Ethiopia is a country located in the region of Eastern Africa. Ethiopian politics is dominated by the four groups within the old EPRDF alliance, which have often ruled the country for three decades. When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali took office in the spring of 2018, a political thunderstorm began and the peace process with Eritrea resumed. However, outbreaks of violence in several parts of the country have put a stalemate on the reform policy and the peace process has stalled.
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF; now transformed into a party, the Ethiopian Prosperity Party, EPP) controls all formal institutions of the republic. Since the 2015 election, it, together with some allied regional parties, holds all the mandates of the federal parliament; the country’s divided opposition is completely without representation.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Ethiopia, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
In practice, the EPRDF has been without competitors in all elections since the 1991 takeover, with the exception of 2005 when the opposition managed to take almost a third of the seats in Parliament (see Modern History).
The EPRDF’s dominance has largely been due to tight control over both the media and political opposition, but at the same time the groupings have some support among Ethiopians who got it financially better under the EPRDF’s power holdings.
Traditionally, Ethiopia has been ruled by tigers and Amharas from the northern part of the country. Within the EPRDF, the tiger group TPLF was most powerful until the fall of 2019. At that time, TPLF chose to stand outside when the EPRDF was converted from a four-party alliance to a single party (see Political system).
When Abiy was elected prime minister, Ethiopia was a country on the brink of collapse. Violent unrest and tensions characterized society on several levels since four years ago (see Modern history). Movements in several states, including Oromia and Ogaden, wanted to break free from the federation. In Oromia, crowds of people demanding greater influence for the majority people demonstrated oromos. Hundreds were killed in the violent protests, according to the UN. At the same time, hundreds of people were killed in fighting between Oromos and Somalis on land along the border between Oromia and Somali. The unrest led to large streams of refugees, both within the country and other countries. In 2018, Ethiopia had the most internally displaced people among all the countries in the world. In addition, there were clear cracks within the EPDRF, not least between tigreans and others.
Abiy Ahmed Ali and the politics of reform
When the federal parliament elected Abiy as new prime minister in April 2018, the idea was that this would help to pour oil on the waves through a cautious reform agenda. The repressive policy had not achieved the desired result.
Abiy was 42 years old at the time and became Africa’s youngest head of government. He also became the first oromor to be appointed prime minister. Abiy is a Pentecostal, but comes from a mixed Christian and Muslim family. He is well educated and multilingual with a broad background as a military, minister and head of government. Abiy has a reputation for being competent, straight-backed and more responsive to the reactions of the outside world than the older EPRDF guard was.
The appointment of Abiy was received with cautious optimism by the opposition. In his installation speech, Abiy apologized “from the bottom of his heart” for the protests of recent years that have caused people to be injured and killed. He also addressed conciliatory terms to the arch-enemy Eritrea.
The new prime minister faced the challenge of uniting both the fragmented government alliance and meeting the demands of the Oromans and the Amharas for increased influence. He chose to launch a series of political and economic reforms at a rapid pace. He has since pardoned thousands of prisoners, lifted bans and stamps on opposition parties and groups, and allowed armed guerrilla groups in exile to return home.
Peace with Eritrea
In June 2018 announced Abyi that Ethiopia was now ready to fully comply with the UN Commission decision on the demarcation between Eritrea and Ethiopia as it is enshrined in the peace agreement of 2000. This means that Ethiopia accepted that the disputed Badme belongs to Eritrea (see also Conflicts, Ethiopia -Eritrea). The decision led Eritrea to send a delegation of diplomats to Addis Ababa shortly thereafter for further discussions.
Three days before the delegation landed in the capital, a grenade attack was carried out against a large crowd in a square in Addis Ababa. The people had gathered to listen to Abyi. The prime minister escaped unharmed, but two audience members were killed in the attack.
After some political summit meetings, Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement on July 9, 2018. “The war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is over,” the two neighboring countries announced in a joint statement. At a meeting in the capital of Eritrea’s Asmara, Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed the “Joint Declaration on Peace and Friendship”, which states that “the war between the countries ends and a new era of peace and friendship begins”.
The diplomatic relations were restored, as were trade relations, transport and communications. Ethiopian Airlines began flights between Asmara and Addis Ababa. Direct telephone lines were opened for the first time in two decades. Ethiopia asked the UN to lift sanctions against Eritrea, including the arms embargo and the travel bans for individuals.
Outbreaks of violence and refugee flows
In September 2018, riots broke out in Addis Ababa and certain suburbs on several occasions, with a total of around 60 dead as a result. Mostly young men streamed out onto the capital’s streets, barring roads and forcing shops to close. According to the government, the riots were organized by forces that wanted to stop Abi’s reforms and sabotage peace with Eritrea. However, according to many Addis Ababa residents, the attacks were organized by unrest against minorities from southern Ethiopia. The riots broke out after the leader of the Oromogerilla OLF returned to the country and many oromos traveled to the city to welcome them home.
