IMTD’s involvement in Ethiopia began in 1993 with hosting a series of dialogues between Ethiopian expatriate community at our office that has led to the creation of a media project designed to promote press freedom and access in Ethiopia.
IMTD first convened the Ethiopian Dialogue Group at our office in Washington D.C., with participants from the Ethiopian expatriate community. We discussed the peacebuilding needs of Ethiopia and examined what specific peacebuilding activities are being undertaken there.
The first dialogue in November 1993 brought together twelve participants representing many of the ethnic groups and political factions operating in Ethiopia. The discussion included analysis of the conflict in Ethiopia and the role of ethnicity and language in politics. In 1994 and 1995 we held five more dialogue sessions. Membership of the group was expanded and much time was spent during the sessions focusing on the dialogue’s goals and how membership should be determined. Additional Dialogue sessions were held in March, April, June, and August, 1996. The June session was of particular interest because US Ambassador David Shinn had just been sworn in as the new Ambassador to Ethiopia and he met with our group, to hear their views on the current situation in Ethiopia. Then the group had the opportunity to learn from Ambassador Shinn his views, as he was about to take up his new assignment.
Despite its history as the oldest independent country in Africa, Ethiopia remains divided by tribal and ethnic identities. The 1984 census identified 92 ethnic groups in the country; the two largest were the Oromo (29%) and Amhara (28.3%), followed by Tigrawai (9.7%) and Gurage (4.35%).1 These groups remained politically united under the Ethiopian Emperors until Emperor Haile Selassie I was deposed in 1974 in favor of a Marxist military government, known as the Derg, under Mengistu Haile Manam. This government immediately faced opposition from such groups as the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). In 1989, the TPLF joined with other ethnic opposition movements to form the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This union was able to oust Mengistu in 1991 and formed the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), led by Meles Zenawi, leader of the EPRDF.2 This new government held elections on June 21, 1992, but many political organizations, including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), withdrew in response to unfair election practices that prevented ethnic communities without military forces from holding public office.3 In response to their historical ethnic separation, in conjunction with this failed attempt at democracy, Eretria seceded from Ethiopia on April 27, 1993.4
In response to years of tribal and political conflict, many Ethiopians fled the country and remained critical of their government from afar. As one author explained, “Because of its stand on Eritrean independence, its tribal orientation, its ethnic politics of ‘divide and rule’, and its narrow social base, the vast majority of Ethiopians do not consider the TPLF their government, but rather an unrepresentative, tribal dictatorship akin to a foreign occupation force.”5 IMTD hosted a series of dialogues between members of the Ethiopian Diaspora community in Washington DC in order to improve relations between the country’s ethnic groups and foster communication in order to determine how best to address the issues in their homeland.
1. Mammo, Abate. “Population Distribution in Ethiopia: Beyong the Myths.” Ethiopian Review, December 1992
2. Bureau of African Affairs, US Department of State. “Background Note: Ethiopia.” US Department of State, April 2, 2012. .
3. Terrefe, Tadesse. “Rebuilding War-Torn Ethiopia: A Country Profile.” Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, November 29, 1992, p. 10.
4. Parmelee, Jennifer. “Eritreans Vote in Plebiscite to Separate From Ethiopia.” The Washington Post, April 30, 1993.
5. Aberra, Worku. “Tribalism Rules in Ethiopia.” New African. September 1993.
IMTD facilitated fourteen dialogue groups between members of the Ethiopian Diaspora Community in Washington DC. These groups met at IMTD headquarters to discuss issues pertinent to the Ethiopian community. The goal of these meetings was to build trust among individuals and to create an open space for diverse individuals to come together. Membership of the dialogue groups remained confidential to encourage participants to be open in their discussions. Groups were provided with snacks and given information on effective communication before beginning each dialogue. Topics of discussion included identifying core issues for the Ethiopian Diaspora Community, creating visions for the future of Ethiopia, and discussing the composition of future dialogue groups.
Timeline of Project
November 12, 1993 First Ethiopian Dialogue Group
June 10, 1994 Second Ethiopian Dialogue Group
December 20, 1994 Third Ethiopian Dialogue Group
March 11, 1995 Fourth Ethiopian Dialogue Group
June 17, 1995 Fifth Ethiopian Dialogue Group
No record of participants
November 4, 1995 Sixth Ethiopian Dialogue Group
March 3, 1996 Seventh Ethiopian Dialogue Group
April 28, 1996 Eighth Ethiopian Dialogue Group
No record of participants
June 21, 1996 Meeting with US Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn to discuss situation in Ethiopia with members of the expatriate community
August 4, 1996 Ninth Ethiopian Dialogue Group
November 3, 1996 Tenth Ethiopian Dialogue Group
December 8, 1996 Eleventh Ethiopian Dialogue Group
April 13, 1997 Twelfth Ethiopian Dialogue Group
No record of participants
February 22, 1998 Ethiopian Dialogue
No record of participants
November 5-13, 1998 Ambassador McDonald’s trip to Addis Ababa, Seminar on International Diplomacy and Negotiation at the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD)
November 21, 1998 Ethiopian Dialogue
July 24, 2004 Exploratory Meeting regarding the potential formation of an Ethiopian Dialogue Group
* Number of participants does not include facilitators: Ambassador John McDonald, Nancy Wulf, Louise Diamond, or Patrick Doherty
The success of these dialogues led to the creation of additional dialogue groups regarding issues in Somalia, Cuba, and Liberia. Additionally, the Ethiopian Diaspora Community met in Atlanta, GA on October 10-12, 1997. This meeting resulted in the creation of the Ethiopian National Congress (ENC) and the adoption of an ENC constitution. IMTD was not directly involved in the ENC, but these dialogue groups helped facilitate communication and unification among Ethiopians in the United States.
Challenges and Obstacles
IMTD faced threats of protests regarding the inclusion of Colonel Goshu Wolde on the guest list for the First Ethiopian Dialogue Group. This challenge resolved itself because Colonel Wolde ultimately did not attend the meeting and therefore the protests did not occur. Throughout the five years of this project, members of the dialogue group frequently expressed a desire for further diversification of participants. To meet this challenge, members identified potential participants to help improve the diversity of the group. Ultimately, the biggest challenge to the success of the Ethiopian Dialogue Group was the war between Ethiopia and Eretria from May 1998 – June 2000. This conflict proved divisive and painful, and resulted in dissolution of the group.
Ethiopian Dialogue and Journalists Media Project
In the fall of 2005, Ambassador McDonald met with Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto to discuss the situation in Ethiopia. As a result of that meeting, the Ambassador has hosted a series of three dialogues with members of the Ethiopian community.
That series of dialogues has led to the creation of an Ethiopian media project in conjunction with an Ethiopian journalist that is designed to promote press freedom and access in Ethiopia through the creation of an Internet-based Ethiopian news service that will offer advice on best practices to aspiring journalists and serve as news outlet outside the urban centers.