Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia - Governance Profile

Development of Political System type

Ethiopia enjoys the status of being the only African country never to have been colonized. A victory over an Italian expeditionary force at Adowa in 1886 preserved its independence which was only interrupted by a short period of Italian control between 1936 and 1941. Emperor Haile Selassie proclaimed the Ethiopia and Eritrean federation in 1952 but Ethiopia later rejected the federation in 1962, unilaterally occupying the territory. This led to a protracted conflict which lasted until 1991.

Under Haile Selassie Ethiopia became a hub of pan-Africanism; in 1963 Addis Ababa was appointed as the headquarters of the OAU. Selassie was deposed in 1974 following mass demonstrations protesting his denial of the famine afflicting rural Ethiopia. After prolonged infighting, Colonel Mengistu Hailerman installed a military junta, known as the Derg, which quickly developed strong relations with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union provided military aid which the government used to consolidate its power. Ethiopia was plagued by war and drought throughout the 1970s, largely as a result of economic mismanagement, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

The Derg was toppled from power in 1991 by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This organization put in place a moderate autocracy with a winner-takes-it-all First-past-the-post (simple majority) voting system under the label of Federalism. In this system, the Prime Minister is chosen by the party that won the legislative election while the President is elected by the members of the popularly elected House of People’s Representatives for a 6-year term. The current Prime Minister and President of Ethiopia are Meles Zenawi and Girma Wolde-Giorgis respectively.

Approximately 50 percent of the population is Muslim while 40 percent is Ethiopian Orthodox (Coptic) Christian. In ethno-linguistic terms the Oromo of southern Ethiopia count for 40 percent of the population while the Amhara count for 20 percent. While the Tigre account for only 10 percent of the population they constitute the backbone of the EPRDF (Harbeson 2005:145).

Parliaments and Parties

The legislative branch of government is dominated by the ruling party. All parliamentary committee chairs are members of the EPRDF or affiliated parties. The Code of Conduct and Rules of Parliament make it very difficult for the opposition to influence the agenda of parliament; in fact, only EPRDF agendas are heard and discussed. Article 54 sub-article 5 of the Federal Constitution clearly states:
¨ ‘No member of the House may be prosecuted on account of the opinion he expresses in the House, nor shall any administrative action be taken against him on such grounds’. But in direct contravention of this provision, Code of Conduct & Rules of Parliament stipulates on article 29 of its House Rules that:

¨ A member may not bring an issue, which is under consideration in a court of law, no matter whether the issue is political in nature, and of major concern to the peace and stability of the Nation.

No statement can be made that could easily be interpreted by the Speaker as disestablishing the peace and security of the Country. Parliament is frequently seen as being little more than a “rubber stamp” and is notoriously inefficient (Ethiopian Review 2007). It has a reputation for passing very few bills. The judiciary in Ethiopia is also generally believed to be dominated by the ruling party. According to Article 81 of the Constitution federal judges are appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the House of Representatives, in effect, the EPRDF. However, despite all the turbulence, there have recently been some occasional unexpected rulings surrounding the 2005 elections, demonstrating that there were a number of “free thinkers” within the Ethiopian judiciary.

The EPRDF is formed by an alliance of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the South Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Front (SEPDF) and the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF). This ruling party has been in power for the past 16 yrs and has given little leeway for any opposition. Even though they contested the 2005 elections, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces had little room to manoeuvre. The Federal Parliamentary Assembly is bicameral, comprising: a House of Federation (108 seats) whose members are chosen by regional state councils to serve 5-year terms; and the most important lower House of People’s Representatives (547 seats), whose members are elected by direct popular vote in single-member constituencies simple majority system.

Elections and Referendums

Since 1991 there have been three sets of legislative elections. On all three, the EPRDF has come out as the winner coalition and been the undisputed dominant party. The only referendum witnessed by Ethiopia took place in 1987, still during the DERG regime. It proposed the introduction of a single-legal party and was overwhelmingly approved thanks to the very organized apparatchik of the Communist party of the time. Critics claimed that the constitution was no more than an abridged version of the 1977 Soviet constitution, with the exception that strong powers were assigned to the newly created office of the president (Ofcansky & Berry 1991). The 1995 elections were a de facto one-party, non‑competitive elections, as were the 2000 elections held amid a series of severe corruption scandals. The 2005 elections were strongly contested in Addis Ababa and resulted in civil unrest with 61 people killed in the capital, according to the Ethiopian Government and over 60 000 arrests. Others sources suggest the number of deaths was over 200 (Gasha 2005).

