In the place of all, black empire and Addis Ababa as cosmos

Sabine Mohamed


This doctoral research project examines contemporary forms of empire, blackness, and the crisis of ethnic citizenship in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Working among displaced and precarious young people engaged in the informal economies of Addis, as well as Eritrean refugees, my dissertation is based on 14 months of ethnographic and archival research in Addis Ababa. During this research, I studied how the Ethiopian state seeks to inscribe on a body of people signs of an Afro-future and ethnic diversity in order to expand and foster political unity. Yet, in doing so, the state’s famous vision of an Ethiopian ‘renaissance and diversity’ has been generating atmospheres of loss, fear, and the threat of economic and physical displacement among the city’s marginalized. Nonetheless, these people are central to an ever-urbanizing and cosmopolitan capital city. To that end, I examine how projects of state and regional expansion affect rapidly fluctuating forms of inclusion and exclusion, as well as pushing people to begin imagining Ethiopian counter-futures. Therefore, through my ethnographic fieldwork, this research reveals how, in projects of urban renewal in Addis Ababa, house evictions and removal are negotiated and subverted by its residents. In addition, as a part of tracing this renewal, I pay close attention to moments of erasure and purification within a greater imperial cosmopolitan project, for example, in examining the afterlives of the 1998 deportation of Eritreans from the city center - a deportation that was viewed as a classic state-making act of purification. Finally, I trace how the transcultural work of ‘Ethiopia’ as an imaginary in the African diasporic archive has returned to the visions of renaissance and black empire in urban Ethiopia. 

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