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Policy Recommendation: Managing the Conflict Triggering Elements of the Democratization Process in Ethiopia

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Peace and democratization processes may face challenges by spoilers. Spoilers are leaders or parties who believe that the transitional process threatens their power and interest and use violence to undermine or overturn the transitional process[i]. Democratization is a process of changing a non-democratic government into a democratic government by establishing democratic elements. Normally, a democratization process is full of conflict triggering elements because it unleashes both participation and competition. If there are strong and effective institutions to regulate such elements, there is less risk of violent conflict. But if there are no strong institutions to regulate the conflict triggering elements democratization process, there is a higher risk of violent conflict.[ii]

For example, democracy encourages civil societies to be politically active and express their interest through the established institutions to counterbalance the state power. Since democratic countries have established and effective institutions, these features of democracy are monitored through these institutions. There are established systems and institutions which can peacefully settle disputes and open the space for the society to express discontent and criticisms.  Hence, full democracies are less likely to experience civil war.[iii] When the democratization process is unleashed without a framework of institutions that can monitor the process, it gives spoilers the opportunity to use different strategies to hinder the democratization process and regain power. “When spoilers succeed, … the results are catastrophic.” [iv] For instance, in 1994, the Hutu extremists rejected the Arusha Peace Accords and initiated genocide that killed around 1 million within three months.

In April 2018, Ethiopia started taking the first steps of democratization process. However, the democratization process is intertwined with ethnic-based violence. Many civilians are being affected by this ethnic-based violence. To establish peace and continue with the democratization process, Ethiopia’s government should rebuild and strengthen the framework of institutions. This framework of institutions are institutions that can (1) resolve disputes peacefully, (2) translate public debate into governmental policy, and (3) enforce established rules in the country. If the government fails to protect its citizens within the established institutions, then the people will take their own measures to protect themselves. Mostly, they protect themselves by organizing and arming themselves within their own ethnic group. This, in turn, will provide an opportunity for spoilers to disrupt the democratization process through war-provoking nationalism. War-provoking nationalism occurs when leaders or parties use ethnic-based nationalism to gain support and initiate violence against other ethnic group/s to salvage their position.[v]


[i] Stedman, S. (1997). Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes. International Security, 22(2), 5-53.

[ii] Mansfield, E. D., & Snyder, J. (1995). Democratization and the Danger of War. International Security, 20, 5–38

[iii] Hegre, H., Ellingsen, T., Gates, S., & Gleditsch, N. (2001). Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War, 1816-1992. The American Political Science Review, 95(1), 33–48.

Gleditsch, K. S., & Ruggeri, A. (2010). Political Opportunity Structures, Democracy, and Civil War. Journal of Peace Research, 47(3), 299-310.

[iv] Stedman, S. (1997). Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes. International Security, 22(2), 5-53. p. 5.

[v] Mansfield, E., & Snyder, J. (2002). Democratic Transitions, Institutional Strength, and War. International Organization, 56(2), 297-337.

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