Government and Administration

The Prime Minister is elected from the winning-party or coalition of the House of Representatives with the President having no say. The executive is then selected out of the members of the elected House of Representatives. In practice, the prime minister, maintains strict control of all elements of government through the apparatus of the EPRDF ruling party. The great majority of senior ministers and heads of government are reportedly all card carrying members of the TPLF or its affiliated parties. The government still has not been able to improve on what is a cumbersome bureaucracy that runs parallel to an ineffective commercial regulation (IEF 2007). At the level of administration, despite the move by the EPRDF government to set up regional civil service bureaus, this organism remains controlled by the party and suffering from a series of setbacks, namely a lack of: experience, trained manpower, vision, and knowledge of pertinent rules, regulations and procedures on the part of newly enlisted civil servants and officials (UNPAN 2004).

Relation between Government and Executive

Central government has great amount of control over the Executive. The Federal Government is very powerful and the executive tasks assigned to the federal states are secondary. Most notable, there is a very feeble demarcation in the division of executive power between the centre and the states in the Federation. Another difficulty is that there still is no “mechanism of intergovernmental relations” in place (Fiseha 2006: 150, 151).This mechanism would be important to link federal and state power relations, instead of this task being carried out through the ruling party. Despise the supposed Confederation that the constitution puts forward, the ruling party de facto centralizes power. This mechanism would more or less effective according to the nature of informal politics. The centralization of power has bee ocurring more for informal, political practice reasons than the structural, technical architecture of the constitutional laws (Fiseha 2006: 158).

Federalism and Local government

The trend in local government politics has been for the central party to take over and dominate through the supervision of its party-cadres. A human rights report by the University of Oslo has in the past concluded that “these cadres control the administration of the kebele and the peasants - where necessary by repression” (Pausewang & Aalen 2001). This situation is also aggravated by the presence of a strong executive and a weak judiciary which makes it very hard for any other stakeholders in local politics to challenge the cadre administrator. The report concludes that these cadre administrators have great control over the police and to the extreme of frequently commanding “the police to do even clearly illegal arrests and punishments” (Pausewang & Aalen 2001).

Provincially, there are nine ethnically-based federal states in Ethiopia as can be seen in the map in figure 1 (Turton 2006). A look at the function of Federal States in the Ethiopian constitution one can observe that, in effect, “states have no control over the laws enacted by the federal government” (Fiseha 2006: 152).They are limited to administering, collect, enact and establish previously formulated laws.

At the end of the day, the Derg established structures for popular participation in local development that do endure despite the difficulties; these have continued and are a key feature of development in Ethiopia. While its capacity may be low and its structural constraints many, civil society in Ethiopia is loud and vibrant. At grassroots level, Ethiopia has several organized civil society groups that act as opinion-makers and actively seek to shape policy-making (Muir 2004).

Privatization and development policies

There are no overt ties between government officials and business. On issues of governance, big business in Ethiopia seems to be dominated by a limited number of players with close relations to government. Systemically one can compare private-public sector relationships with the Japanese keiretsu or the chaebol in South Korea[1].

The first Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) was introduced in 2000 with an interim report as can be seen from Table 1 (UNDP 2005:8). Ethiopia was one of the first countries experimenting with the PRSP framework by connecting it to wider transnational programs concerning development. Concisely, the PRSP now directly seeks to be the document that delineates the country’s strategy in charge of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It does so primarily by formalizing and committing to specific ways in which it will spend the amount accounting for the reduction of its debt service. These recent attempts at synchronizing MDGs and the PRSP are also made possible thanks to both projects being of the responsibility of the same government organization – the ministry of finance and economic development. The PRSP is, nevertheless, not without its difficulties. It has, since its inception, focused on agriculture and rural development, a sensible decision given Ethiopia’s economic structure. However, specific measures on how to achieve this have to be made clearer than what they are now.

It is often the case that the government makes sure it has extensive control over key central sectors and industries such as Telecommunications. Take the Ethiopian Telecommunications Authority and the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) example. Although very receptive to private investment the ETC has always been state-owned and there seems to be no plans to privatize the institution. The central government carefully scrutinizes all contracts and operations and maintains strict control of the country’s telecommunications for security reasons (Ethiopia Telecommunications Corporation 2007).

