and the burning of “Ethiopian” monuments in Jigjiga in August 2018.

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