The Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-41)

In back alleys and old book shops in Ethiopia, you can occasionally stumble across old gems. A recent example I found was "The Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-41) Genesis Ordeal Victory", published by the Ministry of Information in 1975. It is a 28-page pamphlet that includes a large set of images. For a historian, the pamphlet is interesting not only for the historical content from a Ethiopian perspective, but also the time period in which is was written and published. The publication documents the struggle against Italian occupation, from the perspective of the government of Ethiopia, and documents the crimes committed by the Italians. 

It states: "From start to finish, the Fascist forces waged the campaign with total disregard for the rules of war established by the diverse international conventions to which Italy was a party. Red Cross camps were deliberately bombed and incendiary devices showered on fleeing refugees. Prisoners of war, whether captured in battle or wounded or incapacitated, were executed on the spot. Torture, mutiliation [sic], skinning and castration were commonly employed. Whole families were locked in their dwellings and burnt alive. Some suspects were beheaded, others tied to lorries and dragged along till the corpse became utterly unrecognizable - still others thrown overboard from planes in flight. The most terrible atrocity of all was the widespread and indiscriminate use of poison gas. Whole areas suspected of harbouring resistance units were sprayed promiscuously - destroying all living things and polluting crops, rivers and lakes." (p. 17)

One comment is reminiscent of many made after the Rwandan genocide: "It is not to be contested that the majority of the peoples of the world - even most individual members of the League [of Nations] - were fully sympathetic with Ethiopia. But in the end, delay and procrastination, empty rhetoric and opportunism, above all the duplicity of the major European powers prevailed." (p. 23)

Resistance and Decolonization

​Amilcar Cabral (1924-1973) is one of Africa's great anti- and de-colonial activists and writers, and led the struggle for the independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Another post, on Davidson's "No Fish is Big Enough to Hide the Sky", also covers Cabral. This post focuses upon a collection of his ideas in "Resistance and Decolonization" (1977). Some of what he left us with:

  • "At the end of the day, we want the following: concrete and equal possibilities for any child of our land, man or woman, to advance as a human being, to give all of his or her capacity, to develop his or her body and spirit, in order to be a man or a woman at the height of his or her actual ability. We have to destroy everything that would be against this in our land, comrades. Step by step, one by one if it be necessary - but we have to destroy in order to construct a new life. This is the principal objective of our resistance." (p. 77)
  • "We have remained clear that we don't struggle against the Portuguese people. Everyone in our Party knows that. We do not struggle against the Portuguese or the Portuguese people; we struggle against Portuguese colonialism, against the Portuguese colonialists. We are fighting to clear out the Portuguese colonialists from our land. Yet we are even clearer: we in Guinea and Cape Verde, PAIGC, don't struggle against Salazarism or fascism in Portugal. That's the work of the Portuguese, not ours." (p. 83).​
  • "Our political resistance should orient itself around three fundamental points: 1) to realize national unity in our land and to place it entirely in the service of the struggle, in the service of our people, under our Party's flag; 2) to isolate the enemy from all of its allies, from all of its collaborators, from all those who offer some support against our struggle - without forgoing our principles; and 3) to orient our struggle in such a way, to work so well, that we should never forget our struggle is fundamentally political, and that we must assure the victory of our political resistance." (p. 89)​
  • "Our cultural resistance consists of the following: while we liquidate the colonial culture and the negative aspects of our own culture in spirit, in our midst, we have to create a new culture, also based on our traditions, but respecting everything that the world has won today for serving people." (p. 117)​
  • "Culture proves to be the very cornerstone of the liberation movement, and only societies or groups that have preserved their culture are able to mobilize, organize, and struggle against foreign domination. Whatever the ideological or intellectual characteristics of its expression, culture is an essential element in the historical process. It is culture that has the ability (or responsibility) to elaborate or enrich the elements that make for historical continuity and, at the same time, for the possibility of progress (and not regression) of the society." (p. 173-174)

Why We Lie About Aid

​"Why We Lie About Aid" (2018) appeared all over development studies social media in 2018, at one point topping Amazon's best seller list for the sub-category. For those who do not think aid is political, or who sit on the fence of development being political, Pablo Yanguas' book is an essential read. The book makes a clear and strong case, and should be essential reading for undergraduate students interested in development studies and practice.