The issue of corruption is also important. Corruption is sometimes seen as being considerably lower than in the majority of other sub-Saharan African countries; however, it is also understood as being increasing. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, corruption in Ethiopia is rising steadily[2].

Corruption is rampant at senior levels of government and cited several very large public corruption scandals in recent times. In 2001, eighteen senior Ethiopian government officials and prominent businessmen, two of them members of the TPLF, were arrested in a major crackdown on corruption (BBC 2001). In 2001 the Ethiopian Government established the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) to combat corruption. However, according to an Ethiopian specialist on corruption, Kebour Ghenna (2006), the most threatening form of corruption in Ethiopia concerns corruption among private businesses.
Role in Regional Integration

A member of the African Union (previously the Organization of African Unity) since 1963, Ethiopia has also been an active member of the East African community since its inception in 1967 and participated on its review in 1990. It was also a key player in the creation of IGADD in 1986, the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development which was transformed into IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in 1996. Its role in promoting regional integration has however been deterred and challenged by persisting tensions with Eritrea which led to the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrean war in which 123 000 Ethiopians were killed. It was not until June 2000 that the UN Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in The Hague, set down a new border between the two countries. The tensions must also be understood within the process of the evolution of Ethiopia into a modern state (Harbeson 2005: 145) but they do represent the major obstacle for the stability that is a pre-requisite for regional integration to take place.


African Elections 2007 Elections in Ethiopia http://africanelections.tripod.com/et.html http://countrystudies.us/ethiopia/ [10 October 2007]
BBC 2001 “Ethiopia cracks down on Corruption” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1360236.stm [10 October 2007]
CIA Factbook 2006 Ethiopia, [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html] [10 October 2007]
CPI (Corruption Perception Index) 2006 Transparency International http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi [10 October 2007]
Ethiopia Telecommunications Corporation 2007 “Phone Directory of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia” Government of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia
Ethiopian Review 2007 “Woyanne re-elects Girma woldegiorgis as President” http://www.ethiopianreview.com/articles/1289 [10 October 2007]
Fiseha, A. 2006 “Theory versus Practice in the Implementation of Ethiopia’s Ethnic Federalism” in Ethnic Federalism (edited by David Turton) Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press
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Harbeson, J. 2005 “Ethiopia’s Extended Transition”, Journal of Democracy,16(4)
IEF (Index of Economic Freedom) 2007 Ethiopia Country Profile http://www.heritage.org/research/features/index/country.cfm?id=Ethiopia [10 October 2007]
IMF 2006 The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia: Statistical Appendix http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.cfm?sk=21198.0 [10 October 2007]
IRIN 2004 ETHIOPIA: Ruling party wants more women in parliament http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=51869 [10 October 2007]
Kebour Ghenna 2006 “Dealing with Corruption in Ethiopia”, World Bank Institute, September http://www1.worldbank.org/devoutreach/september06/article.asp?id=370 [10 October 2007]
Muir A. 2004 “Building Capacity in Ethiopia to Strengthen the Participation of Citizens’ Associations in Development: A Study of the Organizational Associations of Citizens’, INTRAC, for the World Bank, 28th June.
Ofcansky & Berry 1991 Ethiopia: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, see http://countrystudies.us/ethiopia/ [10 October 2007]
Pausewang, S. & Aalen, L. 2001 Ethiopia 2001 “Local elections in the southern region” University of Oslo, Forskning http://www.humanrights.uio.no/forskning/publ/nr/2002/03/nordem_report-Conclusi.html [10 October 2007]
Turton, D. (ed.) Ethnic Federalism Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press
UNDP 2005 “Linking the National Poverty Reduction Strategy to the MGGs” a case study of Ethiopia” New York: United Nations Publishers
UNPAN (United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and Finance) 2004 The Changing Features of Public Administration in Ethiopia: The Challenges http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/IDEP/UNPAN002347.pdf [10 October 2007]
PFDRE (Parliament of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) 2007 Constitution http://www.ethiopar.net/ [10 October 2007]

[1] The Japanese Keirestu that evolved from the zaibatsu after WWII and the Korean chaebol are large business conglomerates linking finance to production and closely tied to Government that played important roles in the economic development of their respective countries.
[2] Comparing the ranking from year to year is not a clear indication as Transparency International is adding new countries to the survey each year. The score represents a composite index drawing on 12 polls and surveys from 9 independent institutions ranging from the least corrupt at 10 down to 1.

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