Ethiopia, with a population of approximately 128 million, ranks as the second-largest country in Africa after Nigeria. It boasts a diverse population consisting of over 80 different ethnic groups and operates under a Federal Parliamentary Republic system. Distinguishing itself as one of the few African nations never to have been colonized, Ethiopia held its first multi-party election in 1995, marking a significant milestone in its political history.

Between 2000 and 2013, Ethiopia experienced remarkable economic growth, with a GDP growth rate of 9.5%, surpassing the African average of 5%. This growth was primarily driven by agriculture, which accounted for 83% of its export products. The period also witnessed significant urbanization, extending beyond cities to rural areas.

Despite its notable achievements, Ethiopia faces significant geopolitical challenges, particularly due to its lack of direct access to the Red Sea. This limitation has led to various complications in its relationship with neighboring Eritrea, with tensions persisting despite internationally recognized boundaries established since 1993.

Moreover, Ethiopia's hierarchical statehood structure, intolerant of dissent, imposes limitations on economic growth, contributing to conflicts and hindering enterprise development, especially in densely populated regions.

It is crucial to highlight that Ethiopia's economy relies on both domestic savings and foreign investments, notably from China, its leading trade partner. Additionally, other countries such as Turkey, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Bangladesh have also made investments. However, there are ongoing challenges such as industry fragmentation and dependency on supply chains, which require strategic solutions to ensure long-term growth and development.

Ethiopia's Development Journey

Developmental projects in Ethiopia have a long history, dating back to Emperor Tewodros's reign in the late 19th century, but they faced significant cultural and physical barriers to implementation. Unlike state creation in other parts of Africa, which often resulted from external colonialism, Ethiopia's process was indigenous, supported by its organizational capacity to resist colonial conquests. Despite these challenges, developmental efforts persisted into the 20th century with modernization programs such as virgin land initiatives. However, the Marxist military dictatorship from 1974 to 1991 attempted transformation projects unsuccessfully, marking a turbulent period in Ethiopia's developmental journey.

Following the regime's collapse in 1991, Ethiopia's new leadership, led by Meles Zenawi, drew inspiration from Marxism but adapted it to local contexts. Inspired by East Asian examples, Zenawi is widely regarded as one of the most remarkable leaders and thinkers in Africa. Under his rule, despite domestic political pressures stemming from internal divisions due to historical colonialism, there was a push for development. The president's objective was to establish a federal system based on ethnicity, granting nationalities the right to self-determination. Unlike previous top-down approaches, this new approach was driven by learning from past mistakes. This shift toward industrial development from agriculture marked a significant turning point for the government. It led to improved infrastructure, including communication networks and hydroelectric power plants, boosting Ethiopia's ability to export electricity.

Zenawi's economic vision, characterized by rapid growth without embracing neoliberal principles, continued to shape Ethiopia's policies. However, critics argued that the developmental state maintained by the elite under Zenawi's leadership was undemocratic with autocratic elements. Income distribution was unfair during Zenawi's tenure, with extensive state intervention, including strict price controls and limited support for free competition. Private property promotion was lacking, and the ruling elite influenced institutional systems, preventing the establishment of a politically neutral and competent bureaucracy. Zenawi's death caused uncertainty in the country, culminating in a war after eight years. 

After Zenawi's death, Ethiopia witnessed a peaceful change, however in February 2018, Zenawi's predecessor, Hailemariam, announced his resignation amid rising unrest, citing the need for reforms to achieve sustainable peace and democracy. Additionally, his government faced accusations of arresting opposition leaders and journalists, tarnishing his international reputation. Hailemariam was succeeded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed, who has since become Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Ahmed received the Nobel Prize for his initiative to resolve the border conflict with the neighboring Eritrea. 

Ethiopia's Tigray Conflict: Impacts and Aftermath

In November 2020, a civil war broke out mainly in Ethiopia's Tigray Region. The conflict pitted forces supporting the Ethiopian federal government and Eritrea against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The war, which some estimates suggest may have resulted in the deaths of 600,000 people, impeded Ethiopia's ability to sustain its economic progress and development. 

It's noteworthy that Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. At that time, the Tigrayans held significant control over Ethiopia's central government until the new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, started to govern in 2018. Despite linguistic and ethnic similarities between Tigrayans and Eritreans, their relationship was marked by enduring hostility, shedding light on Eritrea's alignment with the Ethiopian federal government.

The economic toll of the war has been immense, with billions of dollars lost due to the destruction of infrastructure such as roads, airports, and factories. Moreover, Ethiopia faced additional challenges as Washington imposed sanctions, impacting its access to the US market. In Tigray, recruitment into the army was continuous, and those who did not join were imprisoned.

Although the conflict officially ended in November 2023, war crimes continue to plague Ethiopia's northern region of Tigray. With the UN's focus diverted and global attention elsewhere, starving and displaced civilians feel neglected and overlooked. Reports persist of ongoing human rights violations and incidents of sexual violence.

Closing Remarks

Ethiopia's status as the headquarters of the African Union symbolizes its central role in African diplomacy and regional leadership. However, the ongoing conflict in the Tigray Region has raised concerns about Ethiopia's ability to uphold these principles. Some experts argue that Ethiopia's actions in the conflict may contradict the legal standards set by the African Union. Moreover, there are fears that the conflict could escalate further, driven by Ethiopia's ambitions to regain access to the Red Sea and establish a port in the region. Such a resurgence of hostilities would have devastating consequences, particularly for Tigray, given its proximity to Eritrea.