A clash of nationalisms and the remaking of the Ethiopian State
April 2022
A clash of nationalisms and the remaking of the Ethiopian State
The political economy of Ethiopia’s transition
Jos Meester, Guido Lanfranchi & Tefera Negash Gebregziabher


In the first elections following the loss of power by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party (PP) won a landslide victory ushering in a new stage in Ethiopia’s political transition. Yet ethnic tensions are rising, as are: media censorship, the arrest of opposition politicians, political purges across state institutions, and civil war spilling from Tigray region. This report explores the major organisational and structural changes occurring in Ethiopia’s state and parastatal organisations, in order to understand the political economic changes shaping Ethiopia’s highly contested transition. It traces changes in the cabinet, the security sector, and the economic sector. The main conclusions are that politically Abiy’s administration is attempting to move away from ethno-nationalism by (re)introducing pan-Ethiopian nationalism, although ethno-nationalism remains salient and ethnically defined federal states remain. Economically the administration is attempting to shift control over the economy from the party to the state. However, challenges remain as conflict with the now-marginalized TPLF has resulted in a civil war destabilising significant parts of the country and leading to vast numbers of casualties. Meanwhile, ethno-nationalist sentiments remain highly salient, especially within the ethnically defined federal states, at times in opposition to the PP’s multi-ethnic set-up. Additionally, an economic downturn and dwindling foreign currency reserves threaten continued economic growth and job creation, a key legitimating factor under the PP platform. The report thus concludes that policymakers engaging with the region will have to develop a new modus operandi to engage with Ethiopia, reevaluate their regional security and development strategies, and carefully consider the humanitarian implications of economic measures used to pressure the Ethiopian government on the Tigray war.

About the authors

Jos MeesterSenior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute’s Conflict Research Unit
Jos’ work focuses on the functioning of the private sector in conflict-affected environments. He is particularly interested in supply chains spanning across political divisions, as well as the close relationship of political and private-sector elites and its consequences for the stability of political power structures. He previously worked as a management consultant on supply chain management and market assessments in developed and developing economies.

Guido Lanfranchi – Junior Researcher at the Clingendael Institute’s Conflict Research Unit
Guido’s research interests revolve around the interplay between economic, political, and security dynamics. His work focuses on the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, with a view on the role of the European Union in these regions. Before his experience at Clingendael, Guido interned at the Council of the European Union, where he worked on EU-Africa relations.

Tefera Negash GebregziabherPostdoctoral researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam
Tefera’s research interest focuses on the politics of development in Africa, oligarchy studies, and international political economy. Before joining the ISS for his PhD studies, he was a lecturer at Aksum University in Ethiopia. Prior to pursuing his career in academia, Tefera worked for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for six years. He published his research in the Review of African Political Economy and African Affairs.

Photo credits

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visits the Meskel Square Project
© The office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia