Is Ethiopia unravelling?

October 7, 2016

Irrecha 2016 EthiopiaBy James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, 3 October 2016

On Sunday evening, the bars of Addis Ababa were doing their usual brisk business. Just 50 kilometres south of the Ethiopian capital, in the picturesque volcanic lake town of Bishoftu, more than 100 people lay dead.

About two million ethnic Oromo had turned up to celebrate a traditional cultural festival. But a deadly stampede ensued after police fired tear gas at protesters who were chanting anti-government slogans and throwing stones and bottles.

Ethiopia is going through its most widespread and sustained protests since the ruling Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front came to power in 1991. It’s testing the leadership’s grip, and its big idea of a “developmental state” – the implied bargain in which the government delivers economic growth, in exchange for acquiescence over its authoritarianism.

Although there has been significant economic growth over the past two decades, it has not kept pace with a “youth bulge”, rising unemployment and growing inequality. The bargain seems to be fraying in the face of increasingly obvious public corruption, disaffection with the suffocation of civil liberties, and localised misrule at the state level.

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