Ethiopia prides itself on having attained political stability and has an enviable rate of economic growth thanks to huge foreign investment and the development of a manufacturing industry. Despite the apparent economic boom, the country faces numerous challenges as it grapples with finding job opportunities for an expanding population – not to mention the growing political dissent from the Oromo people, who feel marginalised by the ruling elites. To achieve long-term stability, Ethiopia is in need of better governance and democratic reforms.
That Ethiopia is now a regional powerhouse is beyond doubt. The country is increasingly flexing its military and diplomatic muscles, whether this be in Somalia where the Ethiopian military is once again tackling Islamic militants or in UN-sponsored peace-keeping missions on the disputed Sudan–South Sudan border. One problem that never seems to get solved, though, is the ongoing border dispute with arch-enemy Eritrea. The two nations fought a bitter war between 1998 and 2000 and have come close to war since. For the moment a wary calm prevails, but everyone knows that the merest spark could reignite a war that neither country can afford.
Ethiopia Under Desalegn
Hailemariam Desalegn has been serving as prime minister since 2012. Desalegn is said to be competent to foster growth in the country and combat poverty, but has the reputation of lacking charisma on international matters (unlike Zenawi, his predecessor). Though his party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is solidly behind him, many observers wonder if he has the political clout to hold together such a diverse country and one that, despite its progress, remains blighted with problems and surrounded by unstable neighbours – not to mention ISIS, which executed 28 Ethiopians in Lybia in April 2015. The border conflict with Eritrea is still ongoing and relations with Somalia remain tense.
Economic Progress & Improved Infrastructure
Ethiopia has been developing at an astonishing rate. In the 10 years leading up to 2016, economic growth has, thanks to a huge investment in agriculture (particularly the flower-export market), been at record highs, sometimes reaching the giddy heights of 12%. Foreign investment has been tumbling into the country and the nation’s infrastructure given a much needed overhaul. This is most notable in the transport system, which has been undergoing a major makeover, with Chinese road construction crews turning what have long been pot-hole-infested tracks into super-smooth highways – not to mention the Addis Ababa–Djibouti City railway line, which was inaugurated in late 2016 and is expected to boost exports. But this has not come without a price: local farmers have complained of being forcibly removed from their land in order to make way for huge foreign-owned farming or industrial projects. And Ethiopia faces a massive challenge in ensuring that the country's improved economy benefits all Ethiopians. High youth unemployment is a major concern. Many young Ethiopians, including university students, are devoid of perspective and seek to emigrate to Europe.
Democratic Deficit & Ethnic Division
Ethiopia is often hailed as a modern development success story. But it's not all that rosy. Sure, the ambitious infrastructure programme that has been implemented since the early 2000s has driven growth, but the government's record on freedom of expression and other rights leaves something to be desired. In December 2015, protests against the government’s project to expand Addis Ababa into surrounding farmland in the Oromia state were violently curbed by security forces. This led to growing resentment from the Oromo – Ethiopia's most populous ethnic group – against the state which, they claimed, is controlled by Tigrayans, who comprise only 6% of the country. Oromo people, who feel increasingly repressed and discriminated against by the ruling elite, voiced their opposition during the Irreecha Festival in Bishoftu (Debre Zeyit) on 2 October 2016. The police reacted by firing tear gas, which triggered a stampede that left at least 55 people dead. The government, which felt under threat, announced a six-month state of emergency and cracked down on opponents to quell civil unrest. There seems to be no space for political dissent and independent criticism. Experts say such simmering tensions could destabilise the country and discourage foreign investors.