Ethiopia: Ethnic Federalism and Its Discontents

Posted in Africa | 07-Sep-09 | Source: International Crisis Group

Nairobi/Brussels, 4 September 2009: Ethiopia's governing coalition must improve democratic practices or risk pre-election violence that could destabilise the region.

Ethiopia: Ethnic Federalism and Its Discontents,* the latest background report from the International Crisis Group, examines the potential for a violent eruption of conflict in Ethiopia ahead of the June 2010 elections amidst rising ethnic tensions and dissent. The international community must stop ignoring and downplaying these problems, and instead encourage more meaningful democratic governance in the country.

The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, transformed the previously centralised state into the Federal Democratic Republic in the 1990s, redefining citizenship, politics and identity on ethnic grounds. The stated intent was to create a more prosperous, just and representative state for all citizens.

"Ethnic federalism has not dampened conflict, but rather increased competition among groups fighting for land, natural resources, administrative boundaries and government budgets", says Fran├žois Grignon, Crisis Group's Africa Program Director. "This concept has powerfully promoted ethnic self-awareness among all groups and failed to accommodate grievances".

As numerous opposition parties gear up to challenge the EPRDF in the June 2010 elections, many fear a violent crackdown by the government, similar to the intimidation, harassment and violence experienced by opposition parties during the 2005 election.

"Continuous polarisation of national politics has sharpened tensions between and within political parties and ethnic groups since the mid-1990s", says Daniela Kroslak, Crisis Group's Deputy Africa Program Director. "Donors must convince Ethiopia to improve current standards of governance and promote democratic reform or risk future waves of violence and new destabilisation in the Horn of Africa".

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