Analysis: The Ethiopian model is breaking, but it’s not too late to fix it


Photo: The Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopa, Hailemariam Desalegn arrives at the fourth EU-Africa Summit of Heads of States at the European council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 02 April 2014.  EPA/JULIEN WARNAND.
Photo: The Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopa, Hailemariam Desalegn arrives at the fourth EU-Africa Summit of Heads of States at the European council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 02 April 2014. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND.

Dark clouds have long loomed over Ethiopia’s stunning development story. Now, in the face of unprecedented protests, and the government’s typically brutal response, those clouds threaten to turn into a perfect storm – with chilling consequences. By SIMON ALLISON.

As much as Ethiopia deserves praise for its stunning economic growth, which has lifted millions out of poverty, its record on civil and political rights has always been poor. Dissent is simply not an option, and countless journalists, activists and community organisers have found themselves on the wrong side of the state – with brutal, sometimes fatal consequences.

In public, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn says that building a democratic culture takes time, but that Ethiopia is working on it. In private, Ethiopian officials admit to the abuses, but they say that unrestricted political rights would derail the state-building project. They insist that unfettered freedoms are a western luxury; a luxury that a country as large, diverse and historically divided as Ethiopia simply cannot afford.

There is some merit to this argument. It is no coincidence that Africa’s two most successful developmental states, Ethiopia and Rwanda, are both tightly-controlled one party states. Perhaps a firm hand and a coherent long term vision make it easier to implement policy, distribute aid and maintain political stability (although this is not always the answer, as the continent’s many failed dictatorships illustrate).

Proponents of liberal democracy must also acknowledge that the western model offers few examples, in Africa at least, where socio-economic rights have been successfully delivered alongside basic freedoms. “What good is freedom of speech to the hungry man?” the Indian politician Piloo Mody once asked. Western democracies themselves were almost all founded on what would be considered now to be gross human rights abuses, such as the disenfranchisement of women, or the enslavement of different race groups – abuses that dwarf the sins of modern-day Ethiopia.

But here’s the catch: as Ethiopia’s economy slows, and the glaring inequalities of its growth become more apparent, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep a lid on that dissent. While it might have been effective, Ethiopia’s authoritarian model of development is inherently fragile – and those fragilities are being exposed by the recent spate of anti-government protests. The unprecedented scale of these protests means that, for once, the government can’t make the problem disappear, no matter how ruthless its response.

The troubles began in November 2015, when affected communities began to demonstrate against the government’s plan to expand Addis Ababa, the capital, into surrounding farmlands. This tapped into wider discontent among the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but also its most marginalised, and solidarity marches broke out across the region.

The protestors won, eventually – the expansion plans were cancelled – but at an enormous cost. An estimated 400 people were killed, and hundreds more imprisoned. This in turn fuelled more protests, and this year tensions have remained high across Oromia.

More mass demonstrations broke out in early July, but this time from a completely different source. A long-standing regional boundaries dispute in Amhara catalysed local resentment against the government, and huge rallies erupted in the region’s main cities, Gondar and Bahir Dar. Anger was directed at the government but also at the political dominance of another ethnic group, the Tigray, who occupy most senior government positions. Solidarity rallies were held across Amhara, Oromia and even in Addis Ababa.

The government responded the only way that it knows how: with lethal force. Amnesty International estimates that nearly 100 people were killed this weekend as security forces tried to disperse countrywide protests. In Bahir Dar alone, the police shot live rounds into the crowd, claiming 30 lives.

If the last nine months are anything to go by, the deaths will not stem the dissent. If anything, the more people the government kills, the louder and more widespread the protests seem to get.

For Ethiopia, the implications of this are deeply unsettling: the state can no longer stifle opposition by force. The authoritarianism which has underpinned the country’s development isn’t working any more.

Ethiopia’s rulers are now faced with a stark choice. Double down on the despotism, and risk a revolution – thereby undoing much of the country’s economic growth (donors are already under intense pressure to pull out). Or acknowledge that civil and political rights are not just a luxury, but a necessary condition for sustainable, long-term development – and reform the state accordingly.

The Ethiopian model of development may be buckling under the strain of the recent protests, and the government’s brutal response. But the model can, and must, be fixed. Before it’s too late. DM



  1. Here is the idiot’s guide how to fix it:
    If the intention was genuinely to build Ethiopia, The fact on the ground says otherwise, it is the common knowledge they are building a nation at the expense of another nation (i.e.,Ethiopia)

    why the people believes that:

    1) Why all those territorial annexation is important if you are Ethiopian after all?
    2) All the annexation is for the benefit of Tigry, need we say more?

    Here is what the Government of Ethiopia can do:

    1) Show for the people of Ethiopia they are represented in every sector according to their ratio, in Military, Business, in every sector that is.

