Ethiopia’s Forthcoming Elections Could be Violent and Divisive: FP Magazine

By Staff Reporter

Foreign-Policy-Magazine-EthiopiaDecember 28, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- Ethiopia’s national elections scheduled for May 2020 could be violent and divisive, as candidates outbid one another in ethnic appeals for votes, says Foreign Policy Magazine on its website, foreignpolicy.com.

The website in its analysis entitled “10 Conflicts to Watch in 2020” said, since assuming office in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has taken bold steps to open up the country’s politics. He has ended a decades-long standoff with neighboring Eritrea, freed political prisoners, welcomed rebels back from exile, and appointed reformers to key institutions. He has won accolades at home and abroad—including the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

“But enormous challenges loom. Mass protests between 2015 and 2018 that brought Abiy Ahmed to power were motivated primarily by political and socio-economic grievances. But they had ethnic undertones too, particularly in Ethiopia’s most populous regions, Amhara and Oromia, whose leaders hoped to reduce the long-dominant Tigray minority influence. Abiy’s liberalization and efforts to dismantle the existing order have given new energy to ethnonationalism while weakening the central state,” the analysis stated.

The analysis further said ethnic strife across the country has surged, killing hundreds, displacing millions, and fueling hostility among leaders of its most powerful regions. Elections scheduled for May 2020 could be violent and divisive, as candidates outbid one another in ethnic appeals for votes.

Adding to tensions is a fraught debate over the country’s ethnic federalist system, which devolves authority to regions defined along ethnolinguistic lines. The system’s supporters believe it protects group rights in a diverse country formed through conquest and assimilation. Detractors argue that an ethnically-based system harms national unity. It is past time, they say, to move beyond the ethnic politics that has long defined and divided the nation.

Abiy Ahmed has generally sought a middle ground. But some recent reforms, including his merger and expansion of the ruling coalition, the Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), move him more firmly into the reformers’ camp. Over the coming year, he’ll have to build bridges among Ethiopian regions, even as he competes against ethnonationalists at the ballot box. He’ll have to manage the clamor for change while placating an old guard that stands to lose.

Ethiopia’s transition remains a source of hope and deserves all the support it can get, but also risks violent unraveling. In a worst-case scenario, some warn the country could fracture as Yugoslavia did in the 1990s, with disastrous consequences for an already troubled region, it noted. 

Ethiopia’s international partners need to do what they can—including pressing all the country’s leaders to cut incendiary rhetoric, counseling the prime minister to proceed cautiously on his reform agenda, and offering multiyear financial aid—to help Abiy avert such an outcome, it added.

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