The Rise of the Infrastructure State
How US–China Rivalry Shapes Politics and Place Worldwide

8: Centralizing Infrastructure in a Fragmenting Polity: China and Ethiopia’s ‘Infrastructure State’

This chapter argues that Ethiopia has received so much finance from China (both before and after the announcement of the BRI) partly because of Ethiopia’s potentiality as an ‘infrastructure state’, due to its relatively centralized state structures and hierarchical governance processes. It therefore begins by examining why and how Ethiopia became such an important partner for China in Africa, and how Sino-Ethiopian infrastructure relations thrived partly due to the relative affinity between Chinese and Ethiopian governance processes and their shared spatial objectives. It then examines how Chinese infrastructure finance has facilitated the restructuring of state institutions to deliver major transport infrastructure projects and Ethiopia’s industrial parks strategy. Here we show that Ethiopia has drawn on China’s own experience of infrastructure governance and territorial integration, but also argue that it is far from being a powerless partner in its dealings with Beijing and with Chinese State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Finally, we turn to the recent period of political crisis, particularly since 2018, and show that US engagement in the Ethiopian infrastructure sector offers potential opportunities and risks. The future of the ‘infrastructure state’, developed partly through Chinese assistance, remains uncertain as the Ethiopian government struggles to consolidate territorial integration and control, and political fragmentation threatens to unravel a centuries-long project of centralization. Moreover, it is not clear whether the finance provided by a new range of actors with an interest in Ethiopian infrastructure will contribute to centralization or undermine it.

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