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Limits to State-Led Nation-Building? An Eritrean Village Responds Selectively to the Plans of the Eritrean Government


  • David O'Kane

    1. Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
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    • David O'Kane is a graduate of the National University of Ireland (Maynooth) and Queen's University Belfast. He has taught at universities in Ireland, Britain, Eritrea, Russia, and New Zealand, and he is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle (Saale), Germany. His most recent publication is Biopolitics, Militarism and Development: Eritrea in the Twenty-First Century, co-edited with Dr Tricia Redeker Hepner, and published by Berghahn in 2009.


Since independence in the early 1990s, the east African state of Eritrea has been ruled by a self-consciously nationalist and modernising authoritarian regime, which seeks to build an Eritrean national consciousness among the country's 3.5 million people via top-down strategies of intervention in rural communities. These are not limited to the use of cultural interventions intended to revise people's identities. They also take the form of state-led development strategies, including land nationalisation. In a village in highland Eritrea, the residents oppose some of the projects of the state while adopting parts of the national identity proffered to them by the state. The author argues that this case suggests a new way of thinking about the ways in which national identities and nation-states are constructed – one that reconsiders the relationship between nationalism and resistance, and between nation-building elites and communities in resistance.