Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Ethiopia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date June 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Ethiopia, June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce295.html [accessed 27 May 2016]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
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.

Last updated: June 2008


Environment


Ethiopia is located in the north-eastern extension of Africa known as the Horn. It is bordered by Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan. Ethiopia features geographic diversity: from highland plateaus and mountains, to the Great Rift Valley and arid lowland steppes. The area's susceptibility to drought and soil erosion has been worsened by widespread deforestation over the past century.


History


The earliest humans evolved in parts of what is today Ethiopia. Ethiopians are proud of their history of empire - in the ninth century BC, the Kingdom of Axum (centred in present-day northern Ethiopia) dominated the region stretching into Yemen and Somalia - and of resistance to domination by others. Ethiopia was never colonized. In 1896, it defeated Italy in war, six years after the Italians had established a colony in neighbouring Eritrea. In 1936, the Italians tried again, capturing Addis Ababa and ruled Ethiopia as part of Italian East Africa, together with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. But their rule was short-lived, and in 1941 Ethiopian resistance fighters joined British and Commonwealth forces to restore Emperor Haile Selassie to the throne.

Britain recognized Ethiopia's full sovereignty in 1944, and in the following year Eritrea became a protectorate of the United Nations. In 1950 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Eritrean autonomy and legislative, executive and judicial authority over its own domestic affairs with all other matters falling under federal, Ethiopian jurisdiction. In September 1952, after a two-year interim period, Eritrea became a semi-autonomous self-governing territory in confederation with Ethiopia. The Haile Selassie regime gradually encroached on Eritrean rule, however, and in 1962 rendered it an Ethiopian province like any other.

From his restoration in 1941 until his fall in 1974, Haile Selassie strove to undermine the identities of non-Amhara nations and nationalities in the name of Ethiopian unity, continuing the subjugation of the south established by his predecessors' imperial conquest. Amharic and Amhara culture became the essential attributes of being Ethiopian. As a result, peoples of the south in particular suffered comprehensive domination - economically, politically and culturally. From 1969, the Ethiopian government also faced a strong armed separatist movement in Eritrea. For much of the population, a sense of Ethiopian identity may never have been stronger, but Selassie's methods were sowing the seeds for ethnic discord.

While Haile Selassie and his court lived lavishly, his autocratic rule brought only economic ruin to Ethiopia. In the drought of 1973 and 1974, the out-of-touch emperor sat idly while some 250,000 Ethiopians perished in the northern province of Wallo. Many of the victims were Wolloyea Amharas, Tigrayans, Afars and Oromo. During these Cold War years, Haile Selassie enjoyed the strong support of the United States and its western allies. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, domestic opposition to Selassie took the form of pro-Soviet Marxism-Leninism.

The Dergue

Students and the military revolted in 1974; a military junta - the Dergue - came to power, led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. Mengistu consolidated his control to become Ethiopian head of state in 1977. He launched a brutal offensive - known as the 'Red Terror' - against government opponents, including rival Marxists, as well as a catastrophic programme of forced collectivization and resettlement.

The military dictatorship sought to maintain the imperial state and to modernize and secularize the country by first breaking down the social and economic power of the Church and landed aristocracy. But the breakdown of authority and erosion of the social institutions on which it had rested encouraged the proliferation of regional nationalism directed against the central government in Addis Ababa. The Dergue sought to purge all members suspected of harbouring ethnic loyalties, mainly Eritreans. It recognized the right of all nationalities to a form of self-determination, defined not as a right to secession but as regional autonomy. A Somali invasion in 1977 put a quick end to even this concession.

After the Ogaden War against the Somalis in 1978, Mengistu exploited clan differences between the two largest dissident pastoral communities, Somalis and Afars. A third, smaller group, the Boran in Sidamo, were driven into the arms of the Dergue by opposition to Somali expansion. The largest ethnic group, the Oromo, also failed to create an effective national movement despite a history of ethnically based rebellion and the existence of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Other local peoples of the south, such as Gurage and Sidama, also wanted to create separate states, but the complicated patterns of residence would make the drawing of boundaries an insoluble problem.

