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Closing the Transition: the May 1995 Elections in Ethiopia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2008


The Ethiopian transition, that began with the overthrow of military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in May 1991, formally ended with the swearing in of the newly elected Government of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia in August 1995. The intervening four years were a contentious time of clashes among rival political forces to determine the rules under which the transition would be conducted and hence which forces would be favoured. The first act of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) after deposing Mengistu was to convene a National Conference and establish a Council of Representatives that initially included a wide array of political groups. The EPRDF led throughout this transitional period and capitalised on its commanding position to consolidate its power. The party dominated the political landscape by virtue of its military power, effective organisation and leadership, and control of the agenda and rules of competition. It structured the transition around new ethnically defined regions, a constitution that emphasised self-determination, and a series of largely uncontested elections.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1996

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1 On the origins of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, see Dange, Theodros, ‘EPRDF's Rise to Political Dominance’, in Ethiopian Review (Los Angeles), 12 1992, pp. 1720;Google Scholar‘The EPRDF First Congress: a milestone in the Ethiopian People's struggle’, in EPRDF News Bulletin (Washington, DC), 1, 2, 5 03 1991, p. 1;Google Scholar and ‘Ethiopia: from rebels to rulers’, in Africa Confidential (London), 32, 11, 31 05 1991, pp. 13.Google Scholar

2 For more details, see Lyons, Terrence, ‘The Transition in Ethiopia’, in CSIS Africa Notes (Washington, DC), 127, 17 08 1991, pp. 180.Google Scholar

3 For early assessments, see Morrison, Stephen and Clark, Jeffrey, ‘Ethiopia, Eritrea and Democracy:significant opportunities amidst a fragile transition’, Report to the National Endowment for Democracy, Washington, DC, 10 1991,Google Scholar and Lewis, Herbert, ‘Ethiopia: beginning again’, in Africa Report (New York), 0910 1991, pp. 60–1.Google Scholar

4 For some additional details, see Keller, Edmond J., ‘Remaking the Ethiopian State’, in Zarman, I. William (ed.), Collapsed States: the disintegration and restoration of legitimate authority (Boulder, 1995), pp. 133–5.Google Scholar

5 ‘Ethiopia: from rebels to rulers’, in Africa Confidential, 32, 11, 31 05 1991, pp. 13,Google Scholar and ‘Ethiopia: majorities and minorities’ in Ibid. 32, 14, 12 June 1991, pp. 1–2.

6 The Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front attended the National Conference as an observer, not a participant. In any event, no Ethiopian régime had the capacity in 1991 to prevent the EPLF from opting out of the proposed federal republic, and in April 1993 Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence.

7 Morrison, J. Stephen, ‘Ethiopia Charts a New Course’, in Journal of Democracy (Baltimore), Summer 1992, p. 127.Google Scholar

8 McWirter, Cameron and Melamede, Gur, ‘Ethiopia: the ethnicity factor’, in Africa Report, 37, 5, 0910 1992, p. 33.Google Scholar According to Wrong, Michaela, ‘Ethiopia Buries the African “Nation State”’, in Financial Times (London), 5 05 1995, Dawit Yohannes, a legal adviser to Meles Zenawi, stated ‘We say there is no country called Ethiopia, no state that defends the interests of this multi-ethnic community grouped under the name Ethiopia. That's why we've been immersed in wars for the last 30 years. So we must start again, from scratch.’Google Scholar

9 Morrison, loc. cit. p. 129.

10 See Jalata, Asafa, Oromia and Ethiopia: state formation and ethnonational conflict, 1868–1992 (Boulder, 1993).Google Scholar

11 Proclamation No. 7 of 1992. See ‘Ethiopia: new government, new map’, in Africa Confidential, 32, 22, 8 09 1991, p. 7,Google Scholar and Keller, Edmond, ‘The Ethnogenesis of the Oromo Nation and Its Implications for Politics in Ethiopia’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge), 33, 4, 12 1995, p. 632CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for a map of Ethiopia' 12 ethnically-based administrative regions. For an account of past regional boundary changes, see Gamachu, Daniel, ‘A Nation in Perpetual Transition: the politics of changes in administrative divisons and subdivisions in Ethiopia’, in Marcus, Harold (ed.), New Trends in Ethiopian Studies: papers of the 12the International Conference of Ethiopian Studies Vol. II (Lawrenceville, NJ, 1994), pp. 83113.Google Scholar

12 For more on these questions, see Ottaway, Marina, Democracy and Ethnic Nationalism: African and Eastern European experiences (Washington, DC, 1994),Google Scholar Overeas Development Council Policy Essay No. 14, and ‘Nationalism Unbound: the Horn of Africa revisited’, in SAIS Review (Washington, DC), 12, 2, Summer-Fall 1992, pp.111–28.Google Scholar

