Ethiopian elections: economic growth versus democracy

Ethiopian elections: economic growth versus democracy

Parliamentary elections were held in Ethiopia on 24th of May. According to preliminary results, the current governmental party EPRDF (Ethiopian People´s Revolutionary Democratic Front), which has ruled in Ethiopia since the defeat of Mariam´s regime in 1987, won the elections.

Opposition parties accuse the ruling party of harassment of opposition supporters, intimidation of members of opposition parties and obstruction in campaign and registration of voters. The government has faced for a long time allegations of disrespect for human and civil rights, mostly the right of free speech. The number of journalist arrested per one year is the second highest in Ethiopia, only Eritrea scores higher. However the number of voters registered for the elections and polls indicate that the support for the government has increased. The reason for the growing support of the government is likely the economic success of the country.

How EPRDF came to power

The current ruling party EPRDF was one of the main opposition groups against the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam. This military autocratic government was in power from 1977 to 1987 and was responsible for several thousands of opposition executions and for a humanitarian crisis and mismanagement of the worst famine in Ethiopian history. When the regime of Mariam collapsed, EPRDF became the most important political force in the country also thanks to foreign support, mostly from USA.

The current head of the political party and the prime minister of the country is Hailemariam Desalegn who replaced the long-ruling Meles Zenawi after his death in 2012. Desalegn was also an election leader and is expected that he will prevail as a prime minister also for the upcoming tenure.

Current rule and human right violations

Although the rule of EPRDF was supported with the aim of further democratization of the country, mostly since the elections in 2005 several serious human and civil rights violations have been recorded. Particularly the extremely violent elections in 2005 were reported as a turning point in respect to civil rights. After the votes were counted it became clear that opposition parties won the election. However, according to published results opposition parties gained only 1/3 of all parliamentary seats. This led to mass protests ended by police shooting into the protesting crowd.

The report of Human Rights Watch from 2014 confirms that under Desalegn’s rule rights to freedom of speech and expression, association and peaceful assembly have been repeatedly restricted. The report also stresses that the government adopted laws which allow to constrain civil society organizations, independent media and opposing groups. Anti-terrorist law is heavily discussed as it allows the government to misuse it and is used for the persecution, mostly of journalist informing about the Muslim protesters unsatisfied with the governmental policies towards the Muslim population in the country.

Ethiopia as the African lion

Even though Ethiopia has been denounced for its disrespect of human rights it has been very often used as an example of successful economic transformation and gained a nickname an “African lion” (mimicking success stories from Asia and Eastern Europe). Ethiopia, a country which faced a huge famine at the end of 80ties, has had for more than a decade high economic growth with an estimated 10% GDP growth for this year. It has also reached several important Developmental Goals of United Nations and aims to become a middle income country by 2025. Ethiopia has also introduced important reforms of public administration which makes it one of the best ranking African countries in governmental effectiveness. Another huge success is also a rapid decline in the corruption rate which makes it the best East African country in this measure.

Support of the government

Even though it seems that the support of the government has increased lately, mainly thanks to good shape of the country’s economy, it would be dangerous for the government to rely on. Numerous cases of human rights violations, mostly towards specific groups of population such as Muslims and journalists, have caused repeating protests in the country. Economic growth is possible only in a combination with stability. And long-term stability can be secured only when a decent level of human rights is respected.


Maria Kucerova