What is the biggest challenge for aid and development in the future, according to Yanguas? It is that the simple tasks are largely complete, leaving the complex, political ones. "The reality of aid in the twenty-first century is that the most obvious problems to be fixed - maternal mortality, vaccination, literacy, and so on - are either fixed already or will be fixed by countries themselves in the coming decades. It is the intractable problems - almost all of them institutional - that will take decades or even longer to fully address. If aid donors really want to contribute to development in the twenty-first century, they need to focus on effectiveness instead of volume, strategy instead of tactics, and long-term pro-poor empowerment instead of short-term pro-poor results." (p 12)

The existing system presents donors, implementing agencies and individuals with a environment wherein the incentives push toward to the direction of action that does not enable the change Yanguas views as important: "One tragic repercussion of our short-sighted aid debates is an entirely wrong set of incentives for aid organizations and professionals. Domestic politics in donor countries has led to a strictly technical interpretation of development in the public eye, which forces aid practitioners to spend more time justifying their expenses than actually understanding and engaging with the difficult political contexts in which they operate" (p. 5)

Essentially, Yanguas makes a case for a more political understanding and approach to aid (and a recognition that it was already so, even if we pretended it was not): "aid, by its very existence, produces a number of political effects. I have called this the 'Aid Interference Principle': a donor cannot enter a political context without altering it. Despite apolitical mandates and protestations to the contrary, donor missions are very much a part of the political landscape of the countries in which they operate. Aid always benefits someone, and whenever local politics is seen as a zero-sum game, it is by definition undermining someone else. I have said this to donors many times in public presentations: an aid project can be a highly subversive thing. Support for NGOs and advocacy groups is an explicit attack on established institutions and elites. Support for technocratic reformers is an implicit attack on politics as usual and the players who benefit from limited rule enforcement. Likewise, budget support to a government represents a consolidation of centralised power by giving regime leaders new resources to distribute how they see fit. Money, ideas, and people: whatever form aid takes, it will always have a profound effect on local actors, legitimising some and delegitimising others; sanctioning existing coalitions or brokering new ones; and diffusing new models and techniques for control or contestation." (p. 145)

On aid projects in general: "Many foreign aid projects do not work as intended. Sometimes they struggle with structural constraints or demobilisation efforts. At other times, funds are wasted with incapable or unwilling implementation partners. And in more cases than practitioners would willingly acknowledge, projects are badly designed, lazily reproducing the best-practice flavour of the day with little attention to actual problem solving. However, there are also countless aid projects that do work as intended. Moveover, aid projects often have positive unintended consequences that are impossible to foresee, such as empowering erstwhile partners or diffusing new ideas about integrity, inclusion, and deservingness. Aid can train future challengers. It can generate useful information and policy models that bring together reform coalitions. It can even sway the minds of the most dominant of leaders. But of course, none of this usually makes it into project evaluations, much less the aggregate reports by aid agencies." (p. 198-199)

Ought we toss our hands in the air, or be optimistic? The latter has a chance, but requires action; work the authors calls upon many to engage in: "Without visionary leaders who are unafraid to defend the value of humane internationalism, it is up to practitioners, scholars, consultants, students, and concerned citizens to voice, argue, advocates, lobby, and demand a new moral vision for foreign aid. It is certain to be an uphill struggle, but nothing that local reformers and aid innovators do not face on a daily basis." (p. 215-216)

Civil Society: Challenging Western Models

Edited volumes seems to have a shorter shelf life than books, similar to academic articles. I recently picked up the somewhat dated (1996) edited volume of "Civil Society: Challenging Western Models", edited by Chris Hann and Elizabeth Dunn, to see what it might offer. It was written at a time when literature on civil society was just emerging, and in that regard it might be easy to criticize. However, my biggest disappointment with the book is that its aim of challenging western models was quite narrow. They write: "There is something inherently unsatisfactory about the international propagation of by western scholars of an ideal of social organization that seems to bear little relation to the current realities of their own countries" (p. 1). Yet, the contributing authors are all based in Europe or North America; the voices of the Global South were rather mute. There are chapters on Russia, Turkey, Jordan and Syria, Indonesia, Japan and China - so there is some global coverage - but challenging western models somewhat implies one ought to include non-western voices.

