The press and the political restructuring of Ethiopia

9 mins read

Nicole Stremlau

Divisive debates on what constitutes the Ethiopian nation, how the state should be structured and how power should be devolved, have dominated Ethiopia’s private press since the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), came to power. The press has served as both a mirror reflecting these issues and a space for literate elites to engage in political debates. This article analyses the role of the media, and the press in particular, in Ethiopia’s political debates. It also explores how the tenets of “Revolutionary Democracy” have shaped the media. This has polarized Ethiopia’s media, which has been unable to effectively serve as a forum for the negotiation of political power or for reconciliation between divided sectors of society.

Additional information


I am grateful for the generous and helpful comments from Jon Abbink, David Anderson Iginio Gagliardone and Tobias Hagmann.


1. ShimelisSurvey of the Private Press, 185.

2. For an analysis of the 2005 elections, see Abbink, “Discomfiture or Democracy?”

3. “Ethiopia ‘in Danger’ after Deaths,” BBC News, June 9, 2005,; “Ethiopian Protesters ‘Massacred’,” BBC News, October 19, 2006,

4. Crawford, “Ethiopia: Politics, Poison and the Press.”

5. Lenin, “Report on the Unity Congress.”

6. The opposition media does not generally tackle ideological struggles, and so has been excluded from this study. Online media have become increasingly significant, but they too lie beyond the scope of this study. Some of the most important blogs include:, and All are all primarily run from the Diaspora. Blogspot has been blocked in Ethiopia since the 2005 post-election period. Prior to the 2005 blockage, newspapers such as Menelik would regularly carry commentaries and articles copied from the blogs. Also excluded are religious media and media from insurgencies (such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front, see, and the Oromo Liberation Front, see

7. The first student magazine was published in 1952, but was soon discontinued through lack of interest: BalsvikHaile Selassie’s Students, 71.

8. Balsvik, Haile Selassie’s Students, 74.

9. Balsvik, Haile Selassie’s Students, 74.

10. Balsvik, Haile Selassie’s Students, 178.

11. As quoted in Merera, “Contradictory Interpretations,” 123.

12. Aregawi, “The Origins of the TPLF,” 580.

13. Aside from the TPLF, other prominent groups emerging during Mengistu’s time included the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF).

14. Markakis and Ayele, Class and Revolution in Ethiopia, 103–16, discuss the publications that contributed to the 1974 revolution. Leaflets were popular in Addis Ababa, often targeting soldiers.

15. Aregawi, “The Origins of the TPLF,” 577.

16. Interview, former journalist at Addis Zemen during the Derg.

17. Interview, Aberra Tensai, Mekele, 2008.

18. For example, see the EPRDF’s use of Schoolnet, a programme teaching secondary school students primarily through the use of plasma television screens.

19. Interview, Aberra Tensai, Mekele, 2008.

20. In early 1990s the TPLF radio split into Radio Fana, the Amharic service which began broadcasting from Addis as the EPRDF party radio, and Radio Woyane which remains based in Mekele and is the TPLF’s radio broadcasting in Tigrinya.

21. Interview, Amare Aregawi, Addis Ababa, 2005.

22. Interview, Fetlework Gebre-Esgabier, Axum, 2008.

23. “Empiricism” was later criticized by Meles, when he argued that the failure to rely on “scientific theory” to guide all policies led to the TPLF losing its way in the 1980s: Aregawi, Political History of the TPLF, 220.

24. “Empiricism” was later criticized by Meles, when he argued that the failure to rely on “scientific theory” to guide all policies led to the TPLF losing its way in the 1980s: Aregawi, Political History of the TPLF, 282.