At the end of September/October, violence spread when young people from different ethnic groups came together in an area on the border between Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz. At least 44 people were killed according to state media. The riots broke out on September 26 when Benishangul-Gumuz civil servants were killed by unknown perpetrators. During the following week, some 70,000 residents fled the violence, according to the UN agency Ocha. The military was called in to calm down the situation.
At the same time, violence between oromos and the minority goat were reported to have forced close to a million people to flee the country.
In October 2018, Abiy made extensive government reform. He reduced the number of ministers from 28 to 20. Half of the ministers in the new government were women, including the Minister of Defense and the Minister of a newly established peace ministry under which the police and intelligence services sort.
Bargain trial in Amhara
During the summer of 2019, tensions rose significantly in the country after a number of politicians and military commanders in Amhara in the north were killed in a failed coup attempt against the regional power holders. At the same time, dozens of casualties were created in riots created by separatists in the south before the military and federal police intervened and took over responsibility for security there.
Parallel to domestic political and ethnic violence, the peace process with Eritrea seemed to stop. Some border crossings had again been closed and a number of planned cooperation agreements had not yet been concluded. Many observers felt that Eritrean leaders wanted to slow down the pace of reform for fear of losing control over the country, but the internal conflicts in Ethiopia also contributed to hampering peace work.
In August, Parliament passed a new electoral law, which means, among other things, that a national party must have at least 10,000 members to take part in elections and that a regional party must have at least 4,000 members. Government officials must “resign temporarily” from their positions if they are to run for election, but they must regain their positions if they lose.
Despite the many obvious problems, Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize during the fall for being the driving force behind the peace agreement with Eritrea and the reform work in Ethiopia.
Excited for the 2020 elections
In October, more than 80 people were killed in violent protests in Addis Ababa and the neighboring state of Oromia. The criticism was now directed against Abiy, who was accused of increasing authoritarian rule by the former ally, the media entrepreneur Jawar Muhammed. The outbreak of violence revealed a crack within the Oromans’ leadership and within the people’s group.
In November 2019, 98 percent of residents in the Sidama region of southern Ethiopia voted for their own state through an outbreak of the state of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region. Sidama is a majority people in the south and has long wanted to have its own state, with control over taxes, schools, police, care and other community services. Abiy, whose reform policy brought the issue to life, congratulated the sides for a “peaceful and democratic” referendum.
Estimates fear that the coming outbreak of the sides may lead to other ethnic groups also wanting their own state and that the ethnic unrest in the country may thus increase further. Ethiopia today has nine states, Sidama will be the tenth. However, the process of forming a new state is expected to be a lengthy process.
Elections to the regional assemblies and the federal parliament were not scheduled until August 2020. Prime Minister Abiy said the elections are a milestone in the reform process. However, some observers warned against holding elections too early because of the ethnic conflicts. Others felt that Ethiopia should conduct a census before the elections. A census was planned for 2017 but has been postponed due to the unrest.
By 2020, it became clear that tensions between the Abiy government and the TPLF breaker party were very strong. The peace process with Eritrea was halted. No border crossings were open and work on border crossing had stopped. Tensions between Eritrea and the TPLF-controlled northern state of Tigray rose rapidly. Eritrean President Afwerki accused the TPLF of sabotaging the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea in order to try to maintain its political influence.
The elections are postponed
At the end of March 2020, the electoral authority postponed the general elections due to the spread of the new coronavirus sars-cov-2, which caused a pandemic. A new election date should be announced when the threat of the pandemic is over. The preparation of the election had been so disturbed by the limitations that the fight against the corona virus meant that the election process had become impossible to carry out at present, the election authority announced.
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READING TIP – read more about Ethiopia in the UI’s web magazine Foreign
Magazine : Despite newly ignored hope – bleak outlook on the Horn of Africa (2020-06-04) Uncertain future for Ethiopian reform process (2019-10-13) Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed should receive the 2019 peace prize (2019 -10-04)
FACTS – POLITICS
Ityop’ya/Ethiopia Federal Democratic Republic
republic, federal state
Head of State
President Sahle-Work Seventh (2018–)
Head of government
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali (2018–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) 500, EPRDF Allied Parties 46 (2015)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) 499, EPRDF Allied Parties 46, Medrek 1, Independent 1 (2010)
93% in the 2010 parliamentary elections, 93% in the 2015 parliamentary elections
parliamentary elections 2020