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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Afars in Ethiopia

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Ethiopia Facts
Area:    1,251,282 sq. km.
Capital:    Addis Ababa
Total Population:    55,000,000 (source: Ethiopian Embassy, Washington, D.C., 1994, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Afars in Ethiopia have several risk factors for rebellion, including territorial concentration and a relatively high level of group organization. With ideological encouragement from Afars residing in Djibouti and Eritrea, radical actions from the ARDUF, and a still unsettled border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea (although a peace agreement was formally signed between the two in December 2000), the fine line between future political protest and continued Afar rebellion remains tenuous at best. While positive remedial steps have taken place in the political arena, Ethiopia's history and demographics make the Afar a disadvantaged minority at risk, although this has not resulted in explicit government repression against non-militant Afars of late. The precarious heterogeneity of Ethiopian society, with Tigreans, Amhara, Oromo and Somalis all also vying for political power, should make the condition of the Afars in Ethiopia unresolved for years to come. Recent drought throughout Ethiopia also has exacerbated living conditions for Afars, and the spread of disease such as AIDS as well as ethnic conflict with other minorities in order to secure access to grazing lands continue to place extreme pressures on the Afar population.


Analytic Summary

The Afar reside primarily in the Bada area (REGIONAL = 1; GROUPCON = 3), which lies both in Ethiopia and the now independent state of Eritrea. The secession of Eritrea in the early 1990s thus was opposed by many Afar as it divided their people between the two states. Afars are also one of the two main ethnic groups of Djibouti. As one of the smaller minorities in Ethiopia, the Afar are linguistically, culturally and religiously distinct from the dominant group in contemporary Ethiopian politics, the Tigreans (and its dominant political party, the EPRDF). Afars are also linguistically and culturally distinct from the demographic plurality, the Oromo (LANG = 1; CUSTOM = 1).

Afars were traditionally organized into four sultanates. The Awsan Sultanate operated independently in what is now the Afar Regional State in Ethiopia until the late 19th century, when it became a vassal of the Ethiopian empire under Menelik. However, it maintained a high degree of autonomy until the Dergue came to power. In 1975, the Dergue nationalized all land and effectively annulled the de facto autonomy of the Afar, forcing the sultan to flee (AUTLOST = 2.5) Almost immediately, a secessionist rebellion was launched under the Afar Liberation Front.

The Ethiopian civil war ended in 1991, and in 1994 a new constitution enshrining principles of ethnic self-determination was adopted. One outcome of this was the creation of Afar Regional State as a self-governing unit for ethnic Afar.

The Afar are an essentially nomadic and rural peoples, with more than 80 percent relying on livestock production for survival. Droughts, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters are regular threats to Afar security. In 2005, a series of earthquakes led to a volcanic eruption in the Afar region, displacing more than 50,000 people (DISPLACE05 = 2). In a challenging environment, the Afar are also in competition with other pastoral ethnic groups for vital resources. Such competition, primarily with Somalis and Oromo, has erupted into violence in recent years (CCGROUPSEV105-06 = 3).

Afar are recipients of international humanitarian and development aid from both state and non-state actors. Recent donors have included the United States, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the EU, the Netherlands, and Unicef (STAMATSUP04-06 = 1). A variety of non-state actors, including the Full Gospel Believers Church, Médécins san Frontieres, Farm Africa and Oxfam International, have also provided aid in recent years (NSAMATSUP04-06 = 1).

The Afar have not been extremely active in national politics or economic reform, although regional autonomy is a key issue for the Afar (POLGR06 = 3). Their substantial under-representation in political office is due to historical neglect, but the Ethiopian government has recently made efforts (circa 2000) to level the playing field for non-EPRDF political parties, by establishing a donor-supported fund for opposition party candidates, providing opposition candidates access to state-owned electronic media, and changing the law to permit civil servants to run for office without first resigning their positions (ECDIS06 = 1 and POLDIS06 = 1). The largest of the Afar political parties, the Afar National Democratic Movement, gained 8 seats in the national House of Representatives in the May 2005 elections. While most Afar groups attempt to work conventionally within the Ethiopian political system in alliance with the EPRDF (e.g., Afar National Democratic Movement and Afar Peoples Democratic Organization), the militant Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, operating in Eritrea, and the Afar Liberation Front, residing in Ethiopia, have continued their local rebellions in recent years in the pursuit of an independent Afar state (REB04 = 1).



Davies, Jonathan. 2006. "Capitalisation, commoditization and obligation among Ethiopia's Afar pastoralists." Nomadic Peoples. 10:1. 29-52.

Debbede, Girma. 1992. The State and Development in Ethiopia. New Jersey and London: Humanities Press.

The Diagram Group. 1997. Peoples of East Africa. New York: Facts on File, Inc.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive. Keesing's Record of World Events. Annual. London: Longman Group Ltd.

Keller, Edmond. 1995. "Remaking the Ethiopian State." In I. William Zartman, ed. Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Krylow, Alexander. 1994. "Ethnic Factors in Post-Mengistu Ethiopia." In Zegeye and Pausewang, eds., Ethiopia in Change.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 2001-2006.

Minorities Rights Group. 1989. World Directory of Minorities. St. James International Reference. Chicago and London: St. James Press.

Said, Ali. "Afar Ethnicity in Ethiopian Politics." In Mohamed Salih and John Markakis, eds. Ethnicity and the State in Eastern Africa.

Zegeye, Abebe and Siegfried Pausewang. eds. 1994. Ethiopia in Change: Peasantry, Nationalism, and Democracy. London and New York: British Academic Press.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006