25. “US Criticizes Ethiopia for Jamming VOA Signals,” Voice of America, March 20, 2010,

26. Berhanu and Skjerdal, “Freebies and Brown Envelopes.”

27. Bureau, “Naissance d’une nouvelle presse éthiopienne.”

28. Simon, “Workshop on Press Freedom.”

29. Interview, government journalist, 2005.

30. Editorial, August 13, 2003, Lisane Hizb, p. 2, noting that “the programmes are actually reinforcing people’s hatred towards this media.” A lengthy editorial in Lisane Hizb on July 15, 2005, p. 2, was dedicated precisely to this issue.

31. TurtonEthnic Federalism.

32. Editorial, Lisane Hizb, 14 April 2005, 2.

33. Opennet Initiative, “Ethiopia,” electronic version.

34. Woredanet has a counterpart in Schoolnet.

35. Gagliardone, “The Socialization of ICTs in Ethiopia.”

36. Until 2005 Bereket Simon was the Minister of Information. He is a close confident of the Prime Minister. He is now head of the EPRDF Political Department and continues to wield tremendous influence over the government media structure. He remains Chairman of the Board of the Ethiopian Press Agency.

37. Aalen and Tronvoll, “The End of Democracy?”

38. Bureau, “Naissance d’une nouvelle presse éthiopienne.”

39. Committee to Protect Journalists:; Reporters Without Borders:

40. Source: Ministry of Information.

41. In 2006 the EPRDF did grant two FM radio permits, both to private companies friendly to the government – including Zami Multi Media, led by Mimi Sebatu, formerly of the VOA.

42. Dima Noggo, ‘Keynote Speech’.

43. Interview, Bereket Simon, Addis Ababa, 2005.

44. Interview, Bereket Simon, Addis Ababa, 2005.

45. Interview, journalist that worked for a newspaper critical of EPRDF, 2006.

46. The Commission to Organize the Party of the Workers of Ethiopia (COPWE).

47. Interview with a journalist from T’obbiya, Addis Ababa, 2006.

48. Interview with a journalist from T’obbiya, Addis Ababa, 2006.

49. “Against History,” T’obbiya, September 29, 1993, 2.

50. Editorial, T’obbiya, January 13, 1994, as quoted on January 20, 1994 in Press Digest, 4.

51. “A Serious Threat Faces the Country,” T’obbiya, November 4, 1993, 2.

52. “For Still Greater Determination,” The Ethiopian Herald, February 21, 1991, 2.

53. “A Serious Threat Faces the Country,” T’obbiya, February 21, 1991, 2.

54. “TPLF/EPRDF’s Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating its Rule,” Ethiopian Register, June 1996, 28.

55. Interview, Amare Aregawi, Addis Ababa, 2005.

56. Committee to Protect Journalists “Attacks on the Press in 2008: Ethiopia,”

57. Interview, member of ERCHO, Addis Ababa, 2006.

58. Editorial, Lisane Hizb, February 4, 2005, 2.

59. This meeting is mentioned in the open letter published by the Committee to Protect Journalists: “Another Journalist Faces Antistate Charge,” Committee to Protect Journalists, April 20, 2006,

60. “Opposition Should Accept Election Results,” The Reporter, August 6, 2005, 2.

61. This view was expressed frequently on blogs such as Ethiomedia ( Also see: Last accessed December 12, 2007. A version of this argument was also put forward by CUD leader Birtukan Mideksa in a letter from Kaliti Jail posted on Last accessed 12 December 2007.

62. The consolidation of power around the Prime Minister can also be seen to pre-date the 2005 elections. In 2001 there was a major split in the party during which some high-ranking individuals were purged from government.

63. Editorial, Lisane Hizb, February 25, 2005, 2.

64. Meles Zenawi, African Development, 12.

65. Meles Zenawi, African Development, 14.

66. Young, Peasant Revolution in Ethiopia, 43.

67. Interview, Bereket Simon, Addis Ababa, 2008.

68. Interview, Ahmed Hassen, Addis Ababa, 2008.

69. Interview, government journalist, Addis Ababa, 2005.

70. Interview, Bereket Simon, Addis Ababa, 2008.

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