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Northeast African Studies 7.1 (2000) 169-172

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Property Rights and Political Development in Ethiopia and Eritrea, 1941-74. Sandra Fullerton Joireman, Oxford: James Currey Publishers, and Athens: Ohio State University, 2000. PB, $24.50

Africanists have long investigated how claims to land are contested, negotiated, and legitimized by African farmers and rulers. Recently, scholars of land tenure have raised new questions and offered new interpretations concerning land and landed property rights, thereby deepening our understanding of the social and economic history of Africa. Sandra Fullerton Joireman's Property Rights and Political Development in Ethiopia and Eritrea is a comparative study of property rights to land in Ethiopia and Eritrea, focusing primarily on the evolution of land tenure in imperial Ethiopia from 1941 to 1974. [End Page 169]

The book has five chapters. Chapters one and two deal with theories of property rights and how land rights change over time. Chapter three examines the efforts made by the imperial Ethiopian government to create new systems of taxation and judiciary to strengthen its hold over the peasantry and the nobility during the post-World War II years (38). The next three chapters are case studies examining changes in land rights in three provinces. Chapter seven summarizes the main argument and suggests policy implications of land rights in the Horn and the rest of Africa.

Unlike many Ethiopianists who tend to focus on empirical research and shy away from theories, Joireman carefully mixes empirical research with theory and brings a fresh perspective to Ethiopian studies, a field long dominated by conflict and political history. The book is informed by archival research in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Italy, and the United Kingdom. It is also based on interviews and personal observations of the author. Joireman's findings suggest that the development of the landholding system is not always linear, that is, from collective/communal to individualized/private ownership.

While the author's attempt to blend theory with empirical data is admirable, specialists are likely to find some of her arguments unconvincing and embedded in the dominant Ethiopianist discourse. This is evident in her interpretation of the evolution of property rights in Sidamo. Following the dominant Ethiopianist view, she assumes that Sidamo is not a colonial case while Eritrea was. She regards the naftanya, the soldier-settler landlords, as representing a special interest of their own, separate from that of the state. In reality, the group consisted of state functionaries who in the late-nineteenth century gained power and wealth by participating in the conquest of the south and benefitted from the continued subjugation of the conquered people. After conquest, while accumulating wealth, the naftanya facilitated the imperial government's control of the conquered subjects and the consolidation of its power. As a coercive arm of the imperial state, these soldiers overcame the resistance of the indigenous elite and farmers. In this regard, the naftanya played the same role as Italian colonial officials and settler farmers in Eritrea. As far as Sidamo and the conquered south were concerned, the interest of the naftanya was intertwined with that of the imperial state. [End Page 170]

The author's failure to treat Sidamo as a colonial case has led to even more problematic analysis of property rights in Shewa. Joireman posits that there was no change in land property rights in Shewa during the period under investigation. The apparent stasis that the author observed could be misleading if not put in the proper context. In parts of northern Shewa, where the Christian landed elite formed the core of the state's army and administration, the imperial state was not able to introduce changes in property rights without alienating the gentry. In Tegulate and Bulga (parts of northern Shewa) many changes in land tenure system have occurred since the eighteenth century. The rist tenure that prevailed in these areas during the greater part of the twentieth century was partly established in the nineteenth century when Shewan kings conquered and displaced Oromo farmers that were there and allocated the land to their followers in a manner similar...


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