    2) Eliminate or Reduce the bureaucracy using TECHNOLOGY, promote radical transparency about any business and taxation.
    The BUREAUCRACY is your undoing, because you intentionally turn a blind eye or it is by design, all the important posts have been held by this minority ethnic group(Tigrians).
    As a result of this corruption the Ethiopian government is all but the tail that wag the dog, the nature of this corruption is ethnic centered, it is all geared by hook or crook to benefit only one ethnic group, the end is nigh for this government and the opportunist enablers within it.

    The writing is on the Wall, the gig is up. God bless Ethiopia.

  2. Too late! The bird has flown away.
    !-The PM has no power to deal with TPLF elites who overstep their power.
    2-Blood has been shed with the express orders of TPLF.
    3-TPLF is hell bent on using force to stay in power.
    4-Oromos and Amharas are determined to finish TPLF.

    unleash the hell.

  3. No, this regime can not be fixed.

    I know, UK and USA brought TPLF into power and sustained it. In the beginning they said plainly that Ethiopia is going to be a test case (project).In the first place, you can do such a test with humans.

    The Westerns, continued supporting the terrorist regime in spite of its killing, genocide, torture and more. Actually, Western states are terrorists because they supported such an outrageous gang for 25 years. Yet they don’t remorse.

    We all know how the American embassy reacted to the unequivocal ongoing public uprising in the country. And I said the following to the arrogant diplomat:
    Dear Diplomat,
    I am very much disappointed of your recent comment on the wider public uprising against the traitor (TPLF) governmental junta in Ethiopia. It would be of my stupidity if I try to proof to you that this junta rather traitor regime is your favorite and your own cultivation.
    You (America) and UK deployed TPLF to destroy Ethiopia and Ethiopians just as you yourself demolished the people/nations of Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria. You are not only criminal as state but also chronic liar rather hypocrites. Your public witnessed criminal records against these states/societies proves that all.
    I have no doubt, however, that humanity including that of UK/USA will demand justice within the life span (before natural law finishes them off) of the politicians who perpetrated those bizarre crimes against Eastern nations/societies in the post cold war era.
    I am an ordinary person who alike many others can find, understand and extrapolate your plans, talks /politics and arrogance as well as masked potent intruding in the affairs and future of sovereign nations/states specifically in the East as indicated.
    Sir, your blatantly irresponsible and arrogant comment on the ongoing wider and unequivocal public uprising proofs that you are not only arrogant but also pragmatic enemies of Ethiopians.
    You don’t like it but Ethiopians shall clean their nation from the dirt you brought/sustained (TPLF) in the nation of the liberators.
    You know it more than I do but you are committing sustained crime against descendants of the people who preferred death to slavery. We are at the point when we won’t consider death as obstacle to securing liberty.
    Now, I can some how understand why some people offer themselves to be a lethal object. You are, hence, strongly advised to correct your comment in due time and also to refrain from your other rather lethal courses against Ethiopians and Ethiopia!

  4. I am optimistic that the current fight againest povrrty will continue no matter what, otherwise there is no future for united Ethiopia. The only solution for whatever problems we have should be solved peacefully according to the current Constitution. This is my oppinion,i don’t think the current Ethiopia will stay intact without Federalism. Peace for Ethiopia.

  5. To begin with, is there anything called “Ethiopian model” as the writer suggests? If it exists, what is it? The writer did not provide a definition of the Ethiopian model. In passing, however, he has indicated some elements of the model which is economic development devoid of democracy and human rights. Surely, that’s what we witnessed in the country in the last decade.

    But is development model devoid of democracy and human rights unique to Ethiopia for the writer to come up with expression an “Ethiopian model” as the writer suggests? Isn’t the “Ethiopian model” similar to Asian Tigers model of the 1960s, 70s and 80s at least at its beginning?

    The Asian Tigers model was focused on finance and information technology backed by highly educated population good at their jobs that made it possible for the countries to develop and prosper quickly. At the early years of development, the Asian Tigers had undemocratic and relatively authoritarian political systems; that has changed with development and prosperity.

    At first it looked like Ethiopia tried to copy Asian Tigers model, but doubt surfaced since Ethiopia lacked the requisite human and material basis for a similar development and prosperity to be created and maintained. The Ethiopian political elites abandoned the model not only because the country lacked human and material basis for to replicat it, but also hen it became apparent that dmocracy has become part of Asian Tigers model.

    How about China? Since the 1950, China – the most poplus and the fourth largest country on earth – is a one party country with open disregard for democracy and human rights. Except the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, pacifying the population has worked effectively for China for the last sixty plus years and still appears to work fine. During these years it has become the second biggest economy in the world and its industrious peopulation standard of living improved rapidly. The country is globally important particularly in Africa now.

    It seems the Ethiopian governing elites have found a suitable model in China. No opposition political parties, no democracy and no human rights. Shut up and develop the way we tell you. Did it work? Only partly and until the people did not raise questions which quickly degenerated to uprisings.

