Monday, July 22, 2024
HomeOpinionPM Abiy Ahmed's Coercive Policy Against Ethnonationalism is a Self-Inflicted Vicious Circle

PM Abiy Ahmed’s Coercive Policy Against Ethnonationalism is a Self-Inflicted Vicious Circle

Editor’s note : views in the article reflect the views of the writer, not that of 

Ethiopian Politics _ Abiy Ahmed
PM Abiy Ahmed (photo from parliament file)

Dr. Sultan Abda Neja

The key historical reasons for the rise of reactionary ethnonationalism in Ethiopia include centralized governance and power concentration, where historical rulers like Menelik II and Haile Selassie, followed by the Derg regime, marginalized various ethnic groups. In the name of state-building, policies promoted the Amharic language and Amhara culture, suppressing other ethnic identities. Economic disparities arose from policies favoring the Amharic-speaking ruling class, leading to resentment among excluded groups. Limited political representation further marginalized other nations, nationalities, and ethnic communities. The Derg’s also followed the same unilingual policy with widespread human rights abuses and economic mismanagement, which resulted in famines, and exacerbated tensions. In response, Ethnonationalist rebel movements like the TPLF and OLF emerged, advocating for ethnic rights. On top of this, Ethiopia’s inherent ethnic diversity created fertile ground for the reactionary ethnonationalist sentiments. The EPRDF’s adoption of federalism and promotion of multilingualism and regionalization were direct responses to these historical grievances, aiming to create a more inclusive and representative political system in Ethiopia. Despite such great achievement, the EPRDF were still unable to transform multinational federalism into a more democratic and multicultural nation-state that relied on democratic principles. In its nature, undemocratized ethno-national federalism can lead to political fragmentation, governance issues, social divisions, economic disparities, human rights concerns, and conflict. In this regard, undemocratized multinational federalism and ethnic-based politics in Ethiopia have posed significant challenges to modernized nation-state building in Ethiopia. 

The public protests in Ethiopia (2014-2018) were driven by marginalization and political exclusion in which the ethnic majority of Amhara and Oromo felt sidelined by the TPLF-led government. On top of this land disputes, and urban expansion, particularly the Oromo nation’s grievances over Addis Ababa’s expansion, human rights abuses, economic inequality, and demand for political reforms for inclusive governance and human rights. These led to political changes, including PM Hailemariam’s resignation and Abiy Ahmed’s appointment, promising reforms and inclusivity. 

Reform Expected from PP

The Prosperity Party, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has been considered a reformist force that may transform the country into a more democratic nation-state through the implementation of democratic principles. The key reform expected from PP was to answer the above mentioned legitimate public questions raised during the 2014-2018 protest. On top of that, for Ethiopia to build a stable and cohesive nation-state, many citizens and international communities were expecting PM Abiy’s leadership to balance ethnic diversity with national unity, ensuring that all ethnic groups feel included and represented in the political process. Many citizens hoped he would transform the country into a better democracy so that democratic practice itself gradually overcame the negative connotations of ethnic-based politics. Concomitantly, if Ethiopia continues under the democratic leadership the opportunities to democratize multinational federalism through gradual efforts may reduce the highly polarized ethnic-based politics into a more civic and modernized state-nation.

What Constitution say?

The current Ethiopian constitution, adopted in 1995, acknowledges the legitimate right of ethnonationalism by establishing a federal system granting significant autonomy to ethnically based states. Each state has the authority to safeguard and promote its language, culture, and identity, reflecting the Constitution’s provisions on federalism, self-determination, and the rights of nations, nationalities, and peoples. As a result, Ethnonationalism, deeply woven into Ethiopia’s historical narratives and the aspirations of its diverse nations and nationalities, should not be dismissed as a destructive anomaly in Ethiopian politics that demands constant resistance. When perceived as a dynamic sociological reality rather than an inherently harmful political force, ethnonationalism continues to wield significant influence in both southern and increasingly northern Ethiopia, potentially fostering the country’s democratization, development, and stability.

