Towards Decent Employment or a Destitute Livelihood? The Dynamics of the Agrarian Question of Labor in Ethiopia
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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OriginalversjonForum for Development Studies. 2023, 50 (3), 445-469. 10.1080/08039410.2023.2230213
This paper examines the demand for industrial labor among dispossessed peasants and how the non-absorption of peasants’ labor into industrial production intertwined in and around the Bole Lemi industrial park (BLIP) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The scores of peasants who were dispossessed to enable the establishment of BLIP were promised to get compensatory jobs. The park's expansion ensures capital accumulation for the companies but produces a ‘pile of pain’ for the dispossessed peasants. Drawing on fieldwork in Addis Ababa, this article illustrates that the promised transformation of dispossessed peasants’ lives from farm to factory and rural to urban lifestyle did not happen. This is due to companies’ ignorance of dispossessed peasants’ labor because they are illiterate, ‘unskilled’ and beyond the productive capitalist age as well as companies’ preference for employing young women. While rural women migrate to the city for industrial labor, on the contrary, the dispossessed peasants living in Addis Ababa are seasonally ‘returning to the farm’ as daily laborers in rural areas known for their labor shortages. The peasants become surplus to industrial production due to capitalists’Footnote2 preference for employing young women of ‘productive age’ (roughly between 15-30). As a result, a new precarious peasant class of ‘three nos’ – no land, no work, and no hope – is emerging. The aspiration, hope and expectation of modernity – city lifestyle, proletarianization and improvement in livelihoods turned into the reality of under/unemployment and migration.