Liberation in theory and in practice: Ethiopia and its political modernities - Laying the Past to Rest by Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe London: Hurst, 2019. Pp. 355. - East Africa after Liberation by Jonathan Fisher Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020
Ethiopia is an intriguing theatre to study: it was never colonized but an imperial power itself and Ethiopian exceptionalism within Africa and African Studies remains widespread. Simultaneously, there are few if any African states where “liberation” has been so central in the politics of the last century-from the struggle against Italian fascism to the “War on Poverty” of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, 1991-2018/9). The works of Elleni Centime Zeleke, Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe and Jonathan Fisher offer new perspectives on some of the questions the centrality of liberation throws up. Reading their monographs together advances our grasp of the EPRDF experiment and its wider stakes. While much recent work investigates the state from below and both analytically and normatively rails against top-down perspectives, Elleni, Mulugeta and Fisher each provide rationales of their own to take African elites seriously in their theorizing, organizing and socializing and to do so in conceptually and empirically innovative ways. Moreover, contra an African Studies literature that remains dominated by a focus on patronage networks as central to power, they helpfully underline how much more there is to the high politics of state than “follow the money”-narratives that Western policymakers and advocacy organizations find so useful.