Ethnic discrimination in Ethiopia

Ethnic discrimination in Ethiopia during and since the Haile Selassie epoch has been described using terms including "racism",[1][2] "ethnification",[3] "ethnic identification, ethnic hatred, ethnicization",[4] and "ethnic profiling".[5][6][7] During the Haile Selassie period, Amhara elites perceived the southern minority languages as an obstacle to the development of an Ethiopian national identity.[8] Ethnic discrimination occurred during the Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam epochs against Afars, Tigrayans, Eritreans, Somalis and Oromos.[9] Ethnic federalism was implemented by Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) leader Meles Zenawi and discrimination against Amharas, Oromos and other ethnic groups continued during TPLF rule.[10] Liberalisation of the media after Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in 2018 led to strengthening of media diversity and strengthening of ethnically focussed hate speech.[3] Ethnic profiling targeting Tigrayans occurred during the Tigray War that started in November 2020.[5][11][12]

Haile Selassie and DergEdit

Data from the Minorities at Risk (MAR) project were used by Charles E. Riddle to study the degrees of discrimination by the dominant Amharas against the non-dominant ethnic groups in Ethiopia from 1950 to 1992, during the later reign of Emperor Haile Selassie and that of Mengistu Haile Mariam of the Derg. Systematic discrimination against Afars occurred throughout the period. Tigrayans were initially culturally assimilated with the Amharas, speaking Amharic, and suffered little discrimination. The Derg culturally rejected the Tigrayans, who decreased their usage of Amharic, reverting to Tigrinya, and discrimination against the Tigrayans became strong. Eritreans, treated by MAR and Riddle as an ethnic group, and Somalis were strongly discriminated against throughout the period. The Oromos were initially strongly discriminated against, but adopted Amharic as their official language when the Derg came to power, and discrimination against them dropped.[9]

Under the Haile Selassie government, the Oromo language was legally banned from education, public speaking and use in administration.[13][14][15] The Amhara culture dominated throughout the eras of military and monarchic rule. Both the Haile Selassie and the Derg governments relocated numerous Amharas into southern Ethiopia where they served in government administration, courts, church and even in school, where Oromo texts were eliminated and replaced by Amharic.[16][17][18] During Haile Selassie rule the Harari people were persecuted and many left Harar.[19]


Meles Zenawi of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), who replaced the Derg in 1991, introduced a political restructuring of Ethiopia called ethnic federalism. Alemante G. Selassie, writing in The Yale Journal of International Law, argued that the new structure, formalised in the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia, gave too much formal power to ethnicity. He recommended Nigeria and Switzerland as better examples of multi-lingual, multi-ethnic states in which ethnic diversity is de facto recognised in administrative and territorial structuring, but is overridden by smaller scale territorial divisions and is not given direct political authority.[10]

Ethiopians classified as "ethnically Eritrean" were deported from Ethiopia to Eritrea in a program that started in June 1998. By January 1999, 52,000 "Eritrean" Ethiopians had been deported to Eritrea. The Ethiopian Human Rights Council protested against the deportations.[4]

In 2001, 12,000 Amharas were expelled from Oromia Region.[10]

As of 2003, Oromos, Amharas and other members of the majority population in the Harari Region were discriminated against in favour of the Harari people, constituting 7% of the residents of the region. Only those speaking the Harari language and showing Harari ethnicity on their identity cards were allowed to vote in regional elections.[10]

In 2017, the Ethiopian Satellite Television station ESAT was argued by Zeray Wolqait to be a "Voice of Genocide". He stated that ESAT "call[ed] and encourag[ed] massacres of the population of Tigray and listing or threaten to list people who deserved to die and should be exterminated." Zeray stated that ESAT was run by the Ginbot 7. He quoted ESAT journalist Mesay Mekonnen calling for "drying the water so as to catch the fish" as a way of removing Tigrayan dominance in Ethiopia. Zeray interpreted this as a call for genocide against Tigrayans.[20]

Abiy AhmedEdit

In 2020, during the Abiy Ahmed, post-TPLF government of Ethiopia, Terje Skjerdal and Mulatu Alemayehu Moges found that freedom of print, broadcast and journalistic online media had increased greatly, but had also become highly polarised in terms of promoting ethnic nationalism. They found very strong growth in regional media, which tended to avoid or weaken reports on incidents showing "us" (the region and ethnicity with which a news medium is associated) negatively and to strengthen reports showing "them" (another region or ethnicity) as perpetrators of injustice. Online hate speech was found to have increased considerably, mostly originating from the Ethiopian diaspora in Western universities.[3]