This edited volume has a gem of a chapter than I highly recommend students of development studies read: Chapter 6, written by Steven Sampson, called "The Social Life of Projects: Importing Civil Society to Albania" (p 121-142). Quotes from that chapter include:

"Behind the apparent rationality of projects and the discourse of 'institutional development' and 'capacity building', there also lies a considerable amount of magic or mystical thinking. Concepts such as 'human rights' or 'civil society' originate in a superlocal space (European Union (EU) in Brussels, European Parliament in Strasbourg, World Bank in Washington, the UNDP in New York, ILO in Geneva, etc.). These concepts then become programmes and projects, and the whole apparatus of fund-raising, the often unfathomable application forms, and even the currency used all have their own mystique." (p. 124)

"Many skills are also unequally distributed, and so too is access to information and symbolic resources: information about money, and information about dominant concepts. It is here that the magic of transition appears. The ability to master the symbolic resources of transition, to gain access to knowledge and to manipulate it, determine whether an enterprising young individual in Eastern Europe becomes a party politician, an NGO leader, an employee of a western agency or firm, a local entrepreneur, or a mafioso." (p. 124)

Failures are then explained in terms of 'legacies' from the past, 'socialist mentality' or 'resistance' by those being affected. In fact, many 'systems-export' schemes fail because systems or units are exported without their western context... The well-functioning NGOs and interest organisations of Danish civil society exist in an environment of effective public administration, an open press, and a political system which knows how to react to public pressure. In addition, Danish NGOs are in close contact with their funding sources; many are subsidised by state funds. Danish NGOs are thus well embedded in society, and they do what they do well. In Eastern Europe, where states are weak and finance nearly non-existent, where social problems are acute and confidence in social organisations is low, where kin, network and ethnic groups resolve problems which associations resolve in the west, the entire context of civil society differs. In this situation, the export of Scandinavian interest organisations is bound to be problematic. It is a case of what the Romanians call 'form without foundation'. (p. 125-126)

And from Susanne Spulbeck: "As Hannah Arendt points out, under conditions of totalitarian rule, friendship and any other type of social relationship arouse suspicion. The basis for an ideologically legitimised totalitarian order and its 'loyalty' (the recognition of its validity by all) can only be provided by completely isolated individuals, whose ties to family and friends have failed to secure them a place in the world. It is this isolation which prevents participation in the public sphere. From the perspective of isolation, which makes the public sphere appear to be a threat and declares the quiescence to be local history, the development of a collective civil consciousness is not only difficult but dangerous." (p. 75)

How One Small Tow Banned Pesticides

​Philip Ackerman-Leist's "A Precautionary Tale: How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement" (2017) takes a deep dive into one northern Italian town wherein farmers became activists and voted to ban pesticides. The book is a bit heavy on the storytelling, but it does not claim to be academic work.

What was the issue? "In general, almost everyone agreed, at least in public discourse, that farmers could manage their land in whatever ways they say fit - as long as other neighboring farmers weren't negatively impacted. However, as discussions progressed, it became harder and harder for some participants to see how side-by-side coexistence could ever really work in a town with such frequent winds and small parcel sizes. And many Malsers began to wonder whether compromise was, in the long run, the same as surrender." (p. 84)

The complexities of politics and law are such that while the town did vote to ban pesticides, this was not the end result: "Ulrich stood in front of the seated audience and methodologically explained the necessity of compromise... However, Ulrich continued, there was a virtual ban provided by the strict nature of the stringent new buffer requirements. Although the new buffers were still insufficient for doing the impossible - containing drift - they made pesticide spraying impractical in a town with such small and fragmented agricultural fields." (p. 180)

The world did seem to take notice, however. "The EU created a 'Pesticide-Free Villages' initiative, modeled in large part on the Mals campaign. When pesticide policy is discussed in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and now the United States, Mals isn't just a model - it's a story, an evolving story of a small community that took on forces far bigger, won, and is still winning." (p. 185). 

