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Poverty Trap in a Tributary Mode of Production: The Peasant Economy of Ethiopia


  • Berhanu Abegaz

    () (Department of Economics, College of William and Mary)


The paradox of EthiopiaÕs agrarian economy is that, despite underwriting a world civilization, the transition to an industrial economy has eluded it. Using a model of AfroAsiatic tributarism, we attribute this outcome to endemic extractive contests between a predominantly landed peasantry and a titled, prebendary overlord class. The latterÕs strategy of political accumulation inevitably engendered immiserization of overlord and peasant alike by privileging diversion over production. The surplus was then dissipated on unproductive consumption, national defence, and internecine strife. Lacking a strong state to mitigate predation and political instability, the Ethiopian peasant rationally ÔchoseÕ to be efficiently, albeit self-sufficiently, poor.

Suggested Citation

  • Berhanu Abegaz, 2004. "Poverty Trap in a Tributary Mode of Production: The Peasant Economy of Ethiopia," Working Papers 06, Department of Economics, College of William and Mary.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwm:wpaper:6

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    Cited by:

    1. Tennassie Nichola, 2006. "The Food Security Problem In Ethiopia - A Supply Side Analysis," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 74(2), pages 315-322, June.

    More about this item


    Ethiopia; feudalism; tributarism; overlordship; landlordship; gebbar system;

    JEL classification:

    • N57 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa
    • P52 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems - - - Comparative Studies of Particular Economies

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