Household economy, demography, and the "push" factor in northern Ethiopian history 1916-1935
MetadataShow full item record
Over the course of the last century perhaps the single most significant event in· Ethiopia's history has been the extension of political and economic power of the Amhara-dominated central state over the population and economic resources of Ethiopia's southern peripheries. A key component of this process has been the movement of people out of the northern and central portions of the old "Abyssinian" empire into the south, first as soldier/settlers and then as landlords, administrators, and political entrepreneurs. This transplanted population, mostly male' and mostly young, made up the flesh and sinew of the imperial state's control over the labor, land, and surplus product of the country's rich southern provinces. Despite the importance of this population movement we have virtually no empirical studies- of the motivations behind the emigration, the economic and social conditions the emigrants left behind, and the relative effect of "push" versus "pull" factors in their decision-making process. The purpose of this paper is to document the "push" side of the migration equation by examining the political, economic, and demographic factors which convinced many young men and some young women to leave their homelands in the north and seek a new life in the new frontier of southern Ethiopia in the period 1900-35. It is the argument of this paper that the material conditions of life in rural northern Ethiopia, especially in the northeast, declined precipitously during the first third of this century, particularly in the final decade and a half of that period. The declining state of the environment, population pressure on land, and the imposition of state policies on rural institutions of production and distribution pushed many households beyond the break-even point in the household production/consumption equation. The long-standing formulae within the rural household economy which had sustained the social and economic fabric proved unable to deal adequately with the new set of demands on it. Patterns of land-holding, labor allocation, and institutions of economic distribution changed and new economic strata emerged in the society. The end result was a squeezing out of middle peasants, the growth of a new class of capital-rich administrators, the beginning of the commoditization of land and labor, and an out-flow of a huge number of peasants who sought their future elsewhere in Ethiopia's emergent political economy.
African Studies Center Working Paper No. 97
RightsCopyright © 1984, by the author.