Ethiopia: An Analysis of the Political, Economic, Social and Security Situation

Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa and is one of the most populous countries on the continent with over 112 million people. It has a long and complex history, with the Ethiopian empire emerging in the 1st century CE and Christianity becoming the state religion in the 4th century. For much of its history, Ethiopia was able to maintain its independence and repel foreign invasions like those of the Ottoman empire and Italy. However, the late 19th and 20th centuries brought significant challenges, including the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, the 1974 revolution that ended imperial rule, civil wars, famines, and the rise and fall of the Derg communist regime.

Since the overthrow of the Derg in 1991, Ethiopia has transitioned to a federal republic with ethnically based regional states. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) ruled the country for nearly 30 years until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018. Abiy initiated political reforms and negotiated peace with neighboring Eritrea, for which he won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. However, ethnic tensions increased during Abiy’s tenure, resulting in violent conflicts and human rights violations. In late 2020, conflict broke out between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), escalating into civil war.

This article provides an in-depth analysis of Ethiopia’s current political, economic, social, and security situation. Key aspects examined include the ongoing civil war and political fragmentation, economic development and challenges, demographic shifts, as well as human rights and security issues. An evaluation of both progress made and continuing instability and conflicts is provided to understand Ethiopia’s complex trajectory.

Political Situation

The political situation in Ethiopia remains tense and unstable since the outbreak of civil war in November 2020 between the federal government and the regional leadership in Tigray. The ruling Prosperity Party led by Prime Minister Abiy has struggled to contain the TPLF insurgency or bring the conflict to a negotiated settlement. Thousands have been killed and over 5 million displaced by the fighting which has also expanded beyond Tigray and drawn in other ethnic militias.

The war has hardened ethnic identities and fractured the Ethiopian state further along ethnic lines. Political parties have mobilized support based on ethnic affiliation rather than national platforms. Elections were still held in 2021 which resulted in a landslide victory for Abiy’s party, but opposition groups contested the results. There are concerns over the closing political space and heavy-handed tactics used by the federal government against media, activists and ethnic groups seen as opposed to central authority.

The TPLF provided the dominant force in the EPRDF coalition that ruled Ethiopia for nearly 30 years until anti-government protests led to leadership change in 2018. But the TPLF felt marginalized by Abiy’s reforms which weakened the ethnic federalism model it had instituted. Tensions escalated over the TPLF’s regional autonomy and these unresolved issues are at the root of the current civil war. Abiy’s initial popularity has declined significantly as he has failed to stabilize the country, while the TPLF have enhanced their military capability during the conflict. The fighting shows no signs of abating as both sides refuse negotiations.

This fragmentation along ethnic lines presents a major challenge for national unity and democracy. Free and fair elections are not possible in the context of civil war and political intimidation. The state-building project in Ethiopia is under severe strain. International pressure for peace talks has not proven effective so far. Resolving the discord around ethnic federalism and political power-sharing remains crucial for Ethiopia’s future as a cohesive democratic state.

Economic Situation

Ethiopia has registered rapid economic growth over the past decade, averaging 10% GDP growth per year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a decline to just 2% growth in 2020. The IMF projects a recovery to 3.8% GDP growth in 2021 and 2022. Yet the ongoing civil war poses major risks to economic performance and national development.

The main drivers of Ethiopia’s economic growth have been public infrastructure investment and the expansion of the services and agriculture sectors. Government spending on roads, rail, power plants and an extensive dam building program boosted construction and manufacturing industries. Increased agricultural productivity and rising commodity exports brought in foreign currency. The government also adopted investor-friendly policies to attract foreign investment in manufacturing like textiles and clothes.

However, structural economic challenges remain including inadequate infrastructure, limited manufacturing and industrial capacity, foreign exchange shortages and poor export diversification beyond agriculture. The majority of Ethiopians still live in poverty with 88% subsistence farming. High youth unemployment fuels social tensions. Debt levels have risen considerably to finance the government’s development agenda.

The costs of the civil war including military spending, loss of tax revenue from Tigray and damage to infrastructure will severely constrain the economy. Foreign investment is also likely to decline due to the conflict and uncertainty. Funding reconstruction and providing humanitarian relief to displaced populations will further stretch limited state resources.

To return to rapid and sustainable growth, establishing peace and stability should be the priority. This would allow public investment to focus on reducing infrastructure gaps, expanding manufacturing for job creation, as well as improve agricultural productivity and build resilience to droughts. A more conciliatory and unified political environment is vital for economic revival.