    Why China’s succeeded to suppress democracy and human rights for decades and Ethipia might not is a good question to reflect on.

    Ethiopia and China are different countries with different geographic and political history and culture and religion. What worked for China is not necessarily to work for thiopia. Even China has warned countries not to fall in the trap of trying to copy their model because of the said differences. Ethiopian elites did not listen to them.

    Democracy and human rights postponed for the capitalist system the elites promised to put in place, they thought everything is going well. To dominate the capitalist system they promised, the elites braced themselves to amass wealth at the expense of the masses. They dominated the public, production and service sectors. Corruption reached its heights.

    Now the people are not willing to wait until capitalism is born and they live in democracy. Time will tell if the elites make way.

  6. The government should introduce power sharing measures that remove corruption and refocus public interest on peace, prosperity, and good governance.
    The writer has perfectly presented the truth. Ethiopian development model has created a solid economic foundation for such backward country that would not have been possible otherwise.
    It is time for Ethiopian government to share power with non-violent political parties that espous peace and equality of all nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. The ball is in the hands of the Ethiopian government and the countries that support Ethiopia. The USA, Canada, UK,Germany, EU should assist the government in making such transition. Ethiopia should not be left to breakdown into chaos and civil war. Most anti-government political parties are simply a group of power-hungry Devils.
    Corruption should be rooted out and sigle-party system should be changed.
    Ethiopian government structure has become a vehicle of corruption. Ordinary hand working Ethiopians have been daily facing problems of unimaginable hardship due to corruption. The answer is very simple. Government should officially allow new alternative non-violent political parties to form and public openly participate in new elections. Non-violent trusted home-grown new Ethiopian politicians should be sharing public administrating and be given positions in the country justice system. This is the advice to the Single -party development-driven government of Ethiopia.
    The government should introduce power sharing measures that remove corruption and refocus public interest on peace, prosperity, and good governance. In a single-party system, where there is no true accountability to the people of Ethiopia, corruption kills the country and the result would be unimaginable horror and destruction.

  7. Comment: The question of Peace and stability in Ethiopia
    I would like to give special gratitude for the concerned Ethiopians and civic
    organizations who are trying their best to bring peace and justices by paving the way for
    reconciliation .
    The main goal of this article is to insight and make transitional justice happen for
    adoption by a few organizations who are working to secure the abused system of
    peace and justices of our country . These organizations will insist to takeover and teach
    the advocacy role to be played by civic organizations In promoting guiding principles on
    the rule of law in Ethiopia .Now a days the Ethiopian government acts as a government without responsibility, this is because the government is short of fairness , accountability and impractical . There is no tendency of promoting of tolerance , peace and justice which in hence the path for reconciliation .

    The government of Ethiopia must have to show the tendency to narrow the
    prevalence of pluralism or participation accountability , fairness and ensuring
    values of justice ,rule of law and reconciliation . Cultivating peace and justice and
    achieving peace in Ethiopia needs a greater sense of common purpose to shared
    goals at the country’s level . The government needs integrating thinking to address
    the integrating problems of the society or else pay the price sooner or later.
    Ethiopia is in a civil conflict and about to wage a civil war . In order to avert
    the danger, concerned community members must open discussion across the country
    about the vital nature of the problem that can hinder not to reach consensus
    building and collective problem solving . Organizations that are working on peace
    and justice have to start dealing with the government of Ethiopia , the opposition
    groups and find a conducive atmosphere for reconciliation .
    The current situation in Ethiopia and the complexity of the problem has to make
    our citizens find ways to solve the problem . The government of Ethiopia created
    mess followed by loss of life , plunder of resources , reprisal against defenseless
    Oromo , Amhara , Gambella Ogaden etc. people . The wide spread violation of
    human rights can lead the country to disintegrate or create multiple civil war
    monger players . Peace without justice is impossible in our era . Conflicts and
    instability leads to negativity and things never reach conclusion . Every individual
    should try his/her level best to avoid conflict . Let us wish a bright fantasy for the
    next generation to have lovely , prosperous and great Ethiopia .

    – See more at:

  8. Ethiopian rulers never change or listen. Example Haileslassie resisted any different public opinion, derg rejected any public opinion. All disappeared all of a sudden. EPRDF is destined for the same fate.

    Dividing land by race or ethnic is a time bomb that will explode into never seen anarchy that will be worse than Rwanda even. Mark my words, Ethiopia is heading to human disaster. It might not happen right now, but EPRDF continue with the deaf attitude, it will happen sooner or later. If such conflict starts, then no one can stop it. Even the conflict in the tiny South Sudan has been impossible to stop it. Trust me, no factions or g7, will save Ethiopia. If the conflicts starts, Ethiopia will be much worse than Libya, Syria, Iraq. I am telling you that Ethiopia will be washed by blood because stupid people do not want to change their stupid ideology forced on all people.