Tigray WarEdit

During the Tigray War that started in November 2020, ethnic profiling against Tigrayans occurred, with Ethiopians of Tigrayan ethnicity being put on indefinite leave from Ethiopian Airlines or refused permission to board,[5] prevented from overseas travel,[21] and an "order of identifying ethnic Tigrayans from all government agencies and NGOs" being used by federal police to request a list of ethnic Tigrayans from an office of the World Food Programme.[11] Tigrayans' houses were arbitrarily searched and Tigrayan bank accounts were suspended.[21] Ethnic Tigrayan members of Ethiopian components of United Nations peacekeeping missions were disarmed and some forcibly flown back to Ethiopia, at the risk of torture or execution, according to United Nations officials.[22][12] On 31 January 2021, Semhal Meles, daughter of former prime minister Meles Zenawi, stated that she had been blocked from boarding a flight leaving Addis Ababa despite having valid documents. She stated that she was "illegally and unlawfully profiled." Semhal stated that in 2020, she had been detained by 20 armed police in Mekelle and held for 48 hours without access to a lawyer and without being informed of the reason for her detention. She was threatened with decapitation by one police officer. Semhal interpreted the arrest as being for the "dual crime, it seems, [of] being born into a political family with a Tigrayan identity.[6]

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported Tigrayans being forced to take leave from work and prevented from overseas travel.[21] Tigrayan employees of Ethiopian Airlines – pilots, caterers, technicians and security guards – were told to return their identification badges to the airline and not return to work until further notice. The Daily Telegraph interviewed six Ethiopian Airlines employees, who estimated that 200 staff with "Tigrayan sounding names" had been put on indefinite leave. Staff member Kiros Alemu stated that passengers with Tigrayan names had been prevented from boarding flights.[5][21] In early November, an office of the World Food Programme (WFP) was visited by federal police, who requested a list of ethnic Tigrayan staff based on an "order of identifying ethnic Tigrayans from all government agencies and NGOs". The WFP stated to the police that it doesn't identify staff by ethnicity. Federal authorities stated that the investigation related to "suspects linked to Tigrayan authorities, not Tigrayans" and that the reports of the visit were a "complete misrepresentation of the event".[11] The head of security for the African Union headquarters, in Addis Ababa, Gebreegziabher Mebratu Melese, was fired based on recommendations by the Ethiopian Ministry of Defence in early November.[22]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Tigrayans having their homes arbitrarily searched by federal security forces. Bank accounts opened in the Tigray Region were suspended from mid-November to 3 December.[21]

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, a former senior member of the TPLF, was accused of trying to supply weapons to the TPLF. Tedros denied that he was taking sides, and stated that he was "only one side and that is the side of peace."[21][23]

Around 200 to 300 Tigrayan soldiers participating in an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia had their weapons removed in early November. An official stated that the reason was "not ... due to ethnicity but due to infiltration of TPLF elements in various entities which is part of an ongoing investigation".[22] Some of the Tigrayan soldiers in Ethiopian contributions to peacekeeping missions, including four in South Sudan and 40 in Somalia, were forcibly flown back to Ethiopia. United Nations officials expressed concern that the returning soldiers could be tortured or executed. The senior military attaché at Ethiopia's United Nations mission in New York, a Tigrayan, was also fired.[12]


According to federal Attorney-General Gedion Timothewos, about 700 ethnic Tigrayans were detained in Addis Ababa in November 2020, dropping to around 300 in December 2020, on suspicion of links to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).[24]

In April 2021, 500 ethnic Tigrayans were held in a detention centre in Addis Ababa, which Addis Standard interpreted as arbitrary arrest based on ethnic identity.[25] A health worker who was one of the detainees said after his release that "a priest, two women with small children and a beggar" were among the detainees, and that conditions were "miserable", with around 30 detainees per room. Lawyer Desta Mesfin stated in May that none of the Tigrayan detainees had been brought before a judge.[24]

In July 2021, a further wave of arrests of ethnic Tigrayans and of journalists took place. The EHRC stated that it was "monitoring the situation closely" and that "Such measures could aggravate the public's concerns on the risk of ethnic profiling." A federal police spokesperson stated that the police "did not and does not arrest citizens based on their identity unless otherwise they are involved in criminal acts."[26]

International reactionsEdit

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the ethnic profiling of Tigrayans during the conflict.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dago, Habtamu; Eisen, Joanne Dale (2017). "Proving Genocide in Ethiopia: The Dolus Specialis of Intent to Destroy a Group" (PDF). Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies. 10 (7). Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 July 2021. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  2. ^ Jalata, Asafa (2009). "Being in and out of Africa: The Impact of Duality of Ethiopianism". Journal of Black Studies. SAGE Publishing. 40 (2): 189–214. doi:10.1177/0021934707307833. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Skjerdal, Terje; Moges, Mulatu Alemayehu (26 November 2020). "The ethnification of the Ethiopian media" (PDF). Fojo Media Institute, International Media Support. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  4. ^ a b Novgrodsky, Noah Benjamin (1 June 1999). "Identity Politics". Boston Review. Archived from the original on 18 January 2021. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d Zelalem, Zecharias (4 December 2020). "Ethiopia Airlines accused of ethnic profiling over civil war with Tigray". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 23 January 2021. Retrieved 16 January 2021. Alt URL
  6. ^ a b Roussi, Antoaneta (31 January 2021). "Ethiopia accused of using ethnic profiling to target Tigrayans". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 31 January 2021. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  7. ^ a b "Ethiopia volatile with fighting, ethnic profiling of Tigrayans – UN rights boss". Thomson Reuters. 9 December 2020. Archived from the original on 9 December 2020.
  8. ^ Bulcha, Mekuria (1997). "The Politics of Linguistic Homogenization in Ethiopia and the Conflict over the Status of 'Afaan Oromoo'". African Affairs. OUP. 96: 325–352. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  9. ^ a b Riddle, Chase E. (2 September 2016). "Ethnic Ethiopians: A Case Study of Discrimination Occurrence in Ethiopia". Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Archived from the original on 21 May 2018. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d Selassie, Alemante G. (2003). "Ethnic Federalism: Its Promise and Pitfalls for Africa". The Yale Journal of International Law. William & Mary Law School. 28: 51. Archived from the original on 18 August 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  11. ^ a b c "Ethiopian police seeking lists of ethnic Tigrayans – U.N. report". Thomson Reuters. 13 November 2020. Archived from the original on 16 January 2021. Ethiopian police visited a U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) office in Amhara region to request a list of ethnic Tigrayan staff, according to an internal U.N. security report seen by Reuters on Friday. ... The U.N. report said that the local police chief informed the WFP office of "the order of identifying ethnic Tigrayans from all government agencies and NGOs".
  12. ^ a b c "U.N. Fears Ethiopia Purging Ethnic Tigrayan Officers From Its Peacekeeping Missions". Foreign Policy. 23 November 2020. Archived from the original on 16 January 2021. The Ethiopian government has been rounding up ethnic Tigrayan security forces deployed in United Nations and African peacekeeping missions abroad and forcing them onto flights to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where it is feared they may face torture or even execution, according to an internal U.N. account.
  13. ^ Oromo children's books keep once-banned Ethiopian language alive, retrieved 14 February 2016
  14. ^ Language & Culture (PDF)
  15. ^ ETHIOPIANS: AMHARA AND OROMO, January 2017
  17. ^ Country Information Report ethiopia, 12 August 2020
  18. ^ Ethiopia. Status of Amharas, 1 March 1993
  19. ^ Feener, Michael (2004). Islam in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. ABC-CLIO. p. 227. ISBN 9781576075166. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  20. ^ Wolqait, Zeray (23 August 2017). "ESAT Radio and Television: The Voice of Genocide". Horn Affairs. Archived from the original on 16 December 2020. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Freudenthal, Emmanuel (17 December 2020). "Ethnic profiling of Tigrayans heightens tensions in Ethiopia". The New Humanitarian. Archived from the original on 16 January 2021.
  22. ^ a b c Houreld, Katharine (17 December 2020). "Exclusive: Ethiopia says disarms Tigrayan peacekeepers in Somalia over security". Reuters. Archived from the original on 16 January 2021.
  23. ^ "WHO boss Dr Tedros denies supporting Tigray leaders". BBC. 19 December 2020. Archived from the original on 11 December 2020.
  24. ^ a b Paravicini, Giulia; Endeshaw, Dawit; Houreld, Katharine (7 May 2021). "Ethiopia's crackdown on ethnic Tigrayans snares thousands". Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 13 July 2021. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  25. ^ Fasil, Mahlet (10 May 2021). "News: Tigrayans repatriated from Saudi Arabia kept in detention, police unwilling to comment". Addis Standard. Archived from the original on 18 May 2021. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  26. ^ "News Analysis: Fresh wave of arbitrary arrest of Tigrayans in Addis Abeba; Rights commission says it is monitoring the situation, Fed. police deny arrests target Tigrayans". Addis Standard. 5 July 2021. Archived from the original on 13 July 2021. Retrieved 13 July 2021.