Ethiopia — January 2008

Sociopolitical situation

Ethiopia continues the difficult transition from a highly centralized unitary state to a more decentralized and open political system. The ruling party remains firmly in control with a substantial majority in parliament as well as control of all the regional governments. The legal opposition parties remain engaged and active in parliamentary proceedings, but they complain of unfair procedures and of harassment. The imprisoned leaders of the major opposition party, who were arrested and put on trial following the post-2005 election rioting, were found guilty on several counts but granted amnesty. Local and regional elections are scheduled for April 2008, though it is not yet certain if the opposition parties will participate fully.

Economic growth remains strong with three consecutive years of double digit growth in real gross domestic product. Inflation, especially in urban areas, was a worrisome 13.6 percent in 2006 and continued to be high throughout 2007. Despite occasional disagreements, donor countries and institutions remain largely supportive of Ethiopia and its development efforts.

Ethiopia continues to be viewed by the United States and other Western powers as an essential partner in the war on terror. This fact may override any Western concerns about human rights or other issues in Ethiopia. The government’s decision in December 2006 to intervene in Somalia, siding with the weak though internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government against the Union of Islamic Courts, was successful. However, Ethiopia has found it difficult to make a quick exit from that country in view of the slow deployment of Africa Union troops. Fears of a quagmire have been voiced by the opposition parties. A resolution of the Somali situation that meets Ethiopia’s security needs remains uncertain. Meanwhile, tensions with Eritrea continue as the border issue remains unresolved. While another war in the near future is unlikely, Eritrea’s frustration at Ethiopia’s stalling in its implementation of the pro-Eritrea Hague Court decision on border demarcation, along with Ethiopia’s fury at Eritrea’s alleged support of the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia, adds dangerous elements to this ever tense situation.

In May 2007, Ethiopia launched its third national census. Results on ethnicity, language and religion are expected in April 2008. In September 2007, the nation observed the New Year that, due to the unique calendar utilized in Ethiopia, is the Millennium Year 2000. Celebratory events will continue throughout the year.

Religious situation

Churches have utilized Millennium 2000 to launch special observances throughout the year. Relations between the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Coptic Orthodox churches, which had been estranged for many years, were reconciled as a result of the mediation efforts of the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Cilicia, Aram I. Ethiopian Orthodox hierarchs traveled to Cairo for a public service of reconciliation with their Coptic counterparts. At the subsequent annual Meskel celebration in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abune Paulos hosted leaders of the Oriental Orthodox churches as well as Byzantine Orthodox leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Some students at the church’s Holy Trinity Theological College went on a hunger strike in protest of living conditions, administrative issues and other serious complaints, though this has been resolved and classes have resumed.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Holy Synod met and announced its support for the establishment of 15 new Clergy Training Centers, in addition to the eight currently in operation. These centers offer three-month upgrading programs for traditionally trained rural parish priests.

The Ethiopian Catholic University of St. Thomas Aquinas (ECUSTA) moves closer to reality with a small number of classes to open in January in rented quarters.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Education continues to meet with the leadership of the four major religious communities (Orthodox, Islamic, Protestant, Catholic) to discuss the status of their schools and the possibility of a common ethics curriculum for government and schools owned/operated by various religious communities.

Government donor agencies are eager to support programs that would identify religious conflict “flash points” in order to promote interreligious harmony.

The government is said to be moving towards a liberalization of the present laws on abortion.

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