Is Ethiopia Headed Towards a Civil War?


Facing the abyss of interethnic civil war, Ethiopia today is on the brink of state failure. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn shocked the country with his abrupt resignation as head of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition last month, designed to subdue simmering unrest.

While the government scrambles to figure out who will succeed him, this East African country has levied a state of emergency for the next six months, amid a wave of anti-government protests that have rocked it on and off for the past three years. This is the second time in just two years that Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency, which prohibits protests and restricts publications that could be deemed to incite violence.

Ethiopia is the second most populous country in the African continent after Nigeria, and has around 105 million people and more than 80 ethnic groups, the two largest of which are the Oromo and the Amhara. While these two groups make up around two-thirds of all Ethiopians, it is the Tigrayans, who account for a meager 6% of the population, that dictate politics and the security forces. For years Hailemariam Desalegn has grappled with a tide of dissatisfaction from the Oromos and the Amharas, who have felt economically sidelined and politically persecuted by the government.

Earlier this year, in a desperate attempt to relieve the unfolding pressure on the regime and create a sense of “national reconciliation,” the government rushed to free over 6,000 prisoners, mostly incarcerated on political grounds, including the Oromo opposition leader Merera Gudina. In light of mounting upheaval and with political tensions at a knife-edge, it has also shut down a jail accused of torturing its prisoners.


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