Provinces and Princes - Power and the Eastern Ethiopian Periphery C 1906-1916
By Cedric Barnes 2001
This paperl presents the struggle for succession to Menilek in early modern Ethiopia
from the perspective of the eastern province of Hararge and the emerging position of
an independent Ethiopian state in a region otherwise ruled by colonial
administrations. The paper puts forward an approach which views colonialism in
Northeast Africa as not simply a foil to Ethiopia's national struggle, but as a key
factor in the construction of the Ethiopian state and its emerging sovereignty, albeit a
dynamic that was necessarily internalised by Ethiopian domestic politics. This view
is borne out by the important role that the periphery with colonial territory came to
have in the struggle for the centre.2 In dealing with these concerns the paper also
proposes a different approach to the most enigmatic figure of this period of Ethiopian
history, Le} lyyasu............
In 1906 Ras Makonnen 13 of Harar died. In the resource centred and frontier fuelled
politics of the Ethiopian Empire Hararge province was second only to Shawa.
Makonnen was one of the comparatively small coterie of closely related Shawans
who had led the military expansion of the Shawan state and through his command of
the Hararge gezat, he was the head of a whole section of interests and system of rule.
His early death upset the careful equations of power on which Menilek's patrimonial
empire was constructed. A vacancy at the top of the pyramid of power opened up a
wealth of possibilities for the use, acquisition, but also the deliquescence of power.
Indeed affairs in the eastern province of Hararge after Makonnen's death are an
example of the problematic transfer of power in the nascent Ethiopian empire, even
at provincial level, and anticipated the coming crisis at the centre.