Managing Ethiopia’s current political crisis requires going beyond democratic reform and instead thinking about the political economy and institutions that shape elite competition along ethnic lines.
By Goitom Gebreluel & Biniam Bedasso (Al Jazeera) | *Nemera Mamo is a co-author of this article. He is a teaching fellow at SOAS, University of London.
Ethiopia has been experiencing recurrent mass protests, riots and ethnic conflicts over the past two years that have claimed the lives of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands.
State collapse is so far an extreme and unlikely scenario given that the conflicting parties are internal actors in the system and have a vested interest in its survival. A more likely but still dangerous scenario is a long-term vicious cycle of political conflict and economic stagnation that cripples state and society.
Much of Ethiopia’s appeal to global investors lies in the high-level political commitment to economic growth. Political instability risks eroding the hard-won economic gains it has registered over the past decade.
Analysts and the international community have often attributed the current crisis either to Ethiopia’s ethnonational federal system or the near total curtailment of political space since the disputed parliamentary elections in 2005.
While political liberalism is a moral imperative on its own accord – and long overdue – it is, nevertheless, an insufficient solution to the political quagmire that the Ethiopian state finds itself in. The ethnonational federation is also not the primary source of the problem, and its abolishment is neither desirable nor a realistic proposition.
The government’s response to the problem has also been inadequate. It has primarily attributed this to corruption and a stalled democratic process. Based on this diagnosis it has taken important yet inadequate measures such as releasing political prisoners, initiating dialogue with opposition groups and demoted officials.
Managing Ethiopia’s current political crisis requires going beyond democratic reform and instead thinking about the political economy and institutions that shape elite competition along ethnic lines. The two most important reform measures that should be embarked upon immediately in this regard are devolving more power to the regional states in accordance with the Constitution and de-ethnicising elite competition at the federal level.
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