13 Two analysts of European developments conclude that if ‘in multinational polities the first elections are regional, we believe that there will be strong incentives for political contestation to focus on antistate ethnic issues and that the day after the regional elections the legitimacy of the state will be weaker’. Linz, Juan J. and Stepan, Alfred, ‘Political Identities and Electoral Sequences: Spain, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia’, in Daedalus (Cambridge, MA), 121, 2, Spring 1992, p. 125. For the impact of proceeding with regional before national elections in the break-up of Yugoslavia,Google Scholar see Woodward, Susan, The Balkan Tragedy: chaos and dissolution after the cold war (Washington, DC, Brookings, 1995).Google Scholar

14 See, for example, Hiltzik, Michael A., ‘Ethiopia Fears New Civil War, Loss of Its Aid’, in Los Angeles Times, 15 04 1992, p. A1,Google Scholar and Parmelee, Jennifer, ‘Skirmishes Put Ethiopa “Between War and Peace”’, in The Washington Post, 4 04 1992, p. A19.Google Scholar

15 For a sample of the heated rhetoric, see ‘EPRDF Statement Outlines Problems with OLF’, Voice of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, 29 March 1992, translated in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report, Sub-Saharan Africa, hereafter FBIS (Washington, DC), 31 03 1992, pp. 68,Google Scholar and ‘OLF Statement Responds to EPRDF Claims’, Voice of Ethiopia, 31 March 1992, translated in Ibid. 2 April 1992, pp. 3–4. See also, Asafa Jalata, op. cit. pp. 181–6.

16 ‘EPRDF-OLF Communique on U.S.-Brokered Agreement’, Voice of Ethiopia, 15 04 1992, translated in FBIS, 16 April 1992, p. 5.Google Scholar See also, ‘Ethiopia: power-struggles and the ethnic weapon’, in Africa Confidential, 33, 9, 8 05 1992, pp. 67.Google Scholar

17 Terrenc Lyons,‘The Transition Toward Democracy in Ethiopia: observations on the elections in Welega, June 1992’, tesimony before the US House of Representative Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on Africa Affairs hearing, 17 Septamber 1992. See also, Friends of Ethiopia Newsletter (Washington, DC), 08 1992,Google Scholar and Kulick, Gilbert D., ‘Ethiopia's Hollow Elections: observing the forms’, in Foreign Service Journal (Washington, DC), 09 1992, pp. 41–4.Google Scholar

18 ‘Withdrawals From, Postponement of Elections’, Voice of Ethiopia in Amharic, 17 06 1992, translated in FBIS, 18 June 1992, p. 2.Google Scholar

19 National Democratic Institute, An Evaluation of the June 21, 1992 Elections in Ehiopia (Washington, DC, 1992), p. 3.Google Scholar

20 Embassy of Ethiopia, ‘A Significant Step Towards Democracy’ in News from Ethiopia (Washington, DC), 1, 2, 14 07 1992, pp. 12.Google Scholar

21 National Democratic Institute, op. cit. pp. 3–4.

22 Attempts by a group of Western ambassadors to mediate between the EPRDF and OLF failed. See ‘Ethiopia: poacher turns gamekeeper’, in Africa Confidential, 33, 14, 17 07 1992, p. 7.Google Scholar

23 US Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1992 (Washington, DC, 1993).Google Scholar

24 Parmelee, Jennifer, ‘Ethiopia's New Politics Echo an Old War’, in The Washington Post, 18 02 1993, p. A33.Google Scholar See also, ‘Ethiopia: government arm wrestles AAPO’, in Indian Ocean Newsletter (Paris), 562, 13 02 1993, p. 3.Google Scholar

25 ‘Ethiopia: opposition meeting in Paris’, in Ibid. 567, 20 March 1993, pp. 1–2.

26 ‘SEPDU Parties Suspended from Council of Representatives’, Voice of Ethiopia, 2 04 1993, translated in FBIS, 5 Apirl 1993, p. 5.Google Scholar

27 Parmelee, Jennifer, ‘Ethiopia Arrests Dissident Political Leaders’, in The Washington Post, 18 12 1993, p. A22,Google Scholar and ‘Ethiopian Opposition: rulers stay too long’, in Ibid. 23 December 1993, p. A16.

