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State structure

Ethiopia is a federal republic. A new constitution was adopted at the end of 1994. The House of Representatives consists of elected people's representatives; the Senate is elected by the members of the regional governments. The President is elected in a joint session of the two chambers on the proposal of The House of People's Representatives. The President performs a ceremonial function and has no political power. The Prime Minister and the members of the Cabinet are answerable to The House of People's Representatives. The Prime Minister is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Administratively, Ethiopia is divided into different regions on the basis of ethnic divisions. This 'ethnic federalism' is enshrined in Article 39 of the Constitution. Article 39 was created to prevent regional wars of secession from the federation in the future. The Article states that every ethnic group in Ethiopia has the right to safeguard its own identity. Article 39 also provides for the independent regional administrative units to exercise the right to full sovereignty (secession) from the Federal Republic. The Federal Republic of Ethiopia is thus divided into nine ethnic regions and two urban regions. The nine are respectively: Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somalia, Gambela, Beni Shangul, Gumuz and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR). The SNNPR consists of several sub-regions populated by diverse peoples. Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa are the city regions.


Since 1993, there has been a visible positive trend towards democratisation and good governance. The process experienced a sharp downturn after the 2005 elections. Arrests of opposition members and increased government repression followed. In 2006, the government seems to be cautiously working on resuming the democratisation process. The parliament has a critical opposition again and the monthly debate between the prime minister and the parliament is broadcast live on radio and TV.

The run-up to the general elections of 15 May 2005 was calm and very hopeful. There was plenty of room for public debates between the government and the opposition. The aftermath, however, was not. Initial election results indicated strong gains by the opposition party CUD, even though it would not win a majority. The international community, including the European Union Election Observation Mission, noted major irregularities in the election, but there was no indication that the irregularities would have led to a victory for the opposition. The National Election Board of Ethiopia, however, ignored all indications of irregularities and declared without question that the incumbent government had won the elections. This led to demonstrations by the opposition in which positions on both sides quickly hardened.

Popular discontent followed, culminating in violent clashes with the police in June and November 2005 that left people dead. On 2 November 2005, a large number of opposition figures (including CUD leaders), journalists, civil society representatives and academics were arrested and the disturbances ended. Despite calls from the international community for their immediate release, the pre-trial detention of the prisoners continues.

Thanks to mediation by the international community, the opposition, which was deprived of its leadership, decided to take its seat in the national parliament on the basis of the official but disputed election results.

An independent Ethiopian commission of enquiry was set up to investigate the November 2005 riots, which left hundreds dead. In the summer of 2006, the commission produced a draft report that was highly critical of government action. The chairman and vice-chairman of the commission fled to Europe for fear of reprisals. The commission of enquiry has since considerably weakened its report and released the results in October 2006. The recast commission's conclusion was considerably milder, namely that 197 demonstrators had been killed, but that the government had not used disproportionate force under the circumstances. The Ethiopian parliament is currently considering the commission's conclusions. Given the balance of power in parliament, it is unlikely that any political consequences will be drawn from this report.

For the current political situation see chapter history.


Ethiopia is one of the largest and poorest countries in Africa. 30% of the population lives below the poverty line (2017). Ethiopia lies at the heart of a conflict-ridden and poor region. In addition to Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, lawlessness in northern Kenya is also an impediment to economic growth and stability.

The economy remains heavily dependent on the export of a limited number of agricultural products whose prices fluctuate widely on the world market. A large part of foreign exchange and 10% of government revenue comes from coffee. Fluctuation in coffee prices directly affects 25% of the population. Ethiopia experienced economic growth of 11% in 2017.

Meanwhile, flower cultivation is booming, in which Dutch companies are also involved. In just a few years' time, Ethiopia has become the third largest supplier to Dutch flower auctions. Foreign investment is also encouraged and facilitated by the government in a limited number of other sectors, particularly in the agricultural sphere.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
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