Reform and Policy PP follows 

Contrary to the current constitution and rise in ethnic consciousness, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tried to impose an old policy of unified Ethiopianism under the shadow of “multicultural federalism” rather than democratizing multinational federalism embraced under the current federal constitution. Abiy Ahmed started his reform by dismantling the EPRDF and creating a new party called the Prosperity Party (PP). His policy was against the current constitution of multinational federalism and attacked and defamed ethnonationalism. He began to promote the old unitary hegemony of Menelik and Haile Selassie. 

His approach of defining, defaming, and destroying multinational federalism to unify Ethiopia by forcefully combating and demonizing highly polarized ethnonationalism faces significant challenges. With a sham election he conducted in 2021 and without democratizing the government and engaging key stakeholders in the current national dialogue, forcefully dismantling ethnonationalism and unifying Ethiopia is impossible. This was partly a betrayal of the protest constituencies of both Amhara and Oromo ethnonationalists that brought about the change. As a result, the PP’s forceful or coercive attempts may backfire for several reasons.

Why the PP’s Strategy May Fail:

  1. Entrenched Ethnic Identities with Historically Legitimate Grievances: Ethnonationalist movements in Ethiopia often draw legitimacy from historical grievances and perceived injustices. Ethnic groups in Ethiopia have distinct languages, traditions, and historical narratives central to their identities. Instead of accommodating multilingualism, self-administration, and equal rights of ethnic identity, efforts to diminish these can be perceived as attacks on their heritage. For instance, the armed groups of FANO in the Amhara region, OLA in the Oromia region as well as the war-flagged TPLF conflict with PP need to be solved only by negotiation and dialogue. Forceful measures to suppress or demonize these movements without addressing underlying grievances can exacerbate tensions and deepen divisions. Such actions may reinforce narratives of oppression and fuel resistance among ethnic communities. 
  2. Lack of Democratic Framework, Democratic Principles: Democratic principles emphasize dialogue, inclusivity, and respect for diverse viewpoints. By resorting to forceful tactics instead of democratic engagement, the PP risks undermining its own legitimacy and credibility both domestically and internationally. Without democratization and inclusive governance, ethnic groups may feel excluded from political processes, leading to further alienation and potential unrest. Without fair and inclusive elections, the legitimacy of the PP’s rule is questionable. The SHAM election conducted in 2021 particularly in Oromia excluded the ethnonationalist opposition created big grievance in the opposition that led to an increase in armed struggle supporting OLA. Forceful measures conducted by the PP military have led to human rights abuses, further eroding trust in the government and fueling opposition. This causes loss of faith in the government’s authority and can lead to loss of legitimacy and public protests.
  3. Resilience and Mobilization: Ethnonationalist movements in Ethiopia have shown resilience and the ability to mobilize popular support as it has been observed during the 2014-218 Oromo protest. Many other nationalities in Ethiopia have strong ethnic identities reinforced over decades. Forceful attempts to undermine these identities can lead to significant resistance and conflict. A good example is the current FANO resistance in the Amhara region. Attempts to forcibly assimilate or marginalize these movements can galvanize opposition and strengthen their resolve. In short, the more the PP employs repressive measures, the more ethnonationalist sentiments may intensify, leading to greater polarization and instability. In the worst case, a nation with an ethnic majority feels that its interests are not represented, leading to increased demands for autonomy or even secession.
  4. Potential for Escalating Violence: Civil Conflict: Forceful suppression of ethnonationalist movements and inter-ethnic conflict triggered by PP can also escalate into violent conflict which we are currently witnessing in regional boundaries between Oromia and Amhara regions. War destabilizes the country and leads to significant human and economic costs. PP’s neglecting political negotiation and true national dialogue can radicalize moderate groups, increasing their tendency to resort to violence to achieve their goals.
  5. Economic and Social Instability: Ongoing conflict and instability in Ethiopia can hinder economic development, exacerbating poverty and inequality, which can fuel further discontent. Conflict can lead to large-scale displacement and humanitarian crises, straining resources and international relations.
  6. International Isolation: Internal conflict and violation of human rights, the genocidal tendency of PP’s military measures can lead to international condemnation and isolation, affecting diplomatic and economic relations. As we already witnessed, many international donors and partners may withdraw support, impacting development projects and humanitarian assistance.
  7. Regional and International Concerns: Ethiopia’s internal stability and cohesion are crucial for regional security in the Horn of Africa. Forceful suppression of ethnonationalism could strain relations with regional neighbors and international partners who prioritize stability and human rights. It may also lead to increased scrutiny and pressure from the international community.
  8. Risk of Long-Term Sustainability: Sustainable unity in Ethiopia cannot be achieved through coercion alone. It requires addressing the root causes of ethnic tensions, promoting equitable development, and building inclusive institutions that accommodate diverse identities and aspirations. Forceful assimilation tactics risk short-term stability at the expense of long-term peace and unity. Therefore, the PP’s coercive attempt to stay in power (rule by law) risks public trust and exacerbates the ongoing anarchy in Ethiopia.  
  9. Lack of All-inclusive National Dialogue: Absence of Reconciliation Efforts: Without a national dialogue that includes all ethnic groups, grievances remain unaddressed, and mistrust between communities and the government persists. National dialogue could provide a platform for building consensus on governance structures that accommodate ethnic diversity. However, the ongoing national dialogue has been flawed from its inception, lacking involvement from key political and military stakeholders.