Mengistu's fall

Like Haile Selassie before him, Mengistu proved uninterested in acting to mitigate drought-induced famine. In 1984-5, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians perished as the government instead focused energy and resources on the military campaign against the growing Tigrayan and Eritrean separatist movements. In 1989 a shift occurred in the power balance due to the Eritrean People's Liberation Front's (EPLF) defeat of the Dergue army at Afabet, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front's (TPLF) capture of Mekelle, the low morale of a largely conscript and increasingly teenage Ethiopian army, and an abortive military coup. These factors coincided with the end of the Cold War and, in 1991, the end of Soviet arms shipments to the Mengistu regime. In May 1991 the EPLF took control of Eritrea and, one day after Asmara's fall, the TPLF entered Addis Ababa with the assistance of Eritrean tanks and soldiers. Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe.

TPLF in power

Meles Zenawi, the TPLF leader, set about organizing the state as an ethnic federation. This was done by ensuring that parties dominated by the TPLF and their allies controlled the political life of each nationality. These co-opted representatives of other ethnicities were organized under a single-party umbrella: the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This proved a particularly difficult undertaking as Tigrayans comprise only around 6 per cent of the Ethiopian population.

After 1991, EPRDF government forces took control in all rural areas, with few exceptions, putting EPRDF parties in positions of administrative power. Initially offering cooperation with the other liberation movements, the issues of nationality and landownership remained contested and gradually groups other than the TPLF were eased out of the transitional government. There was considerable opposition to EPRDF policies. The government countered with administrative techniques as a weapon of regulation and discipline. In the 1992 elections the EPRDF controlled the electoral commission and allegedly prevented the registration of opposition candidates. That same year, the EPRDF used military force to subdue an uprising by the secessionist OLF, which had been shut out of the political process.

Afar, Oromo, Sidama and Somalis supported secessionism, while the All Amhara People's Organization and other groups opposed the break-up of the nation state. Many Ethiopians disliked the idea of splitting the country along ethnic lines, and yearned for the kind of unity that had been established under the Amharic emperors Menelik and Selassie. Eritrea's move towards independence in 1993 (see entry on Eritrea), increased the burden on Meles and his government to square demands for greater ethnic and regional autonomy with the resentment that Eritrea's departure caused those favouring unity. The EPRDF was poorly equipped to handle this challenge, both due to its base in the small ethnic Tigrayan community and its rigidity in governing style. Meles had abandoned Marxist-Leninist ideology, but maintained the authoritarianism with which he had espoused it.

Eritrean-Ethiopian border war

Meles quickly fell out with erstwhile EPLF ally and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki. Clashing personalities sharpened disputes over Ethiopian access to Eritrean ports, the price of Eritrean refined oil to the Ethiopian market, and Ethiopia's refusal to conduct trade in Eritrea's new currency. Facing resentment over Tigrayan dominance in Ethiopia, Meles took a hard line against Eritrea, rallying Amhara and other peoples within Ethiopia who were bitter over its loss.

Border tensions developed in late 1997, and in May 1998, Eritrean and Ethiopian border patrols clashed in the desert, at the disputed town of Badme. To the surprise of many in the international community, the conflict rapidly escalated into mutual bombing campaigns and trench warfare. Ethiopia expelled 77,000 Eritreans from its territory, and the fighting displaced hundreds of thousands more at various points during the conflict. By the time Ethiopian forces broke through the Eritrean lines and the conflict ended in 2000 with the Algiers Agreement, some 100,000 Ethiopians and Eritreans had been killed. The agreement led to the deployment of UN peacekeepers and the establishment of a border demarcation commission. The commission ruled in 2003 that Badme lies in Eritrea, but Ethiopia has refused to accept that ruling. As the stand-off has continued, Meles and his Eritrean counterpart, Isaias, remain ensconced in power despite, or perhaps because of their desert border dispute that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

The war devastated the economies of both countries, primarily by cutting off cross-border trade and by diverting resources to massive military purchases. It also provided Meles with ample pretext for domestic human rights violations and delays in the implementation of democratic government.


