The politics of distributing social transfers in Oromiya, Ethiopia: Encadrement and the fluctuation of state infrastructural power

This paper examines the politics of distributing the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region. Drawing on detailed case studies in Arssi and North Shewa, the paper highlights the importance of state infrastructural power in shaping programme distribution. Over 30 years of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) rule, the party-state project of encadrement, or the incorporation of people into structures of control, has been taken to a new level. The creation of sub-kebele administrative structures and performance evaluations that reach down to the household level have underpinned a massive expansion of state infrastructural power – the ability of the central state to implement policies throughout its territory. The case studies highlight the importance of state infrastructural power in understanding PSNP implementation. Sub-kebele structures have become a key aspect of PSNP implementation, notably in identifying who receives support. However, strong state infrastructural power has also proven problematic, used to enforce graduation from the PSNP to meet centrally defined targets, regardless of the reality of local food insecurity. The Oromo protests and the ongoing transformation of the political landscape in Ethiopia have unleashed a counter-movement to the project of encadrement, leading to the collapse of these structures of control. This collapse threatens state infrastructural power, both in terms of service delivery and the coercive power of the central state.