In conclusion, PM Abiy Ahmed’s attempt to forcefully stay in power by imposing his ideology by suppression and demonization of ethnonationalism, while disregarding legitimate grievances, faces formidable challenges due to the entrenched and reactionary nature of ethnonationalist movements. These movements, although not poised to immediately overthrow the PP, have the potential to perpetuate prolonged conflict that could push the country into more crises. By silencing dissent and historical grievances, the PP inadvertently fans the flames of ethnic identity mobilization, fueling resistance against assimilationist policies that fail to acknowledge demands for autonomy and recognition. Coercive measures aimed at imposing the PP idea or staying in power are likely to escalate existing tensions, further destabilizing Ethiopia.

A more effective strategy entails genuine dialogue, inclusive governance, and addressing socio-economic disparities to foster a shared national identity that honors Ethiopia’s diverse cultural heritage. Embracing democratic principles and accommodating legitimate grievances would enable Ethiopia to navigate the complexities of ethnonationalism toward sustainable unity and stability. Abiy Ahmed’s coercive approach against ethnonationalism has instead perpetuated a self-inflicted cycle of instability and division, intensifying ethnic tensions and perpetuating cycles of resistance and repression. To break free from this cycle, the government must pivot towards inclusive and participatory governance, addressing the underlying causes of ethnonationalist grievances and fostering a cohesive and harmonious society. Only through dialogue, political reforms, and equitable development can Ethiopia achieve enduring peace and unity.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of


To Publish an Article On borkena , please send submission to for consideration.

Join our Telegram Channel :

Like borkena on Facebook

Add your business to Borkena Business Listing/Business Directory  Jobs 

Join the conversation. Follow us on X (formerly Twitter ) @zborkena to get the latest Ethiopian news updates regularly. Ethiopia  To share information or for  submission, send e-mail to  



  1. All ethnic groups/ nationalities under the 27 years reign of the TPLF which talked the talk of being the harbinger of ethno-natioanlist freedom but who in fact centralized state power around the TPLF party, army and a strict control of the populace in Killil 1 and the Tigrean diaspora. The Tigrean TPLF marginalized all nationalities including Oromo, Amhara, Southern peoples , Somaley etc, people who eventually rebelled and overthrew its government and have for a foreseeable future ended the Tigrean dominance. Today, under the killil system, there are relatively independent nationalities that self-govern including Killil 1 and the TPLF’s united front called the EPRDF, a tool used by the TPLF to marginalize all other nationalities in Ethiopia was dissolved by PM Abiy under one Prosperity Party. There is indeed an opportunity to head towards a democratic Ethiopia today if meddling of western powers can be managed.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here