Is Ethiopia a rising star in Africa? By some measures, yes: As the second most-populous country on the continent (after Nigeria), it has achieved GDP growth rates above 10 percent for a decade. It is home to the African Union headquarters and a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabab militants in Somalia and in counterterrorism efforts more broadly. In a region where sectarian and ethnic tensions have a tendency to flare up, Ethiopia has achieved remarkable social cohesion. All this, after suffering decades of conflict, drought, famine, and poverty, among other challenges.
At the same time, the government—led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition since 1991—has been criticized for cracking down on free speech, the press, and critics. And while Ethiopia is unlikely to re-experience famine, an ongoing drought there remains a major concern.
These and other issues were the topics of conversation at a recent Brookings event, hosted by the Africa Security Initiative. Brookings Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence Michael O’Hanlon opened the conversation by commenting that while we don’t always hear a lot about Ethiopia in the West—often drowned out by troubling developments in Somalia, Nigeria, and the Great Lakes region—it is “one of the most important countries on the continent by almost any measure.” As Africa’s oldest independent country, it has a unique history—and along with it, a unique set of assets and challenges.