Lavers, T., Terrefe, B. and Gebresenbet, F. (2021) ‘Powering Development: The Political Economy of Electricity Generation in the EPRDF’s Ethiopia’. FutureDAMS Working Paper 14. Manchester: University of Manchester.
This paper examines the political economy of electricity generation planning in Ethiopia during the EPRDF era (1991–2019), highlighting the importance of power relations between politicians and the bureaucracy, the political interests of the ruling party and the dominant ideas shaping politics and the electricity sector. To do this, the research draws on more than 100 key informant interviews with politicians, government officials, consultants and donors involved in the sector. The paper argues that the ruling party’s approach to electricity was emblematic of the successes and limitations of its ‘developmental state’ project pursued over the past 20 years. The increased supply of low-cost electricity is seen as a key input into industrial policy, a means of securing foreign exchange and a mechanism for legitimating the ruling party among the population. Moreover, the narratives used to justify massive investment in electricity generation mirror the party’s changing ideological reference points, from Marxism to the developmental state to a recent and tentative turn to liberalisation. Electricity supply has increased significantly over this period, with further large-scale projects nearing completion. However, the huge developmental ambitions of the political elite have at times undermined the planning process in the sector, leading to an emphasis on megaprojects to meet implausible estimates of future demand and questionable project design.