Hope and Uncertainty in Ethiopia

Guest post by Solomon Gofie, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Addis Ababa University

The political transformation in Ethiopia since early 2018 captured many by surprise. The recent changes followed a period of sustained protests against mounting state repression that lasted for at least three years (2015-2018). Thousands of political prisoners have been released, individuals, groups and political organizations in exile have been pardoned and returned to the country, and a modicum of freedom of expression and the press appears to be re-emerging. A major regional hostility in the Horn of Africa that lasted for about 20 years involving the Eritrean regime and its Ethiopian counterpart has been resolved unexpectedly, mainly due to bold initiative taken by the new Ethiopian Prime Minster, Abiy Ahmed.

The new EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) group led by the Abiy Ahmed since April 2018 has been actively working to reform the state in Ethiopia. However, attempts to reform have been accompanied by promises as well as profound concerns among the population. For example, the dramatic ease in the archetype political control of the country spearheaded by the former Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated EPRDF before 2018, has since been eroded. But as it has been replaced by a group of EPRDF reformers making dramatic changes in rhetoric and making several reconciliatory moves, new trajectories of tensions have been emerging in different parts of the country. “Ethnic conflicts” reported from remote parts of Ethiopia over the decades appear to have now reached the central plains.

One of the key challenges during this era of reform has since been a wave of internal displacement. This includes about a million people from the Ogaden region of Ethiopia in the East starting late 2017, perhaps half a million from the Guji & Gedeo regions in the South, a quarter of a million from the Benishangul-Gumuz and Wollega in the west, and thousands more from several parts of the country including in the north. In line with these, in August 2018, months after the coming into power of Abiy Ahmed, following tensions between groups supporting two armed political organizations which returned after a peace deal in Asmara, Eritrea, clashed in and around Addis Ababa, the effect of which led to deaths, and displacement of thousands of people most of whom were reported to have returned to their homes.

In December 2018, Abiy appeared in military uniform to announce the formation of a “Republican Guard” meant to protect state officials and their families. This is a sign that Ethiopian politics remains full of both hope and uncertainty.

Solomon Gofie is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. He teaches courses in contemporary global politics & transnationalsim, international relations and international human rights and politics in Africa. His research interests include state-society relations and the politics of human rights, citizenship and political communities in Africa, migration and transnational involvement in Africa, conflict dynamics and conflict resolution.

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