Social Conditions

Ethiopia’s population rose to 112 million in 2018 with continuing rapid growth projected in the decades ahead. It is a multi-ethnic country with the two largest groups being the Oromo and Amhara people. But there are over 80 recognized ethnic groups with their own languages and cultures across the country.

The population remains predominantly rural at 80% though urbanization is increasing steadily. Ethiopia is also a very youthful country with over 65% of the population under age 25. High fertility rates are a driver of population growth but result in surplus labor in agriculture. Providing education and employment opportunities for the growing number of young people is a major priority. But youth unemployment is estimated at over 20% which creates socio-economic pressures.

Poverty remains entrenched with one of the lowest per capita GDP levels globally. Despite progress, over 25% of Ethiopians lived in poverty in 2016 with deeper deprivation rates in rural areas. Access to basic services like clean water, sanitation, electricity and healthcare is still very limited for much of the population. The civil war has led to a dire humanitarian crisis with reports of widespread sexual violence, ethnic based detentions and millions facing hunger.

Demographic pressures, unequal development and ethnic tensions create risks of social unrest as witnessed in the recent civil disturbances. Managing a youth bulge and meeting rising aspirations will be key challenges. Ethiopia also hosts one of the largest refugee populations in Africa which strains local resources.

The government’s Homegrown Economic Reform Agenda seeks to accelerate development and job creation. But ethnic and regional inequalities must also be addressed to achieve an inclusive and equitable society. Poverty reduction, infrastructure expansion, quality education and skills training, gender empowerment and cooperative federalism based on a shared national identity should drive social policy.

Security Situation

Ethiopia faces a dire security crisis stemming from both the civil war in Tigray as well as ethnic conflicts which have intensified in recent years leading to localized violence and displacement. The government has also frequently employed security forces to crack down on political dissent and protests especially by groups like the Oromo which have historically faced discrimination.

The armed confrontation between federal forces and the TPLF which began in late 2020 quickly expanded from an internal conflict into one drawing in Eritrea. The TPLF has mobilized local militias while also facing drone strikes from the government side. The spread of fighting into neighboring regions Afar and Amhara has further destabilized the country. Over 9 million people across northern Ethiopia are in need of emergency aid due to the conflict.

This war is layered on top of localized ethnic clashes which have increased as political space opened up during the democratic transition. Competition over political representation and resources at the regional level has turned violent in cases. Inter-communal violence led to over 2 million internally displaced people in 2018 prior to the Tigray conflict.

In this environment, serious human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, sexual assault, and restrictions on speech and assembly have been widely reported. Opposition activists and journalists have faced arrests, intimidation and harassment. The space for civil society and human rights defenders has diminished despite the early optimism of the country’s transition period.

Establishing rule of law, an ethnically inclusive national political platform, reconciliation of opposition groups into the democratic process, and professional non-politicized security forces are necessary to improve the security situation. Police and military reform, transitional justice, and negotiated settlements of grievances are also needed to strengthen peace and respect for human rights across all regions.

Conclusion

Ethiopia has undergone major political and social changes since the EPRDF assumed power in 1991. Progress has been made in economic growth and provision of public services leading to improvements in health, education and living standards for many Ethiopians. However, the emergence of ethnic nationalism, youth dissatisfaction and unresolved grievances around regional autonomy have fractured the achievements of the past decades.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accelerated both democratic reforms and underlying tensions during his tenure. The resulting civil war and breakdown of ethnic federalism threatens national cohesion and regional stability. To emerge from the current crises, Ethiopia needs an inclusive political settlement that addresses autonomy demands through constitutional means, an expanded role for civil society, consensus on shared national identity above ethnic ties, and transitional justice mechanisms for human rights abuses.

Sustaining economic development and improving security also rest upon greater national reconciliation and political consensus. Ethiopia has a young, dynamic population that can drive future prosperity if basic education, public health and economic opportunities are accessible to all. This requires high, broad-based growth as well as equitable distribution of resources. A diversity of views must be reflected in governance without marginalizing minority groups.

Ethiopia’s partners can support internal peace efforts through diplomacy and mediation. But ultimately Ethiopians must come together across ethnic lines to address grievances and emphasize common national objectives in order to move the country forward. With visionary leadership and an engaged population, the promise of a stable, democratic and inclusively developing Ethiopia is still within reach.

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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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