Trevor Griffith 11/16/18 Intro to Comparative Government

Trevor Griffith
Intro to Comparative Government & Politics
Dr. Matthew Hall
South Africa and Ethiopia: Ethnic tension
Africa is the most ethnically and lingually diverse continent in the entire world. South Africa and Ethiopia have drastically different histories that have had a remarkable effect on either states’ current conditions. The colonization of South Africa has permanently changed the demographics and landscape of politics within South Africa, and similarly Ethiopia faces many of the same challenges, but is one of the two African nations to resist long term European subjugation. I will be comparing the current political issues that both nations are trying to deal with, and how they go about making these decisions. To begin, I will explain the histories of each nation and how that has led them to their current states.

South Africa, debatably the most colonized country in Africa, has a huge political problem with its history. South Africa only recently ended Apartheid in 1994, and they still have resonating ethnic tensions because of that history. South Africans experienced a history of minority rule from the English and Dutch whites that ended after the leadership experienced economic pressure from the developed world and as political tensions increased. Since then the now majority black congress has struck down any advantages once held to whites, and in some cases have created laws that are a form of reparations for their ancestors’ previous sins, such as land expropriation without compensation. One of the key political issues in South Africa has to do with ethnic sovereignty, much like Ethiopia. South Africa is roughly 80% black, 8% white, 8% mixed white/black, and 2.5% Asian/Other. Among the 80% black there are many different lingual subgroups such as Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho, Tsonga, etc. Many of these different ethnic groups somewhat self-segregate into different areas from each other, and because of historical disdain there are tensions on how sovereign these groups ought to be. There are historical ethnic tribes such as the Zulu and Khoisan who have lived in that territory for thousands of years, and different black tribes and white colonists who have entered far more recently. Much like South Africa, Ethiopia is dealing with those problems in similar and different ways. (CIA) (Murray)
Ethiopia historically has been dominated historically by the Amhara people, a minority group, through military conquest. Since that group had connections through the red sea with technologically advanced Europeans, it ensured their domination and helped spread a very unique sect of Christianity to their country. Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest countries, while its territory has varied over its thousand-year existence, for the most part Ethiopia has resisted long term European rule. The current territory began forming as European powers began surrounding Ethiopia’s historical land. Ethiopia became renown after they had won a few battles with the Italian colonial forces, and after their liberation from the allied powers they played a more powerful role in world affairs. During the communist era, they had a short-lived communist regime that was overthrown, and the government that was created still exists today and is democratic. Much like South Africa, Ethiopia is extremely diverse. Ethiopia has about “100 languages that can be classified into four groups” and “more than 80 different ethnic groups”. The Oromo, Amhara, Somali, and Tigrayan’s make up more than 75% of the population. There has been tensions among the different ethnic groups that have resulted in protests and clashes with police. They face population displacements due to the violence over time, such as conflicts between Somali and the Oromo. These ethnic conflicts have led to reactions, and “an estimated 50,000 Oromo have been forced to leave the Somali region” of Ethiopia. Both South Africa and Ethiopia have had many conflicts due to historical clashes between tribes as well as tension among respective territories. The Oromo Liberation front wishes to see the Oromo become a fully independent state. (Davidson) (Lie) (Jeffrey)
Both countries, even though having very different histories, have had to deal with the fact they have very distinct ethnic and cultural groups that are all in the same system of government. While the effects of colonization have contributed to the economic growth and modern influence South Africa has today, they have also contributed to the massive ethnic problems they face as well. These effects can be seen through many historical events throughout history, from Yugoslavia to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and many more. In history, most states would maintain power through military force, but during the spread of democracy and humanitarian-based decisions, among other things, has made violence a less-permissible action. Ethiopia and South Africa, both of which having very important democratic regimes in the region, have taken steps to minimalize these state-backed ethnic conflicts and to resolve the tension. Sometimes the states and their governments have taken actions that have increased the levels of ethnic tensions whether they be the central government or law enforcement.
