The Dynamics of Anti-Government Protest in Ethiopia from 2015 to 2018: From Hidden to Public resistance

Girma Mekonnen


DOI: 10.7176/IAGS/72-01

Publication date:May 31st 2019


The past three years, anti-government protests in Ethiopia revealed that the country is moving from rising narratives to civil unrest.  The civil unrest mainly emanates from the official state discourse of ‘democratic developmental state’, revolutionary democracy and other competing narratives (Branch and Mampilly, 2015). To facilitate a systematic paradigm moves from the democratic transition to economic development, the developmental state narratives become the official ideology of the state (Abbink, 2017; Allo, 2017). Following the disgraceful 2005 election where opposition political parties won major urban areas in including the capital city of Addis Ababa (Lefort, 2007), the Ethiopia People Revolution Democratic Front (hereafter EPRDF) introduces many political and economic reforms to restore its legitimacy.

For many observers, the EPRDF’s thriving development narratives, however, depoliticize society, widen social gaps, justify violent repression, and entrench ‘ritual’ power. Besides, Elites governing narratives extend, legitimize, and sustain a defacto power of the government. (Allo, 2017; Di Nunzio, 2015). Failure to comply rules creates we-they nature of relationship and above all the state politicisation of megaprojects results create an "otherness" of those who do not support such mega projects (Allo, 2017; Lefort, 2007). Finally, the open anti-government protest began in 2015 and continued until 24 March 2018.

This paper, therefore, discusses the dynamics of power relation between the government and protesters based on Scott conceptual analysis of ‘domination and art of resistance’ which reveals how elite complex domination strategies pushed subordinate groups to develop resistance strategies. Scott has also reformulated the sources of resentment, driving us to look beyond points of open conflict to social spaces where different ideas and thoughts are created.

For Scott (1990, P. 70) ‘‘[the powerful] … have a vital interest in keeping up the appearances appropriate to their form of domination. Subordinates, for their part, ordinarily have good reasons to help sustain those appearances or, at least, not openly to contradict them’’. These two social realities have implication for the study of power relations. Study protest from this perspective also helps to understand the underlying problems of power relation before the eruption of open protest. The 2015 anti-government protest perhaps discloses the rationality of conformity and elite’s strategies of domination.  Therefore, analysing this social space and underlying power relation offers different perspectives of resistance to imposed domination which is the desired objective of this study.

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