Revolution of bubbling expectations: Ethiopia’s current challenges

In this article, I attempt to shed light on the mind-boggling questions Ethiopia facing currently. There are two contradicting views in the contemporary Ethiopian political debate: that why Ethiopia faces such serious resistance while it is registering all-rounded development.


Ethiopia was ruled under Christian monarchy starting from the 4th century A.D to the last fall of Emperor Haile Selassie regime in 1974. The military communist regime led by Mengistu Hailemariam in his turn ruled the country with iron and fist from 1974 to 1991. Hence, not the word democracy was found in the dictionary of Ethiopian rulers and peoples before 1991 let alone the practice of democratic system.

Emperor Haile Selassie made it abundantly clear that democracy is a harmful practice, thus ended up as god elected king. During Emperor Haile Selassie, equality of nations, nationalities and peoples were totally ignored. He pursued a system of unitary state building process under the slogan of one nation, one language and one religion theme, thus, clearly suppressing the religious, languages, identity and other diversities forcefully which led to effective nationwide public burst.

Seeing the gap, the lower officers of the military group under the umbrella of Derg snatched the political power and deposited the emperor. The Derg quickly proclaimed a socialism system it borrowed from USSR and banned everything even the right to gather, oppose, speak and write. Knowing the Derg would be a military dictator, the university and other educated section of the society regrouped quickly and begun fighting. Eventually, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (aka EPRDF) avoided the atrocious Derg in 1991 through the bitter armed-struggle that took 16 years.

Since then, the chapter of oppression, subjugation, poverty, and backwardness of Ethiopian history was closed for once and forever. The EPRDF government introduced a new political, economic, and social system, instead.

EPRDF on the political front

The pre-1991 centuries of oppressive autocratic regimes have contributed to deep-rooted undemocratic political culture and generally submissive behavior of citizen vis-à-vis the state (Shimelis Kassa, 2015). Due to this, the democratic building process might be lagged behind the ever-growing economy. Since 1991, the country has been realizing language based federal system, which has effectively addressed the century-old core cause of civil wars at national level.

However, to be fair, the federal arrangement has also generated new localized skirmishes due to lack of prior experiences. So far, Ethiopia has undertaken six nation-wide elections, indicative of how far the country departed from the old autocratic political system to more far-reaching democratic path. Moreover, the presence of considerable dozens of political parties who fairly try to win during elections has ensured the participatory nature of the electorate process. However, they play less important role in the process of building democracy due to lacking clear vision.

Democratic reform has lagged since 2005 – the pinnacle of Ethiopia’s then rising democracy subverted by the opposition in its attempt to overthrow the government through street action, one scholar said. Expectedly, EPRDF has emerged as dominant party in the political sector of the state. Signifying the challenges on the political front, the 2014 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance ranked Ethiopia 35th out of 53 countries, indicative of the political progress is somewhat lagging behind the growing economic growth. Hence, the EPRDF, the contesting political parties, the elites, and the society are expected to widen and deepen the political space as per the expectation and aspiration of the people. Ethiopia has changed forever from autocratic to inclusive open society where all peoples live equally politically and economically.

EPRDF on the socio-economic front

The World Bank, 2013 report said “the Ethiopian government has registered an extraordinary success on the socio-economic sector in the last 15 years”. In 2012, Ethiopia was the 12th fastest growing economy in the world, and if this historic growth continues, it could become a middle-income country in just 12 years (WB). As a result, GDP has grown almost eight times from 8 billion to 69.2 billion USD in the last 14 years. Real GDP growth averaged 10.9 percent in 2004– 2014 (World Bank, 2016). The huge government intervention in the economy has amplified the national human development more than doubles between 2000 and 2015.This makes Ethiopia the second fast growing Human Development Index in the world during the last fifteen years ((Teshome Adugna PhD, 2016).

Due to this, the country moved from being the 2nd poorest in the world by 2000 to the 11th poorest in 2014, according to per capita income, and came closer to its goal of reaching middle income status by 2025 (World Bank, 2016). The per capita has grown also to 619 USD with a growth rate of 6.9% from 100 USD in the 1995s. To put shortly, Ethiopia has lowered poverty from 56% to 23% in 2016. The overall export earnings rose from 483 million to 3.2 billion USD. Executive Director Dr. Carlos Lopes predicted that Ethiopia may take over economic might from Nigeria and South Africa by 2050 provided it keeps the current rapid economic growth on track (Haftu Gebrezgabiher, 2016).

