Don’t Let Ethiopia Become the Next Yugoslavia

Federations of ethnonational states can become explosive during moments of political liberalization. Abiy Ahmed must tread carefully to avoid a Balkan nightmare.

Within a few shorts months, Ethiopia has witnessed a dramatic transformation. The new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, signed a peace agreement with Eritrea after years of simmering tensions. He has also granted pardons and amnesties to thousands of individuals and organizations once branded terrorists; all opposition groups based in Ethiopia or elsewhere have been invited to join in a peaceful transformation; media organizations are able to report more freely; legal reform councils and working groups have been established to review laws that were instrumental in the suppression of civil and political rights; and half of the prime minister’s cabinet is made up of women.

This unprecedented and rapid change comes against a more disconcerting backdrop of unrest. Ethiopia is a multiethnic giant with around 100 million people (belonging to more than 80 ethnic groups and speaking many languages), giving its transformation greater regional significance.

But there is also a risk. In this transformation, ethnic conflicts might increase in intensity and number, both as a result of a backlash by conservative forces rejecting the rapid reforms or due to the sudden liberalization of the public space.

These conflicts might in turn precipitate ill-conceived moves, including secession, which could have deadly consequences in communities where violence has been the principal means of settling communal disputes. Read more...

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