Ethiopia in the 1990’s


Population and territory

Following the secession of Eritrea, which proclaimed itself independent in 1993, the surface of the Ethiopia reduced to 1. 130. 139 km ². In 1994 a new subdivision into 9 states came into force, and in 1995 a new federal constitution. According to a 1998 estimate, the population of Ethiopia it amounts to 59,649,000 residents (density 53 residents / km ²): in the period 1990 – 97 there was an annual growth of about 23 ‰. The capital, Addis Ababa, mattered 2. 316. 400 residents in 1994.

The federal reorganization of the Ethiopian territory was implemented according to an ethnic criterion: each of the main ethnic groups (Tigrini, Amhara, Somali, Galla, Oromo, etc.) was made to correspond to a federated state. The solution presented itself to the new ruling class as practically obliged, and in any case responding to the promises of greater openness to local self-government requests (in more than one case it has lived since the constitution of the modern Ethiopian state at the end of 19Century), made by the same current leadership group during the struggle against the previous regime; moreover, this particular reorganization triggered a clear centrifugal process, giving rise to the establishment of explicitly independentist political formations, following the example of Eritrea, as happened in the southern regions populated by the Oromo (see below: History).

The structuring of the Ethiopian territory is still largely unsatisfactory (despite the recent and substantial investments, for example in the road network) and the level of mutual integration of the various regions is very weak: the fact is that the territorial policy put into practice diverges significantly. considerable from the letter of the new Constitution, resulting still strongly centralized. On the social level, centralization is expressed through an evident tendency to control and repress the autonomist forces.

The substantial political and military pre-eminence of the Tigrinya component has alarmed other ethnic groups, starting with the Amhara, who have lost their traditional clear supremacy, and the Islamic populations, who have seen many of their expectations disappointed. The combination of these conditions, with the combined effects of war destruction and repeated recent famines, has produced tensions particularly felt in the peripheral regions and consistent flows of migrants, especially towards the main cities.

The geopolitical role of Ethiopia it changed significantly with the new government, which attempted to take mediation positions in the context of regional conflicts, also to prevent aid from neighboring countries from reaching separatist formations. However, starting in 1995, Ethiopia it renounced equidistance in the Sudanese civil conflict, explicitly supporting the separatists of the southern regions.

Economic conditions

The income per capita, compared with a decrease in real terms, of 0, 5 % per annum in the period 1985 – 95, showed a clear upward trend in recent years, but remains at levels that indicate a serious weakness of the economy, heavily indebted and dependent on international aid. Agriculture, which even in 1995 took up just under 90 % of the population, contributes more than half to the gross domestic product, mainly through the export of coffee (61, 6 % of the proceeds of exports in 1991). In1995 the government launched a five-year program that tends to make Ethiopia self-sufficient in the field of food production and which, after the excellent harvests of 1996 and 1997, seems destined for success. But agricultural production, the basis of the national economy, continues to be exposed to the dangers of recurrent catastrophic droughts, such as those that hit the country in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Manufacturing industries employ an insignificant fraction of the labor force, and remain mainly confined to the food and textile sectors. The development of a natural gas field in Ogaden is being studied, through the construction on site of a gas liquefaction plant. The production of electricity can count on an installed power of over 460,000 kW, of which 372. 000 water (1995) and 30. 000 geothermal; in 1995the government has announced a development plan for the considerable geothermal potential, located in about fifteen geothermal fields in various regions of the country. According to the forecast budget 1996 – 97, 36 % of the revenue is made up of international aid, which intensified after 1991, since the government launched an economic liberalization plan that earned it the appreciation of financial institutions. international. In particular, the World Bank has granted substantial aid for the period 1997 – 2000 to finance projects in the fields of education, health and food safety.


