Ethiopia’s government is facing the biggest challenge yet to its 25 years in power. This week it has responded by imposing a 6-month long state of emergency following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in which hundreds of people have died.
The protests, which began a year ago, were originally by the Oromo people who make up 34% of the population. The government is dominated by the Tigray despite them only amounting to 6% of the population. The Tigray effectively control the country and dominate the business, military and political circles by aligning with some of the much smaller ethnic groups.
Last November the Oromo were angered by proposals to develop farmland in their region. The government eventually backed down but by that time the protests had morphed into general discontent with having a Tigray elite in charge and there are now calls for political, economic and social reforms.
A few weeks ago the Amhara people, who make up 27% of the country joined the demonstrations. The Amhara tend to live in more urban areas than the Oromo so the protests are now in the cities and have even reached the outskirts of the capital – Addis Ababa.
Last week a demonstration in the Oromia region led to the deaths of at least 55 people after a stampede and crush caused by warning shots and tear gas fired by police.
Ethiopia has accused “foreign enemies” of organizing the unrest hinting that Egypt and Eritrea are involved.
Eritrea fought a war of independence against Ethiopia and relations remain poor. Some leaders of a violent opposition Eritrean group are now in exile in Cairo and Egypt itself has a troubled relationship with Ethiopia due mostly to disagreements over access to the waters of the River Nile. Egypt has denied any involvement in the current wave of unrest.
The danger for the country is that the disturbances could turn into ethnic strife which might then reignite ethnic military rebellions againt central government which have been simmering for decades.
Africa’s oldest independent country.
Founder member of the United Nations.
Africa’s second largest population – 103 million
Ethnic Groups – Oromo 34.4%, Amhara 27%, Somali 6.2%, Tigray 6.1%, + others.
Languages – Oromo 33.8%, Amharic (official national language) 29.3%, Somali 6.2%, Tigrigna 5.9%, + others. Main foreign language taught – English.
Religion – Ethiopian Orthodox 43.5%, Muslim 33.9%, Protestant 18.5%, traditional 2.7%, Catholic 0.7% + others
Agriculture – Cereals, coffee, cotton, sugarcane, khat, livestock.
Industry – Food processing, textiles, leather, chemicals, cement.
Unemployment: 17%. 2012 est.
Population below poverty line – 29.6%
Media – under strict government supervision.