Governing three-wheeled motorcycle taxis in urban Ethiopia

States, markets, and moral discourses of infrastructure

by Daniel Mains and Eshetayehu Kinfu

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Taxi drivers in Hawassa, Ethiopia, have come into conflict with government administrators over the strict regulation of their three-wheeled motorcycle taxis, known as Bajaj. Their conflict with the government is best conceptualized not through a state-market binary but in relation to competing moral discourses concerning modernity, reciprocity, and the right to a livelihood. Such discourses are mediated by the particular characteristics of the Bajaj, an inexpensive, flexible, and labor-dependent transportation technology. These discourses have emerged in a context in which urban Ethiopians and their social networks act as the infrastructure that enables cities to function. The encounter between these social networks and vital technologies such as the Bajaj is fundamental to the politics of infrastructure.