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The Long-Running Headache of Minority Rule in Ethiopia

  • The domination of Ethiopia’s military, key economic assets and ruling coalition by the minority Tigrayan ethnic group will make reconciliation with other protesting ethnic groups difficult.

  • It is unlikely that the next prime minister will be able to quell the protests given the long-standing grievances against the current political system.

  • Deeper reform will occur only when hard-line Tigrayan elites believe that security crackdowns are no longer able to crush dissent.

The unrest in Ethiopia can be boiled down to three numbers: 35, 27 and six. The first two represent the percentage of ethnic Oromo and Amhara, respectively, that make up the country’s 100 million people. But neither of those groups controls the reins of government. The Tigrayans – 6 percent of the population – do, and for decades, the Oromo, the Amhara and others have been protesting and pushing for more power. On Feb. 15, after months of escalating protests in the regions outside the capital of Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned. And a day later, the central government declared another state of emergency, only six months after ending the last one. But Desalegn’s replacement will face the same ethnic divisions, and until the Tigrayans concede some control, turmoil will continue to threaten the stability of this East African giant.

 ethiopia ethnic map

Rule by the 6-Percenters

The Tigrayan ethnic minority has controlled the government in Ethiopia since the fall of the Dergue, the communist committee that brutally ruled the country from 1974 until 1991, when a rebel alliance of Tigrayans and others destroyed it. The Tigrayans now have control over the military, key economic assets and the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which underpins the country’s political system. Over time, other ethnic groups have chafed under this rule; some have pushed for a looser federation, and others have sought greater centralization under their rule.

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The two largest groups, the Oromo and Amhara, have agitated the question of deep reform to the political system for years. They want a greater say in a political process that is largely dominated by the Tigrayans. And they have used sit-ins, protest marches, and limited guerrilla-style attacks on police and businesses that appear linked to the central government. In response, Addis Ababa has cracked down by tightening its grip on social media, by making mass arrests of real or imagined protest leaders, and by taking tepid steps toward reform, including releasing some political prisoners.

But that suppression has had limited success. Though the current protests are nowhere near the intensity of those in 2016, they remain persistent and destabilizing for areas outside the capital. And the continued turmoil and resulting crackdowns have created sharper divisions within the EPRDF coalition. Desalegn was caught in the middle of this elite political struggle. He was largely seen as incapable of navigating among the coalition’s factions, and his resignation soon followed. But a successor could emerge from within the ethnic Oromo camp within the ruling coalition. Some possibilities are Oromia Regional President Lemma Megersa, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu, and Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the head of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, a party within the ruling coalition.

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Despite the turmoil, the gross domestic product of Ethiopia has grown by almost 10 percent a year for almost a decade, making the landlocked country an emerging economic success story in East Africa.

Economic Costs

Despite the turmoil, the gross domestic product of Ethiopia has grown by almost 10 percent a year for almost a decade, making the landlocked country an emerging economic success story in East Africa. But the long-running unrest is tarnishing that growth. The protests in 2016 hurt foreign direct investment, which declined by more than 20 percent after attacks on foreign-owned businesses. This investment drop came amid a crippling and ongoing drought in the east and a decline in tourism. Current data suggest that investment has improved a little and that the drought has eased a bit during 2017-18, but tourism remains down. And Addis Ababa is aware of the economic potential of major projects, such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and work on them will continue.

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 ethiopia snapshot

Holding on to Power

Regardless of who is placed at the top of the government — be it an Oromo figure or a politician from a tiny and powerless minority group — that selection is unlikely to be able to quell the overall protest movement. No matter the ethnic background of the new prime minister, many protesters will see him as a Tigrayan puppet who owes allegiance to the political system. And this will likely prove true, because the Tigrayans will not willingly surrender their hold on the military or other levers of state control. The government’s six-month state of emergency — under which the government has enhanced powers to crack down on dissent — underscores the continued control of hard-line Tigrayan elites. Consequently, the next prime minister will likely have a weak hand when it comes to pushing for deep reforms.

Ethiopia’s inability to manage its ethnic diversity has been the long-running source of its instability. Until the elites of the controlling Tigrayan minority see no other route, political reconciliation with the agitating ethnic groups will remain off the table. And the destabilizing protests outside the capital will continue to be a headache for the government.

Source: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/ethiopia-minority-rule-tigray-oromo-amhara-prime-minister-economy-protest


  1. The claim that Ethiopia is an emerging economic success history in east Africa is simply a hype. The regime has been successful in spreading the hype particularly through its close partners such as the international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. It just does not go with the stark reality in the country. The country is very dependent on foreign aid and loans without which the fascist and brutal Tigrayan regime can not stay in power.The significant part of the money obtained through aid and loan ends up in the pockets of the Tigrayan power holders and their affiliates directly and indirectly. Tigray as a region and the Tigrayans as individuals receive preferential treatments and are privileged. Their late leader Meles Zenawi has hailed them as `the golden ones`. Tigray as a region is poor in terms of natural resources but prioritized in all the development policies of the regime. As the declared main enemies of the Tigrayans, the Amharas have been the main target of the Tigrayan regime`s atrocities of mass killings and displacements. The Amhara and Oromos are effectively excluded and denied a fair share of political and economic powers in the county. The Tigrayans have imposed complete control over the resources and condemned the non-Tigrayans to poverty and destitution. The young in the Amhara and Oromo regions have had more than enough of the injustices the Tigrayan regime perpetuates and are rising up for their rights. The brutal Tigrayan regime is killing and imprisoning them but their struggle will continue unabated to get rid of it. The youth are speaking to the fascist Tigrayan rule clear and loud. Surrender power and head home.

    • You are just evil who wanted to blindfold the entire world and convince them they are lying? you must mentally retarded or insane. Opposing is one things, denying facts on the ground is another thing. You are just jealous. GERD is going to be completely in three months? what will happen to you and Gebremariam? you will hospitalized?

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