Perpetuating power
Ethiopia’s political settlement and the organization of security
Erwin van Veen
September 2016
Perpetuating power
Ethiopia’s political settlement and the organization of security
CRU Report
This report is sponsored by:
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This report examines the evolution of Ethiopia’s ‘political settlement’ and its implications, consequences and risks with regard to the organization and provision of security by state forces. The report's analysis leads to three key insights. First, the TPLF/EPRDF strategically controls state security forces which, given the party’s quasi-monopoly on political power, often makes it difficult to distinguish instruments of the state from the party. This creates a situation in which state security forces may serve national interests but in which these interests are defined on the basis of a particular ideology and they also sustain existing power structures. Second, the combination of de facto centralization of authority and security with de jure decentralization of autonomy to Ethiopia’s regions, in recognition of their social and developmental diversity, creates inconsistency in matters of security, in terms of both intent and performance. Third, the military serves both as a combat force and as a vehicle for development. This happens mainly through the vehicle of ‘METEC’, a military-run conglomerate. While this seems sensible from the perspective of strengthening party rule and enhancing implementation capacity for development strategies, it also increases the risk of corruption, nepotism and inefficient resource allocation.


I am extremely grateful to the people who supported the production of this report by providing their guidance, time and insights. This particularly includes those who graciously agreed to free up their busy schedules for an interview to share their views. It was encouraging to experience broad support for this research among government, opposition and non-government representatives alike, a willingness to engage in critical reflection, and an appreciable degree of frankness about both the progress made and the ongoing challenges that characterize the organization of security in Ethiopia. As it took a significant amount of time to reconcile these views as far as possible, it should be noted that the field work underpinning the research concluded in June 2015 while the report itself remained a work in progress until May 2016.

I am also indebted to the Swedish Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA) for its generous support that made possible the field work on which many of the observations in this report are based.

Moreover, I would like to acknowledge a number of individuals for helpfully and constructively peer-reviewing the report. They include Jort Hemmer and Fransje Molenaar (Clingendael), professor Jan Abbink (University of Leiden), Dawit Endeshaw (an Ethiopian journalist), Daniel Berhane and several other Ethiopian individuals who prefer to remain anonymous.

I also wish to underline how much this report benefited from the insights of professor Ann Fitz-Gerald. As a respected international scholar who has worked in Ethiopia for many years, her understanding of the reforms, changes and initiatives in the Ethiopian security sector as well as across the country's wider public sector has enriched the report. Without having been exposed to her more nuanced and informed views on key issues, this paper would have been less balanced and accurate. Thank you.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge Nick Grinstead and Madina Diallo (both at Clingendael) for having conducted excellent background research, while my thanks for copy-editing go to Jane Carroll and for typesetting to Textcetera.

The content of the report naturally remains the author’s responsibility.

About the authors

Erwin van Veen is a senior research fellow with Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit who focuses on the power dynamics of the organization of security and justice in conflict-prone environments, conducts political-economy analysis of conflicts in the Middle East and examines how security and justice programs can be improved.

Cover photo

Tapestry of the battle of Adwa between Ethiopian and Italian forces in 1896
© Wikimedia Commons