Ethiopia — January 2009

Sociopolitical Situation

Ethiopia confronts a tangle of daunting domestic and international challenges. Elections are scheduled for 2010, but it is expected that this will only reaffirm the overwhelming dominance of the present administration across the country. The government’s controversial “Charities and Societies Proclamation” was passed into law by a large parliamentary majority. This legislation provides for greater government oversight of non-profit, non-governmental organizations and declares any such organization receiving more than 10% of its revenues from abroad an “international organization,” which then forbids it from working in such sectors as human rights, governance, democratization, conflict resolution or advocacy. Religious organizations are exempt from the legislation, though not their social service agencies.

Conflict and the threat of conflict characterize the larger region. The Ethiopian-Eritrean border dispute remains unresolved, with the troops of both nations in close proximity. The December 2006 intervention in Somalia, which attempted to bolster the flagging Somali Transitional Federal Government in the face of an attempt by Islamists to seize power, has bogged down. Islamist forces seem to be gaining strength and the promised deployment of 8,000 African Union troops has not materialized. This has led to an Ethiopian decision to withdraw its troops over the next few weeks.

The long-awaited results of the 2007 national census results were released. The data shows a total population of 77 million, with Addis Ababa having 2.7 million residents.

Religious Situation

The 2007 national census results report that the Christian-Muslim population did not change dramatically over the past twelve years, with 62 percent of the nation being Christian and 33 percent, Muslim. However the upsurge in the number of Protestants startled most observers, with that community surging from 10% to 18.5% of the total population, while Orthodoxy dropped from 51% to 43%! There are many factors cited for this erosion of Orthodoxy, including (a) the more traditional training and orientation of their clergy, which emphasizes rote learning rather than analysis in a country where basic education — and modern pedagogy — have increased dramatically over the past 20 years; (b) the effectiveness of Protestant evangelization efforts in regions that seem to have been only superficially Orthodox; (c) the impact of Protestant social service activities on underserved communities; (d) the decline in Orthodox financial resources as a result of the former Communist regime’s nationalization of much church property and (e) a very personal Protestant evangelization approach that offers emotional support, participation and community to many.

The Catholic population showed no significant change, remaining at 540,000, or less than 1% of the population.

The Ethiopian Catholic Bishops Conference inaugurated their new Conference Center and Guest House. Built at a cost of approximately $2.4 million as an income-generating project, the facility includes two attractive, five-story buildings that will house Catholic Relief Services, CAFOD and CARITAS Belgium, as well as the Bishops conference itself. There are 29 guest rooms, as well as meeting rooms, available.

Attempts to heal the rupture between the North American based Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Patriarchate in Addis Ababa appear to have been unsuccessful.

Interfaith efforts to promote harmony were highlighted in the media. Overall, relations between faiths remain proper, though reports of tension surface periodically.

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