I proceed here in the assertion that Ethiopia has registered implausible economic growth (still visually noticeable) and enlightening and improving the lives of the people through the immeasurable expansion of communal programs in the health and education sectors. The UNDP said in its 2014 report on Ethiopia’s economic and social development:

At the centre of the country’s strong economic and social performance has been the Government’s proactive and leading role in shaping socio-economic policy. Thus, middle class are being created every year which are potential to set the stage for expectation revolutions.

Let us take the report of UNDP that Ethiopia, no doubt, has been transforming itself from agriculture led to industry led policy which has created millions of middle class. The economic growth has also lifted millions of citizens out of poverty. Hence, no question the government has done an outstanding job in all sectors. Thus, the Diaspora based and local detractors have no place to tarnish and hide the visually visible all rounded developments.

A revolution of growing expectations

Some people pose serious questions: If the economy and democratization process is growing, why did so many people join the protests? Such people lacked the slight hint of what fast economic developments bring with it brings with unmatched expectations and realities.

The disorder that occurred in Oromia, Amhara, some parts of Tigrai and South region gestured an edge reached for a people with evidently increasing expectations from EPRDF. Probably, this is the biggest victory for EPRDF if taken positively- Demanding societies are created who never submit!

The phrase “revolution of rising expectations” has come to the dictionary of scholars in the 1950s to explain why “revolutions” happen in democratic and economically growing states like the current Ethiopia. According to this theory, revolutions are prone to happen after a recession in the economic and political system if a long period of rising expectations does not meet the corresponding needs. In a decline, the systems remain behind the peoples’ rising expectations. When the space linking the expectations and the realities do not match: it is taken as unbearable conditions that truly lead to set the step for revolution exactly like what occurred in Ethiopia recently.

To put the theory into Ethiopian current realities, we have said earlier that both the Ethiopian government has realized fundamental transformation in the last twenty-five years in the political and economic fronts which lifted tens of millions citizens out of acute poverty. Rightly, the extraordinary all-rounded developments have produced a demanding society coupled with ever-growing high expectations. So, with this progress have come some striking disappointments. The economy has grown yet political room has lagged behind. The educated youth are marginalized from politics. The federalism structure has created inclusion; however, the party showed weakness in strengthening it. The world witnessed that we Ethiopians are much better off nowadays; however, our expectations have risen beyond the reality.

The Strathink Editorial Team was right to say, “Ethiopia’s economic success coupled with a healthier and more educated population, particularly youth, resulted in a “revolution of rising expectations.” The Editorial team wisely observed that since universities produced millions of educated youths in the last decades, it is logically true that high expectations could be beyond the reality. The current educated youths demand meaningful democratic governance, good life, and political participation.

Accordingly, communication know-how has stretched out the scope of communication nonetheless the government remains pretty much dormant. Democratic institutions are in place but some bad boys of EPRDF with key political power are there to mishandling it. Such move has been upsetting the educated you in particular and the people in general who expect much from the very part that paid ultimate price on behalf of the former.

“What began as a government of revolutionaries committed to the Ethiopian people is perceived as a Kleptocracy of rent-seekers,” the strathink editorial smartly asks. Dear EPRDF know that you are about to be perceived this way.”


I do not know but I believe that the regime is an injured party of its own triumph. It is unbelievable that EPRDF with an outstanding achievement story failed to understand what can follow if educated youths without job are gathered around. It has failed as well to communicate its position to the broader international community and mainly to Ethiopians. As a result, the only voices heard are those of the extreme and racist Diaspora. Hence, just because it did not make clear to its people what it is doing, where it is doing, why it is doing, the extreme Diaspora and the local detractors have taken the gap to their advantage and used it to tarnish the government. The detractors with full fake news are effective somewhat to discolor EPRDF.

Anyway, the solutions to the challenges of the country are just implementing bravely what the fearless veteran freedom fighter Aboy Sbhat Nega hinted during his interview with Addiszemen Amharic newspaper. Aboy bravely and nakedly explicated that EPRDF should choose between the country treason and individuals within EPRDF. He meant that if EPRDF becomes tolerable to punish its rent-seeker and corrupted ministers, Directors and officers, then the country being built on EPRDF sacrifice would eventually fallen apart. However, if EPRDF becomes merciless on those who are doing wrong to embezzle wealth at the expense of the nation, then Ethiopia would progress to the extent the world will be jealous of it. Suffice to it; EPRDF should communicate properly with its people from now onwards.

Hence, take the word of Aboy Sbhat. “Either choose the bad boys or treason”.


Zeray hailemariam Abebe is a scholar of International Relations and is researcher in the horn of Africa’s conflict, inter-state relations and cooperation. He blogs at HornAffairs and can be reached at [email protected]

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