Ethiopia’s domestic politics have produced violence and continuing tension over the past two years. The deep shortcomings in the country’s democratization and state-building processes may remain unresolved as the worsening instability of the region takes precedence.

Summary

  • The pardon and release of thirty-eight political detainees, mostly from the leadership of the main opposition party, may give impetus to political negotiations in Ethiopia after more than two years’ crisis and stalemate.
  • Contentious and previously unresolved national issues, such as land and economic development; the institutional and constitutional structure of the Ethiopian state; and the best way to ensure equality of ethnic and religious communities, were brought to the fore during the past election cycle. However, after the election, much- needed national dialogue on these matters ended. It must be reinvigorated now that the political opposition’s leaders have been freed.
  • Citizen discontent has grown with the caretaker administration in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa and repressive local administrations. Elections for city and local government must be held. Further delays will undermine any democratic progress.
  • The current Parliament includes members of several opposition political parties, though not the leaders who were imprisoned. Both the ruling party and the main opposition parties should make as many visible and meaningful concessions as possible to their political opponents.
  • Ethiopia’s military intervention in Somalia in December 2006, its ongoing military presence in that conflict, and its unchanged, tense border stalemate with Eritrea have contributed to growing violence in the Horn of Africa and stymied domestic democratization.

About the Report

Ethiopia’s domestic politics have produced violence and continuing tension over the past two years. The deep shortcomings in the country’s democratization and state-building processes may remain unresolved as the worsening instability of the region takes precedence. This report was commissioned as part of the Political Transitions in Africa project managed by Dorina Bekoe at the United States Institute of Peace.

Lahra Smith is an assistant professor at Georgetown University, where she teaches courses on African politics, civil society and democracy in Africa, and peace and conflict in East Africa. Professor Smith’s research focuses on citizenship in contemporary African states, ethnic identity, and political conflict. She has worked in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Related Publications

Five Steps to Sustain a Cease-Fire in Northern Ethiopia

Five Steps to Sustain a Cease-Fire in Northern Ethiopia

Friday, July 2, 2021

By: Aly Verjee

After months of war and amid an intensifying humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, the Ethiopian government unilaterally declared a “humanitarian cease-fire” on June 28. If Ethiopia wants this truce to end the war it needs to persuade Tigrayan forces, which have so far vowed to keep fighting, to agree to a deal. As a prelude to wider negotiations, the odds of ending the conflict would improve if confidence building measures are urgently undertaken and five key areas of a truce expanded. U.S. and international partners can promote these steps while recognizing that Ethiopians must own any cease-fire process.

Peace Processes

Why Ethiopia’s 2021 Elections Matter

Why Ethiopia’s 2021 Elections Matter

Thursday, June 17, 2021

By: Aly Verjee; Terrence Lyons

Facing numerous technical difficulties, the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) delayed parliamentary elections from June 5 to June 21, postponing the vote for the second time. Some major opposition parties are boycotting, and no voting will take place in civil war hit Tigray or in several other areas facing insecurity. Elsewhere, deficiencies in election administration have meant voting has already been postponed in many constituencies, and some of the logistical arrangements to underpin the vote are still to be implemented. Although there are risks of electoral violence, any incidents are unlikely to be especially significant in a context of high levels of ongoing political violence.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Electoral Violence

Ethiopia: Contemplating Elections and the Prospects for Peaceful Reform

Ethiopia: Contemplating Elections and the Prospects for Peaceful Reform

Thursday, April 29, 2021

By: Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw; Terrence Lyons; Aly Verjee

Ethiopia is approaching parliamentary elections on June 5. This will be the first vote since the process of reform launched in 2018 by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the stakes are extremely high. Elections to the next national parliament, the House of People's Representatives, may determine future decisions about the structure of the country and consolidate the ruling party’s power. While the short-term outlook for the vote is unlikely to change, the election may offer opportunities to support political dialogue which could sustain important reforms and decrease polarization.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Electoral Violence

View All Publications