Ethiopia — June 2010

Sociopolitical Situation

National elections took place on 23 May in a peaceful, orderly manner. With 32 million registered voters, over 43,000 polling stations, almost 7,000 candidates from 63 parties competing for 2,205 parliamentary seats and for regional legislatures, this election proved a daunting task and an impressive achievement for this vast, rugged country. Preliminary results indicate a sweeping victory for the ruling party, which has been in power since defeating the Communist government in 1991. Despite credible complaints of harassment and intimidation from opposition parties in the years leading up to the election, many observers believed that the superior organization and resources of the ruling party — along with their incumbent’s control of the patronage power of the state — made the outcome inevitable.

This new five-year mandate for the incumbent government assures continuity in the country’s economic policies, which have yielded significant results. Ethiopia has posted impressive growth over the past six years: the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa expects a 9 percent increase in Ethiopia”s gross domestic product in 2010 (the second highest in Africa). Ethiopia’s 2009 GDP growth was an equally favorable 8.5 percent (the highest in Africa). While 80 percent of the population works in the agricultural sector, the service and manufacturing sectors are poised to surpass the contribution of the rural sector to the GDP by 2015. Inflation seems to have been brought under control, though balancing the budget remains problematic. China, India and Turkey have emerged as major sources of direct foreign investment, while Western countries and international organizations continue to be the major sources of humanitarian assistance.

The Horn of Africa remains a troubled region, where poverty is entrenched and conflict is a constant threat. Governments in the region, notably those of Ethiopia and Eritrea, have a long history of sponsoring dissident movements in “enemy” countries. The region also has a long history of refugees crossing into neighboring countries. Today, an estimated 2,000 Eritreans cross into Ethiopia each month. The UNHCR has established several camps for them near the border. Ethiopia and its Western partners remain concerned about the instability in neighboring Somalia and its affects on the region. Ethiopia’s relations with Sudan are normal, though the looming 2011 referendum on the secession of southern Sudan adds an element of uncertainty to the current state of affairs.

Unfortunately, regional instability compels the Ethiopian government to expend much of its scarce resources on its military. The Ethiopian government also places a great deal of importance on diplomacy and has had several recent successes in this area — convincing the African Union to impose sanctions on Eritrea and being honored with having its prime minister represent the African continent at the summit on climate change in Copenhagen and at the last and upcoming G20 summits. Ethiopia is also an integral part of the Nile Basin Initiative, a coalition of Nile River states that seek to establish a new accord on the use of the Nile’s waters from its source in Lake Victoria (15 percent of the total flow) to Lake Tana (85 percent of the total flow). Seven states upstream deem inequitable and obsolete existing agreements, which were first drafted by colonial powers in 1929 and benefit most Egypt and Sudan. This highly sensitive matter will require a great deal of compromise and diplomacy from all parties, if a more equitable arrangement is to be achieved.

Religious Situation

Earlier this year, a dispute between the Ethiopian Orthodox patriarch and the church hierarchy attracted a great deal of media attention, which in turn rattled the entire Ethiopian Orthodox community. The quarrel and the media coverage it attracted have ended, with neither the patriarch nor the hierarchy fully achieving their initial objectives. Whether this calm will continue is not yet clear, though the government has made it clear that it does not want the patriarch and the hierarchy to disagree again in public.

Holy Trinity Theological College (HTTC), the primary seminary of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with assistance from CNEWA, continues to send its graduates for graduate degrees at India’s Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram (DVK), a Pontifical Athenaeum of Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law. Upon their return, students have expressed great appreciation for this opportunity; they have done well academically and have been well regarded. This program contributes a great deal to ecumenical relations between the Ethiopian Catholic and Orthodox churches. The current academic vice-dean of HTTC is a graduate of DVK and two Ethiopian monks are scheduled to begin their studies there in June 2010. HTTC is strapped for funds and both its facilities and academic programs need considerable improvements. At present, administrators are considering new strategies to attract greater support from current and potential donors.

The Ethiopian Catholic Church has all vacancies in its eparchies and vicariates filled. As expected, the ethnically fractious Soddo-Hosanna vicariate was divided. An auxiliary also has been named for the geographically vast Archeparchy of Addis Ababa. At the request of the Ethiopian Catholic Bishops Conference and in light of the abuse scandals in North America, Europe and elsewhere, the Conference of Major Religious Superiors is expected to establish a code of conduct for clergy.

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