Peoples


Main languages: Amharic (official), Tigrinya, Oromo, Afar, Sidama, Somali

Main religions: Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Islam, indigenous beliefs

Minority groups include Oromo 24.5 million, Amhara 23 million, Somalis 4.6 million, Tigrayan 4.6 million, Berta 4.6 million, Gurage 3.1 million, Sidama 2.3 million, Wolaita 1.5 million, Afar 1.5 million, Hadiva 1.5 million, Gamo 765,000, Gedeo 690,000 Anuak 46,000, Hamer and Banna 43,000 Burji 36,000 and Adare (Harari) 21,000 (1994 Census; 1994 Government Population figures 67.9 million)

More than 80 languages are spoken, with the greatest diversity found in the south-west. Amharic (a Semitic language), Oromo, Tigrinya and Somali are spoken by two-thirds of the population. About 40 per cent of the population adheres to Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and 33 per cent to Islam. The remainder are Protestant, Roman Catholic or followers of traditional religions. Historically the Semitic, Amhara and Tigray peoples of the northern highlands have dominated political life in the region. They are largely Orthodox Christians, while most Muslims and followers of indigenous beliefs tend to live in lowland areas in the country's south and east.


Governance


After Eritrean independence, a new Ethiopian Constitution was adopted in 1994 with negligible public consultation. It replaced the country's 14 regions with nine ethnically based states in addition to multi-ethnic Addis Ababa. In theory, these were permitted secession from the federation, but there were no provisions for the protection of minorities and ethnic groups dwelling outside their own administrative regions. A federal council was created to ensure 'equality' in the states. In practice, government remained highly centralized, dominated by the EPRDF and Meles.

Ethnic tensions were heightened by government restrictions on political competition. Under the provisions of the new constitution, multi-party elections were held in 1995. The EPRDF took 548 seats in the Council of Representatives and seven regional state councils, either directly or through EPRDF-sponsored parties. In three out of ten regions where a genuinely ethnically based opposition existed, elections were postponed for security reasons. Despite a façade of multi-ethnicity, most Ethiopians continued to regard the government as being dominated by Tigrayans - a view bolstered by Tigrayan predominance in Ethiopia's security forces.

Parliamentary elections in May 2000 exhibited significant flaws. The independent monitoring group Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) reported election-related incidents of abuse of opposition candidates and supporters, including killings, the arbitrary detention of opposition candidates and their transfer or dismissal from employment, and incidents involving the wounding of opposition supporters by gunshot. Opposition supporters faced harassment and detention, particularly in rural areas, and the media showed heavy bias in favour of the government. The EPRDF won overwhelmingly and elected Meles to a second term as prime minister.

2005 elections: violence, arrests and human rights abuses

Ethiopians returned to the polls on 15 May 2005 to elect a new parliament, but EU observers concluded that, in light of intimidation of opposition officials, as well as irregularities with regard to voter-registration lists and election administration, the elections failed to meet international standards. When preliminary official results were released in June 2005 that indicated significant opposition gains in parliament, but another EPRDF victory, violent protests erupted in Addis Ababa. The opposition felt they had won outright, and were supported particularly by the Amhara diaspora, some of whom sought to turn the protests into a general uprising against Meles.

The government responded with a new crackdown that resulted in the killing of some 40 people by the security forces, the mass arrest of around 4,000 opposition supporters, and the banning of demonstrations.. Ongoing protests over the disputed elections flared again in November 2005.

An independent report conducted by Ethiopian judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha later found that election violence in June and November had resulted in the killings of 193 people and the wounding of 763, mostly in the opposition strongholds of Addis Ababa and Oromia. Much of the violence was directed at Amhara and Oromo people, who are prevalent in the opposition. Meshesha termed the violence a government 'massacre'; after refusing government pressure to amend his findings and receiving death threats, he fled to Europe in 2006. In July 2007, 30 opposition leaders were jailed for life over election protests - but released days afterwards, after being officially pardoned. The government denied the releases had been the result of US pressure.

Invasion of Somalia

In late 2006, Ethiopia moved back to war footing, with an invasion of Somalia. The presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia had been rumoured - but denied months previously. The Ethiopian intervention came after the Islamic Courts Union seized control over swathes of Somalia. Ethiopia, which is a backer of Somalia's weak transitional government led by President Yusuf, managed to dislodge the ICU from Mogadishu. It was assisted in this by the support of the US - both diplomatically and militarily. But the warfare continued through 2007, as supporters of the ICU rallied. The action in Somalia helped to destabilise the South-Eastern flank of Ethiopia - home to Ethiopia's ethnic Somalis.


