On 26 December 2019 a new party was formed in Ethiopia. The Prosperity Party (PP) is reportedly a merger of three constituent parties – the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) – of the ruling, now defunct, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Left out of the new party was the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which is credited with creating the EPRDF coalition in 1989, two years before the toppling of the Derg regime in 1991. Though described as a reform of the old EPRDF, PP is actually a new formation by the current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed; the formation of the EPRDF in 1989 and its transformation to a nationwide party was the work of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
An offshoot of the Ethiopian Student Movement, which played a key role in the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution, the EPRDF overthrew the Derg regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991 after years of armed struggle. Once it took power, the armed group transformed into a party that was to rule the country continuously until the events of last December.
This chapter examines the way in which Ethiopia’s armed groups have been transformed into political or quasi-political organisations. It measures this development against four timelines: the imperial period up to 1974; the Derg period from 1974 to 1991; the period from 1991 to 2018 when the EPRDF exercised a virtual monopoly on political power; and finally, the post2018 period, marked by the end of the EPRDF’s domination and the return of armed groups to Ethiopian politics. The chapter’s main purpose is to examine the way in which the opposition armed factions transformed into unarmed political parties, the role of leadership, the military victory of the EPRDF in 1991 and the popular unrest in 2015, in particular the transformation that the EPRDF underwent from pre-1991 to 2018. It explores the role of the leadership, the significance of the military victory over Derg in 1991, and the incentives to reform from both foreign and domestic sources.