28 ‘Carter Center Statement on Ethiopia Negotiations’, in News from the Carter Center (Atlanta), 23 03 1994.Google Scholar

29 Africa Research Bulletin (Oxford), 06 1994, p. 11470,Google Scholar and Parmelee, Jennifer, ‘Ethiopia, in Democratic Trial Run, Elects Constitution Writers’, in The Washington Post, 6 06 1994, p. A13.Google Scholar

30 ‘Ethiopia: constitutional dilemmas’, in Africa Confidential, 35, 13, 1 06 1994, p. 3.Google Scholar

31 On the 1994 elections, see Pausewang, Siegfried, The 1994 Election and Democracy in Ethiopia (Oslo, Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, 09 1994),Google Scholar and Ouellet, Gary, Recommendations Report: Ethiopia, (Washington, DC, International Foundation for Electoral System, 06 1994).Google Scholar

32 ‘EEC Statement of Ethiopia’, Reuters, 27 06 1994.Google Scholar

33 Ethiopian Congress for Democracy (A-Bu-Gi-Da), ‘June 5, 1994 Constitutional Assembly Election Monitoring Mission Summary Report’, Addis Ababa, 22 June 1994, p. 7.

34 Donors Group, ‘The Constitution and Forthcoming Elections’, press release, Addis Ababa, 14 December 1994, published in Ethiopian Register (Los Angeles), 01 1995, pp. 64–5.Google Scholar

35 ‘Ethiopia: negotiations in Washington’, in Indian Ocean Newsletter 658, 11 02 1995, p. 3,Google Scholar and ‘Report on Congressional Task Force Talks on Democratization in Ethiopia, February 6–9’.

36 Wrong, loc. cit.

37 An explosion in Dire Dawa on 4 May 1995 did not seem to be connected to the elections, and voting proceeded there quietly, although participation was low.

38 Ethiopian News Agency, ‘Ethiopia Comes of Age to Determine Leadership Through Election: Meles’, in The Ethiopian Herald (Addis Ababa), 28 05 1995, p. 1,Google Scholar and ‘President Meles Marks EPRDF Anniversary’, Radio Ethiopia in Amharic, 27 05 1995, translated in FBIS, 30 May 1995, p. 8.Google Scholar

39 Reuters, ’, 5 05 1995, reprinted in Horn of Africa Bulletin (Uppsala), June 1995.Google Scholar See also, Wrong, loc. cit.

40 This analysis is based largely on personal observations and discussions in Ethiopia between March and June 1995 as part of the Donor Election Unit.

41 The Amhara National Democratic Movement had originally been a multi-ethnic party known as the Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Movement, and some notable ANDM leaders before that had been in the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party.

42 See US Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1995 (Washington, DC, 1995)Google Scholar, and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, Democracy, Rule of Law, and Human Rights in Ethiopia: rhetoric and practice (Addis Ababa, 03 1995).Google Scholar

43 See Lyons, ‘ Transition Toward Democracy in Ethiopia’.

44 ‘Murder of Oromo Nationalist’, in Indian Ocean Newsletter, 1 07 1995.Google Scholar

45 The non-OPDO seats were won by the small Oromo Abo and Oromo United Parties. For background of the complicated splits and mergers of these parties, see ‘Ethiopia: Oromos get act together’, in Ibid. 21 January 1995, p. 4.

46 I have benefited from discussions on these points with Kevin Johnson and his colleagues at the National Democratic Institute in Addis Ababa from March to June 1995 and thereafter in Washington, DC.Google Scholar

47 ‘President Address EPRDF's 2d Congress’, Radio Ethiopia in Amharic, 8 01 1995, translated in FBIS, 10 January 1995, p. 9,Google Scholar and ‘EPRDF Adopts Program Ahead of Elections’, Radio Ethiopia in Amharic, 10 01 1995, translated in FBIS, 17 January 1995, p. 5.Google Scholar

48 For a detailed analysis of kebelles and peasant associations during the Mengistu era, see Clapham, Christopher, Transformation and Continuity in Revolutionary Ethiopia (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 129–94.Google Scholar Also, Rahmato, Dessalegn, ‘The Unquiet Countryside: the collapse of “socialism” and rural agitation, 1990 and 1991’, in Zegeye, Abede and Pausewang, Siegfried (eds.), Ethiopia in Change: peasantry, nationalism and democracy (London, 1994), pp. 248–54.Google Scholar

49 Quoted in Buckely, Stephen, ‘Ethiopia Takes New Ethnic Tack: deliberately divisive’, in The Washington Post, 18 06 1995, p. A21.Google Scholar

50 American Embassy, ‘U.S. Applauds Elections as Key Step on Road to Democracy’, Addis Ababa, Press Release, 22 06 1995.Google Scholar

51 Organisation of African Unity, ‘Statement by the OAU Observer Group to Ethiopia's Federal and Regional Council Elections – May 7, 1995’, Addis Ababa, 12 May 1995.

52 Cited by Reuters, ‘Ruling Coalition Wins Ethiopia Vote’, in The New York Times, 9 05 1995, p. A6.Google Scholar

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