Researching the politics of development



State infrastructural power and social transfers: The local politics of distribution and delivering ‘progress’ in Ethiopia

Working paper 147

Download pdf

Tom Lavers
This paper examines the politics of implementing the PSNP in Ethiopia. The PSNP is a targeted food and cash-for-work programme that places a strong emphasis on its ‘productive’ contribution through public works, a livelihoods component and the aim of mass ‘graduation’ from support. The paper focuses on how local governments resolve two challenges related to the distribution of social transfers. First, is the challenge for state capacity of generating sufficient and accurate information with which to select households while limiting undue influence of powerful local actors. Second, is the recurrent tension between the programme’s developmental objectives and its protective function. The paper argues that variation in state infrastructural power is vital to understanding how these challenges are resolved in different parts of Ethiopia. Drawing on two research sites in each of Afar, Oromiya and Tigray, the paper highlights the extremes of variation within Ethiopia. Implementation is shaped by the particular spatial pattern of expansion of the party-state carried out under EPRDF rule. In Tigray, strong party-state infrastructural power underpins selection processes and local state compliance with national targets. In Oromiya, state infrastructural power was underpinned by a significant degree of coercion in the face of limited legitimacy of the party-state. However, recent political events have seriously eroded this. In Afar, the state is forced to compensate for its own limitations by engaging in negotiation with clan structures.