The brief political timeline since 1991, that is, since the ruling regime EPRDF came to power, explains why Ethiopia has been in deep political crisis and a wave of anti-government protests.

By Lovise Aalen (The Washington Post) |

In the latest twist in Ethiopia’s current political dramas, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn formally submitted his resignation from his position as the nation’s premier and as chairman of the ruling EPRDF coalition. That’s a dramatic development — and no one knows where it will lead. Hailemariam was elected as a compromise candidate who could balance the interests of various factions within the ruling coalition and maintain the status quo. He appeared to manage this well — until recently.

So how did autocratic Ethiopia, a U.S. ally and Africa’s second most populous country, end up in its current tumult? Here’s what you need to know.

This brief history explains why Ethiopia has been in upheaval since 2015. 

In 1991, years of civil war came to an end and Ethiopia’s previous communist dictatorship toppled. Meles Zenawi stepped in as strongman, backed by his ethnic guerrilla organization, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and ruled for years as part of the multi-ethnic coalition called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). While the coalition included parties who represented three other ethnic groups, the Amhara, Oromo and the Southern nationalities, the minority Tigrayan ethnic group was firmly in control.

EPRDF set up a relatively inclusive system of ethnic federalism to manage the country’s more than 80 different ethnic groups, which I describe in my latest book (co-authored with Ragnhild Muriaas), as an inclusive autocracy. Africa’s inclusive autocrats have strategically used decentralization processes and reforms to strengthen their power. They use decentralization as a means of co-opting elites and crushing political adversaries.

Meles Zenawi and other Tigrayan leaders controlled this system carefully, ensuring that no other groups managed to challenge central power. After attempts of liberalization in the 1990s and early 2000s, controversial national elections in 2005 resulted in the opposition taking one-third of the seats in the national legislative assembly.

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