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Ethiopia: A New Start?

3 April 2000

Despite having been equated with the ancient Abyssinian cultures of Amhara and Tigray for centuries, there are at least 80 different ethnic groups within Ethiopia. Until recently, there has been little understanding of their cultures and traditions.

Ethiopia has traditionally been governed from the centre – one of the reasons for the growth of Eritrean nationalist movements, which led to the eventual independence of Eritrea. This centralization and oppression of different ethnic groups led to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coming to power in 1991, and promising that Ethiopia’s peoples would no longer live under a centralized system, which oppressed the majority of the population.

The new government went on to restructure the State, forming an ethnic federation with regional ethnically-based states and creating a most radical and progressive Constitution. The Constitution guarantees ethnic groups a wide range of rights – including secession from the ethnic federation.

Yet the government is beset by claims from opposition parties and national and international human rights organizations that it is guilty of widespread violations of human rights. Furthermore, many ordinary Ethiopians are sceptical of the government’s agenda, questioning its commitment to promoting the rights of all ethnic groups.

MRG’s Report Ethiopia: A New Start? analyzes the Constitution, which the government has fashioned in order to create confidence among ethnic groups and minorities in Ethiopia. The Report discusses the Constitution’s key points and focuses on implementation within the federation, assessing the claims of the government’s detractors.

The report’s author, Kjetil Tronvoll, gives a balanced historical background to these issues and covers some of the principal areas for Ethiopia’s social, economic and political development. The Report concludes with a series of recommendations aimed at the Ethiopian government and the international community.

Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.

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Kjetil Tronvoll