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Assessment for Afars in Ethiopia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Afars in Ethiopia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 2 March 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Ethiopia Facts
Area:    1,251,282 sq. km.
Capital:    Addis Ababa
Total Population:    55,000,000 (source: Ethiopian Embassy, Washington, D.C., 1994, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

With ideological encouragement from Afars residing in Djibouti and Eritrea, radical actions from the ARDUF, and a still unsettled border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea (although a peace agreement was formally signed between the two in December 2000), the fine line between future political protest and continued Afar rebellion remains tenuous at best. While positive remedial steps have taken place in the political arena, Ethiopia's history and demographics make the Afar a disadvantaged minority at risk, although this has not resulted in explicit government repression against non-militant Afars of late. The precarious heterogeneity of Ethiopian society, with Tigreans, Amhara, Oromo, and Somalis all also vying for political power, should make the condition of the Afars in Ethiopia unresolved for years to come. Recent drought throughout Ethiopia also has exacerbated living conditions for Afars, and the spread of disease such as AIDS as well as ethnic conflict with other minorities in order to secure access to grazing lands are pushing the Afars people to the limits of the physical resistance.

Analytic Summary

The Afar reside primarily in the Bada area (REGIONAL = 1; GROUPCON = 3), which lies both in Ethiopia and the now independent state of Eritrea. The secession of Eritrea in the early 1990s thus was opposed by many Afar as it divided their people between the two states. As one of the smaller minorities in Ethiopia, the Afar are linguistically, culturally, and religiously distinct (LANG, CUSTOM, BELIEF = 1) from the dominant group in contemporary Ethiopian politics, the Tigreans (and its dominant political party, the EPRDF). While frequent droughts have brought comparable demographic stress to many groups in Ethiopia, the Afar have been particularly prone to environmental decline in the northeast of the country (DMFOOD03 and DMENV03 = 3).

As an essentially nomadic and rural peoples, the Afar have not been extremely active in national politics or economic reform, although regional autonomy is a key issue for the Afar. Their substantial under-representation in political office is due to historical neglect, but the Ethiopian government has recently made efforts (circa 2000) to level the playing field for non-EPRDF political parties, by establishing a donor-supported fund for opposition party candidates, providing opposition candidates access to state-owned electronic media, and changing the law to permit civil servants to run for office without first resigning their positions (ECODIS03 = 2 and POLDIS03 = 1). While certain Afar groups attempt to work conventionally within the Ethiopian political system in alliance with the EPRDF (e.g., Afar National Democratic Movement and Afar Peoples Democratic Organization), the militant Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, operating in Eritrea, and the Afar Liberation Front, residing in Ethiopia, have continued their local rebellions in recent years in the pursuit of an independent Afar state (PROT98 = 2/PROT03 = 0; REB03 = 3). The Afar populations were most directly affected by the separation of Eritrea from the Ethiopian state. Many Afars were reluctant to accept an independent Eritrea since it divided their people between two states.


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