    In my opinion, if Ethiopia is to be saved, the ethnic Federalism has tobe dismantled. If not, brace yourself for never ever seen blood-shed. The few Tigreans so deaf and will never listen to the 100 million people. They are pushing the country a disaster never seen before.

    The ethnic Federalism has to be changed to Democratic geographical Federalism othrwise Ethiopia is gone forever by self-destruction. Employment must be based on merit, skill, competence, not on ethnic. Some of you say offices has to be occupied by %? You are weird. Because you are weird, this is an apartheid. Employment must be based on skills regardless ethnic member numbers. Someone has to advice Woyanes they are leading the country to human disaster.

  9. Lemlem,

    You’re the worst type doomsday predictor who is amnesic to observe fact around the world regarding ethnicity which is a strong human feeling.

    Scots in the U.K., Québécois in Canada and Catalans in Spain yearn for indepenedence and have their own countries. And yet, Scots, Québécois and Catalans live in mature democracy. Scots and Québécois have even used democracy to hold referendums even if they have not succeeded until now. Catalans will hold one in the future. In short, democracy does not kill ethnicty as you thought, on the contrary it makes it more easier.

    Ethnicity in Ethiopia will not disappear whether democracy is implimented or not. If any ethnic group is determined to separate, democracy might make the divore easier.

    Better think of other solutions.

  10. LEMLEM

    Wake up from you day dream.The futur of ethiopia is ethnic federal.No more going back to centralised power.
    Nations and nationalities will Never allow the dismantle of the ethnic fedral and the acquired rights.
    80 % of ethiopians are support of this system.the probleme is EPRF is not fully implementing the ethnic federal.

    My beloved Ethiopian Brothers and Sisters. First I pray for all Ethiopian people. I pray to GOD to give us strength and rest in peace for over 40 Million innocent Ethiopian people genocide for the last 25 years – present… by TPLF EVIL ENTITY REGIME IN ETHIOPIA!
    The main reason I am sending this important message to more than 6 Millions Ethiopian lives abroad. Since you are not living Ethiopia to fight back TPLF EVIL ENTITY with your brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers in Ethiopian Land.
    Your only way out becoming protesting all over the world urging the western world to stop aid TPLF EVIL ENTITY in Ethiopia without out visible outcome.
    To make Ethiopian struggle in to reality. Each of you start making a difference for Ethiopian freedom fight hers movement right now by taking action to “CRIPPLED TPLF MONEY MAKING INDUSTRIES IN ETHIOPIA!!!
    I am sure out of 6 Millions Ethiopian lives abroad. At least 100,000.. I am sure more traveling Ethiopia specially to celebrate holiday New Years Eve and New Year holiday!
    I am just giving example If one round trip from USA to Ethiopia min cost about $1200
    $1200 x 100,000 people = $120,000,000 Million you generate TPLF $120,000,000 Million a day!!! Etc
    Over 6 million Ethiopian from now on “STOP USING ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES” to fly Ethiopia!
    1. Ethiopian New Years is coming. Most profitable year for Ethiopian Airlines. Completely stop going Ethiopia to celebrate Ethiopian New years or for pleasure. Unless you have personal family emergency. Even for that stop using Ethiopian airlines! How the hell you celebrate Ethiopian new years when TPLF murdering your brothers and sisters in Ethiopia??????

    2. Reduce at least by 75% sending money for poor family in Ethiopia. Let them learn how to survive like the majority millions Ethiopians who does not have brothers and sisters abroad. Until we get rid of this EVIL ENTITY and crippled TPLF BANDA Economy!

    3. Contribute a fraction of money you used to spend for Ethiopian Airlines to monopolize TPLF Economy for Ethiopian Freedom Fighters!

    4. Stop any type of investment in Ethiopia just STOP!

    5. Help Ethiopian freedom fighters monthly basis as much as you can. To make sure our freedom fighters have a decent meal while they are fighting and dying for our freedom to liberate Ethiopian people from TPLF EVIL ENTITY!

  12. We are proud of on our constitution!!! Unity with equality!!! On the previous time, Amharas,Tigrians and Guragies were oppressors!!! Now all region has his own administration. The Haliemariam Desalegn administration is a better one than any time.

  13. Guys!!! The Ethiopian Government must do :
    1.Shabia must go by force!!!! It is dangerous for the regions.(East Africa)
    2.Make demarcation of borders for all neigbours and domestic regions
    3.Allow the FEDERAL Police to monitor the whole country.Acc0rding to the constitution.
    4.ALLOW to govern the majority ethnic democratically.
    5.Settle the citizens who lost their ethnic.
    6.Modernize the forces in a better way.
    7.Exercise the mechanism of democracy and installment of economy’

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