Protests, Development and Democratization in Ethiopia, 2014-2020

Kelecha, M. 2021. Protests, Development and Democratization in Ethiopia, 2014-2020. PhD thesis University of Westminster Social Sciences

TitleProtests, Development and Democratization in Ethiopia, 2014-2020
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsKelecha, M.

The objective of the thesis was to identify and analyse the challenges and opportunities for democratization in Ethiopia's recent political reform process. As such, the thesis explores how the recent Amhara and Oromo youth struggle for democracy has contributed to the activation of a movement that exposed Ethiopia's long-standing political vulnerability, bringing together social forces and social groups that were rival and fragmented in the interest of creating a national protest movement to challenge the status quo and topple a deeply entrenched authoritarian regime. For addressing these objectives, I employed a qualitative approach of a deductive nature, which allowed the formulation of a theoretical framework, consisting of nine preconditions, as determinants of democratization. The synthesis of these factors provides a useful set of conditions that have helped explore the extent to which Ethiopia meets the preconditions. The thesis also analyses Ethiopia's predicaments for achieving democracy over a longer historical trajectory, which are deeply rooted in the making of the modern Ethiopian state. Moreover, contrary to the assertions of modernization theorists, that most countries that have managed to create stable democracies achieved high rates of economic development before the transition to democracy, the experience of Ethiopia shows that economic development does not necessarily lead to democracy. Rather, it seemed to support the deepening of authoritarian rule by creating a dominant party regime that controlled security, military, politics, and economy under the ideological guise of revolutionary democracy, which remained an anti-thesis of democratic development.

The thesis also explores the diverse understanding of democracy and the lack of consensus as to what constitutes it among the political entities involved in the current transition, as to whether democracy is primarily a substantive way of life, encompassing social and economic aspects as defining criteria, or rather a set of procedural rules that are mostly concerned with the process of institutional arrangements. There are many democratic characteristics explored in this thesis, but the consideration of societal democratic values and culture has received the most attention in the analysis. The thesis argued against the trends of importing/emulating theories and models from outside to solve the long-standing democratic deficits of the country. I argue that the interest in building a democratic culture must arise from a political imagination that engenders the expression of social realities through the indigenization of modern democratic theories in a way that reflects the Ethiopian context. Such a theoretical framework allowed the study to extract relevant elements from the Oromo Gadaa system that may help shape local governance in the Oromia region. In the Gadaa political tradition, popular rule means not only, as in the representative model, consent to power, but also that the ordinary citizen has access to the exercise of power through various mechanisms that place them at the centre of political institutions. Similar political traditions, reminiscent of a form of "deliberative democracy", are also found in other local ethno-regional traditions in Ethiopia and these might serve as basis to rethink democracy in Ethiopia, creating a common indigenous political framework more rooted in society. Finally, the thesis analyses the nature of political relations in the post-protest period, examining how the transition process and the main political actors attempt to respond to the challenges of democracy in Ethiopia. This sheds light on the types of institutions and policy approaches to address the challenges impeding the emergence of a vibrant democracy in the country. Based on the key findings of this thesis, the main challenges facing the current political transition in Ethiopia include the ineffective transition management, the fragility and disunity of countervailing forces such as political parties and civil societies, increased competition between contending ethno-nationalist groups, and the contradictory legacy of the making of modern Ethiopia.

File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
PublisherUniversity of Westminster
Publication dates
PublishedApr 2021
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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