I enjoyed the side story of how everyday people became activists. This part of understanding social movements and collective action is usually missing. For example, in the early days, one farmer came to realize "'There are two possibilities' he continued. 'Either we just watch how the land is sold, how the land is destroyed, and how the poison is sprayed everywhere... or we somehow set ourselves in motion to do something'" (p. 77). The result of small conversations and building experiences was that "Ordinary citizens, not practiced in politics or particularly polished in activism, they were nonetheless Querdenkers, a term that translates into 'diagonal thinkers' or 'cross thinkers' - people who think in a different direction, outside of the box. Where they come together is where an uprising start" (p. 78). In the end, the town approved to run a referendum vote on the question of banning pesticides, which won overwhelmingly (75.68% voted for a pesticide free community).

The ballot read (p. 176):

  • Are you in favor of implementing the following amendment to the articles of the Township of Mals?
  • The precautionary principle, in order to protect public health, states all measures should be taken that will help prevent harm to the health of humans and animals. The township of Mals has a particular objective of protecting the health of its citizens and guests, maintaining the sustainability of nature and waters, and making it possible for different economic models to coexist within the municipality in a fair and respectful way.
  • In conformance with these goals, Mals promotes the use of organic, biodegradable crop protection within its municipal boundaries. An ordinance will be issued that describes the details of this provision.
  • Independently from this provision, the use of highly toxic, harmful, and polluting chemical-synthetic pesticides is prohibited within its municipal boundaries. The municipal authority is responsible for monitoring the implementation and the compliance of the referendum outcome.

Call for Submissions: Chapters in "Ethiopia: Social, Economic and Political Issues"

Call for Submissions: Book Chapters in "Ethiopia: Social, Economic and Political Issues"

There have been significant social, economic and political changes in in Ethiopia in recent decades. Healthcare coverage has rapidly expanded but much progress is still needed; access to education has improved but there are questions of quality and employment; macro-economic growth has been amongst the highest in the world for over a decade but there are questions of rising inequality; infrastructure has expanded throughout the nation, often at the expense of some; the second largest safety net in Africa has received acclaim and criticism; foreign direct investment has been relatively strong, but the quality of employment opportunities is questionable; recent political transitions have changed a negative narrative more positive, but many questions about democracy and inclusion remain. This edited volume will present diverse experiences, perspectives, geographies, and sectors in the social, economic and political realms. The collection of research will show the complexity of the changes, and the diverse ways in which change is experienced.

Estimated publication timeline:

Abstract deadline: July 31, 2018

Chapter deadline: November 30, 2018

Peer review process: December 2018 – February 2019

Revision of chapter: March 2019

Submission to publish: April 2019

Expected publication: End of 2019 or early 2020

This is a call for chapter contributions. The book will be edited by Logan Cochrane (Carleton University, Canada) and published by Nova. Abstract submissions (200-500 words) should be sent to:


  • Chapters must be original and unpublished
  • Submissions only accepted in English
  • Chapters between 4000 and 7000 words
  • Chapter to follow provided style guides
  • Editor and publisher have right to reject submissions
  • The volume will aim for thematic balance and geographic representation

For additional information contact Logan Cochrane ( Logan is a Banting Fellow at Carleton University (Canada) and affiliated with Hawassa University (Ethiopia). He has worked in, and conducted research on, Ethiopia for over a decade. For additional information, see:

Organizing Women Workers in the Informal Economy

​Naila Kabeer, Ratna Sudarshan and Kirsty Milward edited "Organizing Women Workers in the Informal Economy: Beyond the Weapons of the Weak" (2013), which presents a series of cases from around the world. The book "shifts the analytical focus from individual women engaged in these informal forms of work to organizations that have set out to work with women in the informal economy. (p. 2). For each of the cases, the authors explore the rationales of organizing and the strategies utilized as well as offering reflections on what the cases offer in terms of insight into pathways of change. The editors argue that there is "a growing body of experience of organizing hard-to-reach working women in the informal economy, but few attempts to synthesize these experiences and draw out their lessons. That task is undertaken by this book" (p. 5-6). 

