FP on Tragic & Volatile Nature of Ethnic Politics in Ethiopia

In the following article published Friday by Foreign Policy magazine Addisu Lashitew, a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues that Ethiopia "must find a way to avoid repeating the perilous history of previous experiments in ethnic federalism in countries such as Yugoslavia... The root causes of the current political crisis come from a system that awkwardly weds ethnicity to electoral politics." (GETTY IMAGES)

Foreign Policy

BY ADDISU LASHITEW | NOVEMBER 8, 2019

Ethiopia Will Explode if It Doesn’t Move Beyond Ethnic-Based Politics

In Oct. 11, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the long stalemate with neighboring Eritrea. Paradoxically, Abiy enjoys only fragmented and diminishing popular support in his own country. Even in his home region of Oromia, his leadership is seriously contested by the ethnonationalist forces represented by the social media activist Jawar Mohammed.

This became painfully evident on Oct. 23, when the Oromia region was shaken by a deadly wave of violence following a series of Facebook posts from Jawar. The activist, who also heads a TV channel called Oromia Media Network, announced that the police were about to detain him, an allegation that was later denied by the government. Around 70 civilians were killed when his angry supporters took to the streets, setting off an intercommunal conflict that took on an ethnic and religious dimension.

This tragic incident is emblematic of the volatile nature of ethnic politics in Ethiopia, which has started to crack the foundations of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. The EPRDF, which has ruled the country since 1991, is a coalition of four parties that represented the country’s major ethnic groups (Amhara, Oromo, Tigrayan, and southern groups) of which the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front was the most dominant party until recently.

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Related:
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Ethiopia Update: Nobel Prize, Deadly Protests, Calls for Calm & Talk of Election

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