Cultural political economy of irrigation management in northeastern Ethiopia: The case of the Kobo-Girana Valley Development Programme

Million Gebreyes
Development Geography, Institute of Geography, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany;

Detlef Müller-Mahn
Institute of Geography, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany;

ABSTRACT: This paper aims to extend a 'politicised' understanding of irrigation management using theoretical perspectives in political ecology and cultural political economy. The paper is based on a case study of the Kobo-Girana Valley Development Program in Amhara Region, Ethiopia. Data was collected in the course of 20 in-depth interviews, 10 expert interviews, seven focus group discussions, and field observations. The findings of the study show that irrigation management in the Ethiopian context is a highly political enterprise involving heterogeneous state-sector offices, local irrigation users, and other actors. The state uses the hegemony of its developmental state political ideology and various governmentality mechanisms to contain the irrigation management process. Irrigation users react with a variety of counter-hegemonic strategies to resist the state’s containment measures. Such an understanding of irrigation management could help us to refocus our attention away from the conventional technologies and institutions that dominate irrigation management studies, and towards the dimensions of power and politics.

KEYWORDS: Cultural political economy, irrigation, state-society, politics, coordination, Ethiopia