Is Ethiopia Opening — Ever So Slightly — to Democracy? By Yohannes Gedamu

"The ethnic federal model hasn’t ended ethnic inequality. Rather, it has created winners and losers," writes Yohannes Gedamu in today's issue of The Washington Post. Yohannes, who is a lecturer in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College, is working on a book titled “Ethnic Federalism and Authoritarian Survival in Ethiopia."

The Washington Post

By Yohannes Y. Gedamu

Ethiopia just pardoned political prisoners. Could that signal a shift to real democracy?

Is Ethiopia opening — ever so slightly — to democracy?

Some observers were cautiously optimistic after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s surprising Jan. 3 announcement that the government would release some political prisoners, including opposition leader Merera Gudina. Starting in mid-January, Gudina and hundreds of Ethiopians detained during a 2016 wave of anti-government protests were released from a federal prison.

That release, however, was partial. The government is still holding thousands of other opposition figures and protesters, along with journalists who have reported critically on the regime.

On Thursday the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corp. reported that 417 people serving sentences for terrorism, inciting violence and similar offenses to be freed.

Here’s what you need to know:

The ruling party installed and promotes ethnic federalism — which has stoked interethnic competition and violence

In 1991, the previous communist dictatorship fell after years of civil war. Since then, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), an ethno-nationalist militia movement, has dominated Ethiopian politics, despite the fact that the Tigrayan ethnic group makes up less than 7 percent of the country’s population. Four parties make up the ruling political coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), but its elites essentially function as members of one political party. As the strongest of the four, the TPLF has controlled party agendas and dominated coalition’s policy, along with the security apparatus of the state.

Under TPLF/ERPDF rule, Ethiopia adopted a constitution that established ethnic federalism, in which regions’ boundaries were drawn according to ethnic and linguistic classifications. Implemented in 1995, the new constitution was ostensibly designed to promote groups’ rights. But the ethnic federal model hasn’t ended ethnic inequality. Rather, it has created winners and losers.

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Related:
UPDATE: Eskinder Nega & Andualem Arage Decline to Sign Prison Release Forms
Ethiopia to Release Eskinder Nega and Andualem Arage
Ethiopia’s Crisis of Ethnic Politics Taking Toll on Poor People
Ethiopia: 2,300 More Prisoners Pardoned
Interview: Merera Gudina Calls for Dialogue (AFP)
Ethiopia: Is This the Start of Reforms or Just a Pause in Repression? (The Economist)
Ethiopia: Media Roundup of Reactions to Announced Release of Political Prisoners

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