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Ethiopian Politics

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Political tensions date back to the formation of Ethiopia’s unique brand of ethnic federalism. In 1991, politicians divided the country’s population — nearly 50 million people at the time — into nine regional states based, in large measure, on ethnicity.

The government is largely led by ethnic Tigreans. This is in contrast to the Imperial regime, and the Derg which replaced it, which were both dominated by the Amhara. The four constitutive parties of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) are organised along ethnic lines, so the distribution of economic and political resources have taken place through ethnic-based patronage structures. In 2012, following the death of former prime minister Meles Zenawi, parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn as his successor. In national parliamentary elections in 2010, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won 545 of 547 seats to remain in power for a fourth consecutive five-year term.

Competition for power and resources at the federal level has taken place along ethnic lines and much of the violence that shook the country in 2015-16 was tied to disputes between groups within the ruling party. The competing priorities of clientelism and ethnic patronage risks the political system spreading itself too thin in responding to disparate demands without adequately being able to respond fully to any.

Ethiopia has been ruled by a coalition of four parties, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, since 1991 with Meles Zenawi as its leader until his death in August 2012. In May 2015 elections the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 House of People’s Representatives seats to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. Prime Minister Hailemariam was continued in office in the 2015 elections. The prime minister leads the country under Ethiopia's political system.

Ethiopia is a federal republic. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controls the government. The Ethiopian peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front is composed of four regional parties: The TPLF of Tigray, OPDO of Oromia, ANDM of Amhara, SNNDM of the southern Region. There are also non member parties affiliated with the EPRDF in all the regions of the country.

TPLF hard-liners describe Ethiopia as a "pre-capitalist society" with virtually no middle class and only a minimal working class. It is incumbent on the TPLF to exhibit the leadership required to transform Ethiopia into a capitalist society. The limited middle class fuels competition within the economy which can undermine political stability. Therefore, "the revolutionary nationalist elite intellectuals" in the TPLF have the burden of creating an environment among the peasantry to foster the emergence of a "liberal bourgeoisie" and its affiliated political parties ("after a few elections") which will achieve Ethiopia's development objectives and thereby eliminate the need for the TPLF/EPRDF's role altogether.

Following civil unrest, which began in February 1974, the aging Haile Selassie I was deposed on September 12, 1974, by a provisional administrative council of soldiers, known as the Derg ("committee"). The Derg seized power, installing a government that was socialist in name and military in style. It then summarily executed 59 members of the royal family and ministers and generals of the emperor's government; Emperor Haile Selassie I was strangled in the basement of his palace on August 22, 1975.

The Derg's collapse was hastened by droughts, famine, and insurrections, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea. In 1989, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other ethnically based opposition movements to form the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa. Mengistu fled the country for asylum in Zimbabwe.

In July 1991, the EPRDF, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and others established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) comprised of an 87-member Council of Representatives and guided by a national charter that functioned as a transitional constitution. In June 1992, the OLF withdrew from the government; in March 1993, members of the Southern Ethiopia Peoples' Democratic Coalition left the government.

In May 1991, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), led by Isaias Afwerki, assumed control of Eritrea and established a provisional government. This provisional government independently administered Eritrea until April 23-25, 1993, when Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-monitored free and fair referendum. Eritrea, with Ethiopia’s consent, was declared independent on April 27. The United States recognized its independence the next day. In Ethiopia, President Meles Zenawi and members of the TGE pledged to oversee the formation of a multi-party democracy. The election for a 547-member constituent assembly was held in June 1994. The assembly adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in December 1994. The elections for Ethiopia's first popularly chosen national parliament and regional legislatures were held in May and June 1995. Most opposition parties chose to boycott these elections, ensuring a landslide victory for the EPRDF. International and non-governmental observers concluded that opposition parties would have been able to participate had they chosen to do so. The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was installed in August 1995.

In May 1998, Eritrean forces attacked part of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border region, seizing some Ethiopian-controlled territory. The strike spurred a 2-year war between the neighboring states that cost more than 70,000 lives. On June 18, 2000, Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders signed an Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities and on December 12, 2000, a peace agreement known as the Algiers Agreement.

Ethiopia has undergone a rapid political and cultural transformation since reformist Prime Minister Abiy took office in April 2018. Ten out of 20 members of his new cabinet he appointed last week are women, including the country's first female defense minister.

Veteran Ethiopian diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde was elected by lawmakers as the east African nation's first female president on 25 October 2018. She succeeded Mulatu Teshome, who resigned from the largely ceremonial post on Wednesday. She is limited to two six-year terms in office. The 68-year-old Sahle-Work is the United Nations' Special Representative to the African Union. She has previously served Ethiopia as ambassador to France, Senegal and Djibouti, and headed the U.N. office in Nairobi.

Ethiopia has been rocked by regional and political tension. Since he has come into power just over a year ago, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has cracked down on high-ranking military personnel allegedly involved in corruption, torture, and other crimes. Dozens of people have been killed since a 22 June 2019 coup attempt,when a rogue state militia tried to grab power in the regional capital of Bahir Dar. Amhara's president, attorney general, and a top aid were all shot and killed. Later that day, in the capital Addis Ababa, the military chief of staff and a retired general were murdered in what the government has said was a related attack. More than 260 people have been detained after a militia tried to grab power in the Amhara region. Some are questioning whether the prime minister's policies have inflamed ethnic tensions.

Some 67 people were killed in Ethiopia's Oromia state in late October 2019 as protests against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed morphed into ethnic clashes. "The total number dead in Oromia is 67," Kefyalew Tefera, the regional police chief, said 25 October 2019. "There are about 55 of them killed by the conflict between them, between the civilians and the rest are killed by the security forces." Five of the dead were police officers, he added. Authorities and hospital officials had reported that protests in the capital and other cities resulted in 16 deaths and dozens of wounded. It was not immediately clear how many of the 16 were included in the tally of 67 reported in Oromiya. The violence underscored the dilemma facing Abiy, who must retain support in Ethiopia’s ethnically based, federal system but not be seen to favour one group.

But kingmakers like prominent activist and media mogul Jawar Mohammed are flexing their muscles. Like Abiy, Jawar comes from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest. His supporters have stopped believing in Abiy’s promises of reform, he said in an interview with Reuters Friday, accusing Abiy of centralising power, silencing dissent and jailing political prisoners – like his predecessors. Amnesty International said that, since Abiy took office, there had been several waves of mass arrests of people in Oromiya perceived to be opposed to the government. Detainees were not charged or taken to court, Amnesty’s Ethiopia researcher Fisseha Tekle said. “The majority of people believe the transition is off track and we are backsliding towards an authoritarian system,” Jawar said at his heavily guarded home-office in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. “The ruling party and its ideology will be challenged seriously not only in the election but also prior to the elections.”

The defense ministry said 25 October 2019 the army had been deployed to seven cities where there had been protests this week. The forces have been deployed “to calm the situation in collaboration with elders and regional security officers”, Major General Mohammed Tessema told a press conference in Addis Ababa.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:21:21 ZULU