Ethiopia is a unique country as it is has emerged from one of the oldest civilizations of the world, it is the only African country not to be colonized, has a long and rich tradition with over 80 different ethnic groups and languages. Strategic due to its history, location and political standing in the world, the unfolding events in Ethiopia are of both regional and global interest. Like many countries in Africa, Ethiopia has grown from an unstable monarchy/dictatorship to a modern democracy in a matter of decades. It has become one of the fastest growing economies not only in Africa but in the world. While all of this makes Ethiopia sound like it is progressing incredibly, Ethiopia is actually slowly deteriorating on the inside. To understand the complicated politics of Ethiopia, we must first understand its history.
In the 1960s, Ethiopia was in the hands of a ruthless emperor, Haile Selassie who claimed to be a successor of the Solomonic dynasty. During his rule, he suppressed various rebellions and dissents across the country, even going as far as ethnically cleansing a minority, the Harari people. He was also famous for starving his people as well as torturing those who were against him. After his death, the Derg or a military coup headed by Haile Mariam established a one-party communist state. Haile Mariam is widely known for his ruthless killings, the wide-scale drought that devastated the country as well as various uprisings in which he executed war crimes. He was taken out by EPDRF or the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic front which was made up of four political parties namely the Amhara people, the Oromos, the Tigray people, and the Southern nations and nationalities. The EPDRF who took power only as a transitional government has been in power since. While regular elections take place, the same party in power has consecutively won, fueling dissents across the country. In 2016, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency which included the use of the military to limit free speech, preventing the use of the internet as well as access to information. This was issued in response to the various oppositions across the country.
According to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, the first method used by rulers to undermine democracy is to capture the referees. The Ethiopian government has done so by controlling the wealthiest men in the country. The government helps them make more money, eases their transactions if they give continuous support. In addition, a majority of the country’s entities are controlled by the government. An example of this is the limited access the internet which is through the government-owned provider, Ethio Telecom, which has unilateral control over the telecom industry. The government also arrests and tries to silence those who speak out against them. This has been reported to human rights groups and after thousands were arrested following an opposition, the government was forced to let the prisoners go. The assault does not stop there. They also follow the second method which is to sideline other players. The government does this by keeping power in the hands of a few or specifically the Tigray ethnic group. Although the country has more than 80 different ethnic groups, the Ethiopian government has retained power in the same circle for more than twenty years. Anyone who speaks out against the system is either directly sidelined or repressed under a veneer of legality. The third and last method is also employed; rewriting the rules of the game. The Ethiopian government has done so by expanding and infringing into the territories of the Oromia region. Although the government claims it is doing it for the good of the people, the main agenda is to take away more power from the people and weaken whoever resists them.
The question of whether Ethiopia is a democracy or not can be answered differently by everyone. The global erosion of democracy has increased in the past years but if people are unable to control their governments if other countries stay quiet when they are supposed to be the most influential, what aspect of it do we know is a democracy?