After World War II, the history of Ethiopia it was characterized by a permanent tension, often resulting in open conflict, between the different ethnic-linguistic groups that make up the reality of the country. In fact, both the monarchic regime of Ḫāyla Sellāsē and, starting from the mid-seventies, the one-party Marxist-Leninist inspiration of Mangestù, despite the repressive interventions on the one hand and the modest attempts at co-optation, had not succeeded in building a unitary sense of national identity; on the contrary, the intertwining of ethnic claims and democratic aspirations constituted a permanent element of crisis and conflict. For Ethiopia history, please check

If the most important of these conflicts was represented by the struggle waged by the Eritreans for independence (a conflict which, having crossed the history of the country for thirty years, had only ended at the beginning of the 1990s), profound divisions also characterized the other population groups, different ethnically and culturally, such as the Amhara, the Tigers, the Somalis, the Oromo, the Afar, often organized in different armed movements. Nor the coming to power (May 1991) of a predominantly Tigrinya movement, but resulting from the fusion of various groups – the Revolutionary Democratic Front of the Ethiopian People (FDRPE), which, in a framework of mutual support with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Eritrea, led to the overcoming of the question Eritrea – was able, at least initially, to impose an end to internal rivalries and clashes. The difficulties of Ethiopia to face a substantial process of democratization, which, still in the mid-nineties, still struggled to find adequate institutional forms and real popular consensus.

The regional elections of June 1992, which took place one year after the appointment of Meles Zenawi, leader of the FDRPE, as provisional head of state and government, constituted an important step in the construction of a decentralized state structure, seen as the basis for a possible peaceful coexistence between different ethnic groups, but they also revealed the extreme contradiction of the situation. In fact, the elections were boycotted by the Oromo Liberation Front, which had also participated in the constitution of the provisional government, but which, not feeling guaranteed in the electoral campaign, intensified the armed conflict, never completely abandoned, in the southern and eastern areas. The electoral consultation also encountered difficulties in carrying out in the regions inhabited by the Somalis and Afar people and was marked by extensive irregularities,

The FDRPE, clear winner of the consultation, also dominated the elections for the Constituent Assembly, which, announced by the government in March 1993, took place in June 1994.also in a climate of strong tension. They were in fact boycotted by the opposition, organized in a coalition comprising over thirty parties and movements, while some groups intensified the armed struggle. In December, the Assembly’s work ended with the approval of a parliamentary-type Constitution which provided for the administrative division of the country into nine states, endowed with ample autonomy, and with the birth of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The political landscape did not undergo substantial changes even in the consultations for the federal Parliament and for that of the individual states, which took place in May 1995 and recorded, boycotted by the opposition, the clear and artificial supremacy of the FDRPE. In August the new Parliament elected N. Gidada as President of the Republic, while Zenawi assumed the office of Prime Minister, the real holder of power.

However, the appointment of an Oromo to the highest office in the state was not interpreted as a sign of openness by the opposition. Despite the numerous criticisms of various international agencies regarding respect for human rights, the major Western countries and in particular the United States continued to assure their support for the new regime, even within a more general strategy of containment of Sudan and the its alleged activity in support of Islamic fundamentalism. In addition to administrative reforms, the government’s action focused on an economic reconversion program, supported by international financial institutions, aimed at extending the role of the market and developing and innovating agricultural production.

In foreign policy, Ethiopia started relations of economic cooperation with the two neighboring countries, which among other things could ensure access to the sea, Djibouti and Eritrea, although with the latter in May 1998 there was a rapid deterioration of relations, resulting in a series of armed clashes and degenerate, in a climate of growing and heated nationalism on both sides, in a real war with the use of heavy weapons and aviation. The conflict originated from an ancient border issue – a strip of land along the border with Sudan – whose structure had been partially defined by international treaties at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it also seemed fueled by economic tensions, which occurred after the decision of 1997), and the concerns of Ethiopia for the practicability of ports. The first attempts at mediation made by the United States, which had established good relations with the two countries, and by several African countries proved useless.

Ethiopia in the 1990's