Popular discontent with the rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) became highly visible during protracted, large-scale protests in the country throughout 2016. This matters domestically, as well as internationally because Ethiopia is a major regional power and plays a significant peacekeeping role in the Horn of Africa.
While the EPRDF’s political response to the protests should be cautiously welcomed, so far it represents change within – not of – the parameters of how the country is run. The centralised and developmental-patrimonial character of rule in Ethiopia suggests that far-reaching political change is unlikely as long as the EPRDF remains united.
Nevertheless, the recent protests created modest, much needed openings for dialogue and perhaps a measure of incremental liberalisation in a country that will likely remain a developmental autocracy for some time. These openings should now be seized and expanded – for the benefit of Ethiopia, regional stability, as well as the international community.
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