Will Ethiopia’s liberalization lead to democratization?


Rising ethnic tensions threaten to undermine the prospects of democratization in Ethiopia, say Freedom House analysts Jon Temin and Yoseph Badwaza. 

Managing expectations, maintaining stability, and initiating a pluralist order in which the country’s divergent political groups and ethnic communities are meaningfully represented and at peace are key tests that will determine the trajectory of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s bold political experiment. With robust citizen engagement and prudent international support, there is reason to believe that the challenges are surmountable, they write for the NED’s Journal of Democracy:

While Abiy has been a remarkable and surprising leader so far, international support should not focus too much on any one individual. Temptations to lionize him should be resisted, especially given the continent’s history of seeming reformers who reach power and turn into autocrats. …International support for Ethiopia’s democratization needs to be substantial and sustained. Much of that support should focus on developing the capacities of civil society, the media, and the legislature to check executive power. ……For civil society, newly opened political space means fresh opportunities to work on human rights and other issues previously off limits, including by directly lobbying the government, monitoring its excesses, and calling for justice and accountability in cases of past and current abuses. Yet a decade of repression has left civil society short of money, confidence, and talent. 

“Providing technical assistance and diplomatic encouragement to key legislative reforms and electoral preparations will also be critical,” they add. “Comprehensive revamping of the legislative framework and key governance institutions (the judiciary, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), and the security services) can make the rule of law more firmly founded and improve the chances that political competition will be peaceful.”

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