Ethiopia — June 2006

Sociopolitical Situation

The dominant issue in Ethiopia is the complexity of the political situation, post-May 2005 elections. Most foreign observes have said the elections were much better than the elections held five years earlier but nevertheless left a great deal to be desired. There were observed abuses of power and intimidation on the part of the government and government agencies such as the police and army.


In May 2006, there were serious political demonstrations; unemployed youth in cities and towns took advantage of the lawlessness and there was considerable property damage, especially to properties owned by members of the ethnic group in power. The police retaliated by what foreign observes judged to be excessive force.


Since May 2006, the government has tightened security in major towns and in the capital city of Addis Ababa. Despite heightened security, there have been at least three explosions triggered at the same time but in various parts of the city. The government has admitted that it does not know who is responsible but has accused Eritrea, the radical element of the Oromo ethnic group and the political opposition.


Meanwhile, since May 2006, the leaders of the political opposition have been imprisoned and bail denied. They have been formally charged with treason and genocide. The trials proceed very slowly as the prosecution asks for more time to gather evidence to substantiate their charges against the opposition.


Religious Situation

After these disturbances, the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia issued a pastoral statement calling for social justice and a rule of law. The statement was very well received by the outside world, the diplomatic community, the NGO community resident in Ethiopia and by those in general who had access to the statement.

Some within the Catholic Church thought the statement anti-government while others felt that it did not go far enough in condemning the government for the excessive repressive measures of the police and military. One must assess the statement for oneself. It is a courageous and fair assessment of the situation and a Gospel-based message.


In November 2005, Ethiopia’s Catholic bishops gathered for four days of informal meetings in which they were able to discuss issues of common concern. This is the second time the bishops have chosen to do this and have made plans to meet again this November. The reaction of the bishops to these informal meetings was most positive.


This past spring, the bishops also issued a pastoral letter to their priests.


In May, the Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Abuna Berhaneyesus D. Souraphiel, chose to take a sabbatical, attending a renewal program for priests and religious in Kent, England. Some priests and religious were surprised as this is something unknown in Ethiopia, while others were very pleased.


Applicants to the priesthood and religious life continue to decline. The reaction to this trend is for bishops and religious superiors to be tempted to reduce the academic and maybe the personal standards of candidates who present themselves.


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