Ethiopia’s transition under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is the latest attempt to build a stable political settlement – an agreement over how power will be distributed and wielded – between key actors. In its efforts to do this, Abiy’s government set out to redefine the state, polity and citizenship, and reorganize state-society relations under the new Prosperity Party (PP) and a loosely defined political and economic approach known as Medemer (‘coming together’).
To this end, in its first years Abiy’s government sought to do three things: First, mobilize popular support and legitimize its reforms by strengthening an overarching Ethiopian identity, national unity and social cohesion. Second, improve the inclusion, representation and autonomy of the various national, linguistic and religious groups in political and economic decision making. Third, enhance the legitimacy of the government by democratizing state institutions and processes, liberalizing the political space and respecting human rights and the rule of law.
However, despite some early progress, Abiy’s objectives were hindered by several obstacles – combined with the new government’s own failings and abuses – including polarization in different understandings of Ethiopia’s history and nationhood; elite fragmentation; and intercommunal violence. The outbreak of the devastating Tigray war in 2020, and the insurgencies in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz; increased insecurity in Amhara (currently a major preoccupation); and an ongoing border conflict between the Afar and Somali region, reversed many of the transition’s early gains. The PP is now ideologically divided and unable to articulate a common position on the constitution and federal system.
This report was written for the Ethiopia Peace Research Facility (PRF). The PRF is an independent facility combining timely analysis on peace and conflict from Ethiopian experts with support for conflict sensitive programming in the country. It is managed by the Rift Valley Institute and funded by the UK government.