Of the high-level findings, the cases "suggest that, in place of the more confrontational tactics traditionally associated with the trade union movement, these organizations often sought to achieve their goals through the exercise of 'soft power', drawing on the resources offered by culture, discourse, information and communications, and the law." (p. 16) Of the lessons, one is that "strategies evolve and change over time. The 'long feedback loop' entailed in efforts to address the structural aspects of women's positions in their communities - and society more generally - means that highly politicized demands are unlikely to bring women together in the first instance. As women come together around the more practical concerns of their daily lives, however, as their collective identity starts to grow and strengthen, they appear to become more willing to take on these more political issues. Thus it may be that initial strategies are gentler, less confrontational, with continued affinity with the 'weapons of the weak'. Over time, a greater willingness emerges to engage in open conflict, to take legal action against those in power who violate their rights, and to use the organization's clout to influence political and policy processes and to assert themselves as citizens." (p. 42)

On change: "Change, to be real, has to come from the people; it cannot be trickled down, imported or imposed. As a country, we can create a climate for change if we can put our trust in the people. For that, everyone must have a voice. The poor, because they are in the majority, especially need to be heard." (p. 282)

Role of research: "Research has been an important tool in SNEHA's work, starting with simple surveys to find out the numbers of women engaged in fishing and their varying needs. The tsunami experience highlighted the need to continue with data collection and analysis to make women's contributions more visible to policy makers." (p. 144)

On choice: "Choice is a kind of illusion. By giving consent, most of us believe we are making 'free' or unfettered choices. This can be said of marriage. People consent to getting married but the 'choice' to get married is usually made within a fairly rigid set of social parameters. If we don't get married, doubts begin circulating around one's 'character' or family reputation. Marriage therefore can hardly be considered freely chosen, and yet it is most often consensual. Most sex workers say they do not do sex work by choice or by force. The key issue is not whether choice is involved or not, but that they consent to what they are doing." (p. 246)

New Publication: Enabling Collaborative Synthesis in Multi-Partner Programmes

Cochrane, L. and Cundill, G. (2018) Enabling Collaborative Synthesis in Multi-Partner Programmes. Development in Practice. DOI: 10.1080/09614524.2018.1480706

Abstract: Multi-partner consortia have emerged as an important modality for knowledge generation to address complex sustainability challenges. Establishing effective multi-partner consortia involves significant investment. This article shares lessons from the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), which aims to support policy and practice for climate change adaptation through a consortium model. Key lessons include the need to facilitate collaborative spaces to build trust and identify common interests, while accepting that this is not a guarantee of success; the importance of programmatic leadership to achieve synthesis; and the value of strategic planning in supporting motivation and alignment between partners.

Introducing Liberation Theology

​Over the last decades, one of the sources of inspiration for new thinking in development practice has been liberation theology. Dr. Paul Farmer has utilized the ideas (in a less overtly religious form) and conveyed them to a broader audience, as the preferential option for the poor. What is liberation theology? Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff (1986, first in English 1987) authored "Introducing Liberation Theology" to provide insight. The book itself focuses quite a lot on the Biblical foundation, justification and purpose, while in this point I draw upon some of the practice-oriented lessons:

"The poor can break out of their situation of oppression only by working out a strategy better able to change social conditions: the strategy of liberation. In liberation, the oppressed come together, come to understand their situation through the process of conscientization, discover the causes of their oppression, organize themselves into movements, and act in a coordinated fashion. First, they claim everything that the existing system can give: better wages, working conditions, health care, education, housing, and so forth; then they work toward the transformation of present society in the direction of a new society characterized by widespread participation, a better and more just balance among social classes and more worthy ways of life." (p. 5)

