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.

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