Minorities



Resources


Minority based and advocacy organisations

General

Action for Development
Tel: +251 1 185 767, 622 326
Email: afd@telecom.net.et

Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) (Ethiopia)
Tel: +251 11 515 9787, 0911 642 575, 0911 246 639
Email: afardpa@yahoo.com; afarpastoral@telecom.net.et
Website: http://www.afarfriends.org

Ethiopian Human Rights Council
Tel: +251 15 514 489, 517 704
Email: mailto:ehrco@ethionet.et
Website: www.ehrco.org

Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association
Tel: +251 11 466 1648, 11 466 1627
Email: ewla@ethionet.et
Website: www.etwla.org

Forum for Social Studies
Tel: +251 11 157 2990
Email: mailto:someone@microsoft.com
Website: www.fssethiopia.org.et

Gudina Tumsa Foundation
Tel: +251 1 456 614, 464 795, 464 796
Email: gtf@telecom.net.et
Website: www.gtf.org.et

Hope for the Horn
Email: hfstrong000@hotmail.com

Inter-Africa Group
Tel: +251 1 518 790

Panos Ethiopia
Tel: +251 1 666 360, 361, 364
Email: panos@telecom.net.et

Pastoralist Concern Association Ethiopia
Tel: pcae@ethionet.et
Email: +251 11 554 5827
Website: www.pcae.org.et

Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia
Tel: +251 11 663 79 56
Email: pastoralistforumeth@ethionet.et
Website: www.pfe-ethiopia.or

Oromo

Advocacy for Fundamental Rights of Oromo and Others (AFRO-O) (US)
Tel: +1 240 491 3945
Email: Info@AFRO-O.org
Website: www.afro-o.org

HUNDEE (Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative)
Tel: +251 1 519026
Email: hundee@telecom.net.et

Somalis

Ogaden Human Rights Committee
Website: www.ogadenrights.org

Afar

Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) (Ethiopia)
Tel: +251 11 515 9787, 0911 642 575, 0911 246 639
Email: afardpa@yahoo.com; afarpastoral@telecom.net.et
Website: http://www.afarfriends.org

Pastoralist Concern Association Ethiopia
Tel: pcae@ethionet.et
Email: +251 11 554 5827
Website: www.pcae.org.et

Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia
Tel: +251 11 663 79 56
Email: pastoralistforumeth@ethionet.et
Website: www.pfe-ethiopia.org

Anuak

Anuak Justice Council (US)
Email: info@anuakjustice.org
Website: www.anuakjustice.org

Sources and further reading

General

Amnesty International, 'Ethiopia: prisoners of conscience on trial for treason', May 2006, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr250132006

Human Rights Watch, The Horn of Africa War: Mass Expulsions and the Nationality Issue, January 2003, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/ethioerit0103

Human Rights Watch, Targeting the Anuak: Human Rights Violations and Crimes against Humanity in Ethiopia's Gambella Region, March 2005 (retrieved May 2007): http://hrw.org/reports/2005/ethiopia0305/

International Crisis Group, Ethiopia and Eritrea: War or Peace?, September 2003, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=2301&l=1

International Crisis Group, Ethiopia and Eritrea: Preventing War, December 2005, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3850

International Crisis Group, Somalia: The Tough Part Is Ahead, January 2007, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://www.crisisgroup.org/librar y/documents/africa/horn_of_africa/b45_somalia___the_tough_part_is_ahead.pdf

Kapuscinski, R., The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1983.

Kessler, D. and Parfitt, T., The Falashas, London, MRG, 1985.

Negash, T. and Tronvoll, K., Brothers at War: Making Sense of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, Athens, Ohio University Press, 2001.

Quirin, J., The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

Oromo

Human Rights Watch, Suppressing Dissent: Human Rights Abuses and Political Repression in Ethiopia's Oromia Region, May 2005, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://hrw.org/reports/2005/ethiopia0505/4.htm

Somalis

International Crisis Group, Somalia: The Tough Part Is Ahead, January 2007, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://www.crisisgroup.org/librar y/documents/africa/horn_of_africa/b45_somalia___the_tough_part_is_ahead.pdf

Markakis, J., Pastoralism on the Margin, London, MRG, 2004.

Afar

Markakis, J., Pastoralism on the Margin, London, MRG, 2004.

Markakis, J., 'Anatomy of a conflict: Afar and Ise in Ethiopia', Journal of African Political Economy, vol. 30, 2003, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://hrw.org/reports/2005/ethiopia0305/

Anuak

Human Rights Watch, Targeting the Anuak: Human Rights Violations and Crimes against Humanity in Ethiopia's Gambella Region, March 2005, URL (retrieved May 2007): http://hrw.org/reports/2005/ethiopia0305/

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