"The first step for liberation theology is pre-theological. It is a matter of trying to live the commitment of faith: in our case, to participate in some way on the process of liberation, to be committed to the oppressed. Without this specific precondition, liberation theology would be simply a matter of words. So it is not enough here only to reflect on what is being practiced. Rather we need to establish a living link with living practice. If we fail to do this, then "poverty," "oppression," revolution," "new society" are simply words that can be found in a dictionary." (p. 22)

"liberation theology longs and fights for a new society in this world: an alternative society to capitalism, but really an alternative and therefore going beyond socialism as it exists today, embodying the hopes and needs of the least of all peoples and their intrinsic potential, a project with amble resonance in the tradition of faith." (p. 92)

(Still) Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment

​In the 80s and 90s an emerging set of research began to highlight that much of what we thought we knew about the environment in Africa, was, at best, only partially accurate. This had implications for policy and programs - and in some instances these narratives are still present. "The Lie of the Land: Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment" (1996) edited by Leach and Mearns is one important collection of works that challenges assumptions or partially accurate narratives. The book is a great reference point - and I would argue that Chapter 8 (on soil erosion) remains particularly relevant.

"The driving force behind much environmental policy in Africa is a set of powerful, widely perceived images of environmental change. They include overgrazing and the 'desertification' of drylands, the widespread existence of a 'woodfuel crisis', the rapid and recent removal of once-pristine forests, soil erosion, and the mining of natural resources caused by rapidly growing populations. So self-evident do these phenomena appear that their prevalence is generally regarding as common knowledge among development professionals in African governments, international donor agencies, and non-governmental organizations. They have acquired the status of conventional wisdom: an integral part of the lexicon of development. Yet as shown by accumulating research assembled in this book, these images may be deeply misleading." (p. 1)

Part of the accuracy issue is the origin of these stories, often generalized but of problematic nature: "What is the evidence for the doomsday scenario of environmental decline? Commentators from the first decade of the century through to the present wave of environmental furore have predicted an imminent collapse. The evidence presented in support of these arguments falls into two types: first, anecdotal reports; and second, quantitative data that has been selectively interpreted. Anecdotal information, especially if dressed up in the language of disaster, have been very influential..." (p. 46-47).

In other cases, the narratives simply appear inaccurate entirely: "Since the 1890s, scientists and policy-makers have considered the patches of dense, semi-deciduous forest found scattered in the savannas on the northern margins of Guinee's forest zone to be relics of previously more extensive forest cover. There are about 800 such 'forest islands' in Kissidougou perfecture alone, most concealing at their centre a clearing containing one of the perfecture's villages. The existence of forest patches amidst savanna has suggested the penetration of savannas southward into the forest zone as a result of vegetation destruction by farmers. A century after its first elaboration, this interpretation of a landscape half empty of forests continues to drive repressive policies designed to reform inhabitants' land-use practices.This received wisdom concerning the forest-savanna mosaic refers to historical processes, but is not founded on historical data." (p. 105)

On the implications: "In the wake of the 1985 famine, the Ethiopian government launched an ambitious programme of environmental reclamation supported by donors and non-government organizations and backed by the largest food-for-work programme in Africa. Over the following five years, peasants constructed more than one million km of soil and stone bunds on agricultural land and built almost half a million km of hillside terrace. They also closed off more than 80,000 ha of hillside to most forms of use to foster regeneration of naturally occurring species, and planted 300,000 ha of trees, much of it in community wood-lots. Today, in retrospect, it is clear that much of this effort was wasted or counterproductive." (p. 186)

On the negative incentives that continue false narratives: "Scientists are just one set of actors in the 'soil erosion game', a game in which it is advantageous (a) not to admit you do not know the answer; (b) to make unverifiable assumptions so that, if your answers provide bad advice, blame does not attach to the professionals; and (c) to exaggerate the seriousness of the process in order to gain kudos, prestige, power, influence and, of course, further work." (p. 141)

This book was long before social media, but some relevant reflections on the new ways information is shared and accessed: "Paradoxically, the more rapid circulation of information may actually increase the tendency towards simplification and convergence in the substance of popular discourse about environment and development, as a way of dealing with information overload." (p. 26)

Powered by EasyBlog for Joomla!