Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, submitted his resignation two weeks ago, amid large protests against his government and a state of emergency decreed by him since October 2016.

By Américo Gomes.


The protests in the second most populated country in Africa (102 million inhabitants,) with more than ten million people suffering from starvation, have been going on for more than two years, with hundreds killed by police repression, particularly in the capital, Addis Abeba. It is reported that there are more than 1,000 dead and about 20,000 people imprisoned. They are mainly young people who block highways, close businesses and strike throughout the Addis Abeba region.

Ethnic violence against the Oromos also caused many deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands of displaced people.

Desalegn’s political party and the Popular Democratic Movement are part of a government coalition called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Hailemariam was linked to former guerrilla Meles Zenawi (founder of the Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray,) leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, that created the EPRDF and ruled Ethiopia since August 1991 (when he deposed the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam) until his death, on August 20, 2012. Hailemariam was deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has been in power for 27 years. The civil war in Ethiopia left at least 1.4 million dead.

Feeling the ungovernability, last month began issuing a series of pardons and releasing prisoners to seek a “national consensus” – hard to achieve after arresting journalists, congressmen and opposition leaders, banning postings on Facebook, blocking internet and declaring that the opposition and television stations run by the opposition were illegal.

Faced with this reality, EPRDF’s national leadership demanded Desalegn’s resignation, in a case similar to that of South Africa. The position will remain vacant until the leadership of the EPRDF elects a new Prime Minister since they control the Parliament, all 547 seats.

The demonstrations continue

Even after the prime minister resigned, the ruling coalition declared another state of emergency, to try to contain the mass protests through its ban. But these continue in all the most populated regions of the country. Mainly in the Oromia region, the most populated in Ethiopia, where Oromos (also present in Kenya and Somalia) are – the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, with about 35 to 40% of the total population, located in the country’s central region in the vicinity of Addis Abeba.

Their land was confiscated and they have no place to go, waiting for a government-run plan. That is the reason why they are in struggle, but they also demand the release of all political prisoners and more political and economic rights.

Together with them, and also against the confiscation of their lands, the second ethnic group, Amhara, which represents about 27% of the population, is holding protests in the region.Tigrayans represent about 6% of the population of Ethiopia, but they control political and economic positions, as well as the most important security sector. Therefore, they control the whole country – with the help of imperialism, the United States in particular, which trains the Ethiopian army. Meles Zenawi was from this ethnic group.

Whither Ethiopia?

The President of the ruling coalition assumed the duties of the Prime Minister. The appointment of a new Prime Minister will be an attempt to save the party that has been in power for decades. But a new successor will not be enough to contain the protests because it will not fulfill any of the demands of the Ethiopian people. There will be no political reform either nor will there be any response to the marginalization of the largest national ethnic group, the Oromo, which is experiencing a process of political and economic exclusion.

For that reason, the mobilization must continue until the EPRDF government is overthrown and a government is established that calls for a Constituent Assembly that incorporates all ethnic groups, giving them compensation, and enabling the Ethiopian people and workers to organize in their own parties, in order to rule and establish the profound social changes that workers need.

A bit of History

The African country that defeated an empire

Italy invaded Ethiopia between 1895 and 1896, following the imperialist policy of the end of the 19th century, of dividing the continent and trying to create colonies in Africa. Ethiopia was one of the few remaining independent countries; their territories, in addition to Ethiopia, included also Eritrea and Yemen.

Initially, King Menelik II decided to make certain agreements with Italy in exchange for recognition and weapons. He gave Eritrea to the Italians, but they wanted him as vassal of the king of Italy.

In 1893, Menelik declared that the treaties were no longer valid. The Italians sent troops and invaded Ethiopia, but they had to retreat. In February 1896, 18,000 Italians advanced again. They expected to fight 30,000 Ethiopians, but there were more than 100,000. It was a massacre: 7000 Italians died, 1500 were injured and 3000 captured. On October 23, the Treaty of Addis Ababa ended the war and recognized Ethiopian sovereignty.

An African army of diverse ethnicities defeated the white colonists

In October of 1935, Mussolini sent 100,000 soldiers through the territory they had in Eritrea, used heavy artillery, air strikes and chemical weapons (even in civilian populations,) and conquered the country until 1941. The war caused more than half a million of deaths among Africans, and 5,000 Italian casualties. Mussolini announced the birth of his Empire at the end of the war, declaring Vítor Emanuel III as Emperor of Ethiopia, or of the “Eastern Italian Africa.” The League of Nations recognized this possession.

But the Ethiopian forces, which showed strong resistance and were severely repressed, received the support of the British Empire during the Second World War, and on January 31, 1941, they regained independence.

This second war occurred during the Haile Selassie reign, a faithful ally of the British imperialism, where he lived in exile from 1936 to 194. Defender of the United States of Africa.

In 1973, hunger was overwhelming throughout the country and led to thousands of deaths. Inflation was galloping. This caused riots in 1974, mainly in the capital. Selassie made concessions such as lowering the price of fuel and increasing wages, but that did not stop him from being overthrown by Derg.

Derg was a military lower-ranking officials and soldiers committee, created to represent their demands and led by Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Mengistu was in power until 1991. He was Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia. Cruel dictator with the dissidents and commander of the bloodiest phase of the war of liberation of Eritrea, in 2008 he was condemned for the genocide of more than one million people.

In 1978, with the help of Cuban soldiers, he defeated Somalia and the Ogaden guerrilla. In the 1980s, there were periods of hunger that reached eight million people in the country, causing one million deaths.

With the revolutions in Eastern Europe, in 1989, Soviet aid to Ethiopia ended and the Cuban soldiers left. Ethiopia lost Eritrea. The Mengistu government deteriorated.

In 1989, the Liberation Front of the Tigrinios Peoples (FLPT) merged with other opposition movements to form the Revolutionary Democratic Front of the Ethiopian Peoples, led by Meles Zenawi. In May 1991, EPRDF forces supported by Albania advanced on Addis Abeba. Mengistu went into exile in Zimbabwe, ruled by Robert Mugabe.

A transition government was established in Ethiopia. Meles Zenawi led this government and became Prime Minister. From then on, he defrauded every election. In June 1992, the Oromo Liberation Front withdrew from the government.


Translation: Corriente Obrera.