Ethiopia 2005

Ethiopia 2005

Human and economic geography

Internal state of East Africa. According to estimates from 2005, Ethiopia has 73,053,000 residents and occupies a rearguard position (159th place out of 164) in the ranking of countries classified according to the human development index elaborated by the United Nations (life expectancy at birth less than 50 years; literacy rate 43 %; per capita income adjusted for purchasing power capacity: $ 800). The annual growth rate is relatively low (2.36 %), despite the fact that the fertility rate (5.3 births per woman) is among the highest in the world.

The economy remains essentially based on the agricultural sector, which contributes to the formation of 40.1 % of GDP, 60 % of the value of exports and 80 % of total employment. Coffee is still a cornerstone of the economy, but historically low prices have led many farmers to replace this crop with qat. (shrub whose leaves contain an exciting alkaloid), considered more profitable. Agriculture is heavily conditioned by recurrent periods of drought, as well as by the insecurity of land tenure: by law, all the land of Ethiopia it belongs to the state, and peasants are reluctant to invest to increase productivity when they have no title to the land they work. Furthermore, the government has not yet succeeded in abolishing the traditional feudal system which subjects peasants to heavy taxation. Overall, in non-dry years, production increased: the production of cereals and legumes, for example, increased from 7.5 million t in 1994-95 to 12.6 in 2001, but thecereal deficit remains above 500,000 t per year. Half of the population remains desperately poor and exposed to recurring food crises. In normal years, 5 million Ethiopians are in need of food aid; on the occasion of the last great drought that hit the country in 2002-03, 13 million residents survived thanks to this aid. In times of food crisis, the resources used for emergency aid subtract funding for the start-up of structural projects (initiatives to allow generalized access to water and sanitary infrastructures, investments in agriculture and indispensable agricultural reforms).

To deal with the ecological crisis, the government launched in 2004 a resettlement project in the south of the country of 2.2 million residents living in desertified regions in the north. A transfer of masses of this magnitude has raised perplexity in the international community, also in consideration of the bankruptcy outcome of a similar, strongly dirigiste operation, commissioned in the 1980s by the dictator H. Mangestù. All the more so as these populations are joined, as a result of various conflicts, by a large number of internal refugees (estimated at more than 150,000). The border war fought between Ethiopia and Eritrea between 1998 and 2000, costing 70,000dead, and provisionally ended with a fragile armistice, caused the uprooting of over 60,000 residents from the Tigrè region. To these must be added at least another 50,000 residents forced to emigrate from the Gambela district due to ethnic clashes, as well as tens of thousands of residents involved in further inter-ethnic conflicts in the State-region of Somalia and along the border between the States-regions of Somalia and Oromia. At the root of the ethnic tensions that give rise to population displacements are the scarcity of resources and the government policy that has divided the country into states-regions according to ethnic borders, without however ensuring adequate protection for minorities.


More than a decade after the profound political upheaval that in 1991 brought the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDRPE) to power, led by M. Zenawi, the country’s fundamental problems did not appear to have been overcome. In the first place, ethnic divisions remained strong, constituting a constant element of instability. The ‘ethnic federalism’ envisaged by the 1994 Constitution, which provided for the division of the country into nine administrative units endowed with wide autonomy, did not in fact give the hoped-for results. The new structure, moreover, seemed to be designed according to the majority ethnic groups despite the fact that the country has more than eighty ethnic groups. Started hastily with officials often lacking the necessary skills, it also suffered from the police control of the central government, ie the party in power. In some of the states, federalism ended up fueling divisions or separatist tendencies instead of attenuating them: between November 2003 and April 2004 Violent clashes with hundreds of deaths shocked the Gambela region, one of the most composite from an ethnic point of view, and necessitated a massive intervention of the army while separatist tendencies continued to persist among the Oromo, despite autonomy. The weakness of the democratic process with the recurrent violation of civil rights and the limits placed on trade unions, parties and the press contributed to generating a social malaise which, without political outlets, often exploded in violent forms, as when, in April 2001, unemployed and students clashed with the police in the capital, causing dozens of deaths. The situation improved after the parliamentary elections of 2000, won with a large majority by the FDRPE, but marked by fraud, intimidation and violence. Only in view of the consultations of 2005 did some openings appear: in January a new legislation was passed which, while denying the opposition to appoint representatives to the electoral commission, reduced the number of signatures necessary for the presentation of candidacies and led to only six months residence to be registered on the electoral roll. The presence of international observers was also foreseen. For Ethiopia public policy, please check

The elections of 15 May, which therefore had to show a country on its way to democracy, resolved into something quite different. Held with massive participation, they saw the opposition united, for the first time, in two major coalitions, the Union of Democratic Forces of Ethiopia (UFDE) and the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). The release, in early June, of unofficial data by the electoral commission in favor of the parties in power sparked protests from the opposition accusing the government of fraud. Demonstrations followed in the capital brutally repressed by the police with hundreds of injured and more than thirty dead. The final results were only made public in August: they confirmed the majority of seats in the FDRPE, but they also registered a clear affirmation of the opposition, thus marking the end of the uncontested power of the ruling coalition. The complaints of international organizations on the illegalities that had characterized the voting operations tarnished Zenawi’s image abroad and damaged his relations with Great Britain and the United States: London froze aid in June, while Washington and the United States The European Union called for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into the unrest following the elections. The political difficulties were added to an economic situation marked by structural delays: despite the introduction of some elements of modernization, Ethiopia it continued to be one of the poorest countries in the world. A further element of instability was constituted by the ‘1998 – 2000). The treaty signed in December 2000, in application of the agreements signed in June in Algiers, established the creation of a 25 km demilitarized zone guarded by UN troops and the establishment of a neutral arbitration commission for the definition of borders. In April 2002 the results of the work of the commission, which assigned to Ethiopia four of the five contested areas, but not the Ethiopian village of Badme, were accepted but with a request for some adjustments, which in November 2004 it was rejected by the Asmara government. The Addis Ababa government maintained a more conciliatory attitude than the Eritrean towards the UN, while continuing to amass troops at the border, and to violate the international embargo and to buy arms.

Ethiopia 2005