The development of Ethiopia is characterized by a number of paradoxes that raise both challenging and interesting questions in respect of the country’s future trajectory. Its economic performance is one such paradox. While state-led growth averaged an impressive 10–11% per year over the period 2003–13, Ethiopia’s ranking on the Human Development Index has not moved by much, which is partly a reflection of its population growth and the difficulty of translating macro-growth into micro-gains. Ethiopia’s politics suggest another paradox in the form of the contrast between a progressive constitution, a discourse of respect for ethnic self-determination and the almost complete political dominance of the Ethiopean People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Ethiopia´s state security forces represent a third paradox. On the one hand, many commentators have acknowledged the contribution of the Ethiopian military to regional stability through, for example, substantial peacekeeping contributions and acting as US ally in the Horn of Africa theatre of the ‘global war on terror’. At the same time, others argue that the concentration of political power in the hands of the EPRDF results in the use of state security forces (police and intelligence in particular) as instruments of the party to preserve the existing power structure.
In the context of these paradoxes, the report examines the relationship between political power and security in Ethiopia to inform international initiatives designed to support the country’s development. More specifically, it examines the evolution of Ethiopia’s ‘political settlement’ and its implications for the organization and provision of security by state forces.
Although imperfect, the concept of ‘political settlement’ offers a useful analytical lens because it focuses on the negotiation process, as well as the agreement that may result from it, between a country’s various powerful groups on the division and use of power. In fragile societies, coercive capacities, including state security forces, are drivers of such political settlements and at the same time instruments for maintaining and implementing them. On the one hand, powerful groups that can avail themselves of coercive capacities such as militias, factionalized security forces or even criminal elements, enjoy an advantage when competing for political power. On the other hand, when such groups reach agreement on the distribution of power, the administrative machinery of state usually plays a significant role in implementing its terms. State security forces are a vital part of this equation beause of their ability to enforce the political settlement vis-à-vis those that are not included or represented.
Ethiopia reached a fairly stable political settlement, after the overthrow of its military dictatorship, in the period 1991–95, and the settlement is still in place today. This resulted in both a de jure, and a significant measure of de facto, state control over the means for violence, meaning that the use of coercive capacity as an independent variable that influences the terms of the country´s political settlement has largely ceased to be relevant. There is no question about the ability of the Ethiopian state to defend itself effectively by force should the need arise and none of the groups excluded from its political settlement currently possesses adequate force to challenge it. Therefore, it is appropriate and relevant to focus on how, and to what effect, state security institutions implement the existing political settlement.
The paper is part of a larger project that analyses how political settlements – as expressions of elite interests – influence the way in which security is organized. This project is co-funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Folke Bernadotte Academy and includes another case study (on Lebanon) and a more general synthesis paper. The present report is based on literature research and 27 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with Ethiopian individuals who have agenda-setting influence on the conception and use of a nation’s tangible and intangible security resources. The interviews took place in Addis Ababa in February and June 2015, with additional validation meetings conducted in March 2016. Shortcomings of the interview data include limited coverage of the opposition, a lack of interviews with representatives of state security forces outside of Addis Ababa and the fact that non-state security actors were not included. In addition, the second part of the analysis relies more on the limited set of interviews than ideally would be the case. This is largely because not much is written about Ethiopia’s security sector. This makes the report an explorative effort to stimulate discussion as well as further research.
As to the report’s structure, Section 2 examines the evolution of Ethiopia’s political settlement from both a historical and a contemporary perspective, with the aim of clarifying the political parameters within which the present organization of security must be understood. Section 3 subsequently examines the implications of these parameters for the organization of security in terms of their consequences, perceptions and risks. The report’s conclusion offers short reflections on the future challenges that Ethiopia’s present organization and provision of security are likely to generate, and how they could be dealt with.