These common patterns of ethnic conflict include demands for cultural or ethic sovereignty, competition for territory, influence, and power, and conflicts taking place between these competing ethnic groups. Each of these African nations, in some circumstances, have taken steps to unite the different ethnicities. Ethiopia has 9 ethnically based states, and 2 self-governing administrations. These steps in devolution to ethnic groups, much like modern day Canada, are examples of states attempting to sacrifice a bit of their power in order to stay united. While these effects have kept Ethiopia unified territorially speaking, the division between the different groups is still apparent. However, in the case of South Africa, the provinces were not designed to be ethnic enclaves. While South Africa has instituted a system of parliamentary federalism to help with the minority rights issues, movements such as the Zulu nationalist movement have been very active. The ANC (African National Congress) has persistently resisted models that would emphasize the autonomy of certain groups, convinced that those approaches would perpetuate division. While their somewhat multilevel governance has proved some space for minority empowerment, the lower level conflicts that happen between ethnic groups due to lack of autonomy, if continued, could have even stronger divisive effects on the national level. The larger comparative question is whether, given a multiethnic society, the most effective tactics for preventing these conflicts is in an integrationist models, which aim for equality, laws against discrimination, individual rights, and parliamentary institutions, or ethnic-conscious decisions that give certain levels of autonomy between certain groups that are seen more commonly in places like Ethiopia, in order to appease those groups. Territorial disputes between groups are bound to exist in either scenario, it’s a question of acknowledging those groups right to it through government recognition, or a complete dismantling and rejection of the concept of ethnic zones. (Lie) (Murray)
When comparing Ethiopia and South Africa economically, South Africa wins on almost all fronts. South Africa was one of the most developed colonial holdings, which contributed to the levels of infrastructure and economic capacity they have today, while Ethiopia never had such an “advantage”. However, when looking at crime rate statists, there is a vastly higher crime rate when considering every variable in South Africa. If you would assume economics is a primary driving factor of crime, then this should not be the case. Perhaps the ethnic tensions among these heterogenous population in South Africa has created a larger crime problem, rather than Ethiopia’s ethnically sovereign provinces. While South Africa has had stagnant GDP growth, which could be blamed for the ineffective government system they have, which is multi-ethnic, Ethiopia has had record levels of GDP growth around 10% for years straight. Even though Ethiopia may be growing quickly, their economy is practically non-existent when comparing it to South Africa. This is not to say that Ethiopia is in a perfect state of being. The ethnic minorities in each of these states have at one point in time called for independence or more representation. (CIA)
Another problem that ties into ethnicity that both of these nations face is political corruption. In South Africa there is widespread political corruption primarily through the central government. They have a strong anti-corruption framework, but the laws are not enforced correctly. Nearly half of South Africans perceive most or all police offices as corrupt. Traffic fines are a very common bribing tactic, and sometimes the police request bribes to protect businesses owned by foreigners in fear of xenophobic violence. In South Africa nepotism and cronyism are common, irregular payments and bribes are common, and this political corruption has made investors timid. Land expropriation has been a large problem especially when considering ethnicities. South Africa’s “Land Rights Amendment Bill” allows the government to claim property seized under the apartheid government or during colonial rule, which could be anything from businesses to people’s homes. Nearly half of all South Africans believe that most or all government officials are corrupt. Favoritism in decisions of government are very common, and public funds are often diverted for personal gain. Valuable minerals in South Africa have also led to corruption in relation to mining operations with large sums of money involved. South Africa has taken steps to diminish the widespread corruption, by creating laws such as the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Act and ratifying United Nations Conventions against Corruption and other multinational organizations. While the efforts have been made, the officials have been engaged in corruption with moderate immunity. The lack of enforcement of the law, as well as the multi-ethnic parliamentary system, and the historical ramifications have led to a disastrous scene in South Africa. (GAN)
Ethiopia also has high levels of corruption, like most African nations, with bribes and illegal payments being necessary for obtaining government contracts. Bribes and irregular payments in returns for favors are common. Ethiopia’s judicial system is intertwining with high level officials and taking bribes. Police corruption in Ethiopia is rampant and considered a serious problem. Over half of companies pay for their own security. Public services are faced with high levels of corruption, and most companies are expected to give gifts in order to get things done. Companies giving gifts for land rights or construction permits are highly common. There is no right to private ownership of land, all land is owned by the state and is leased out for up to 99 years. Nearly every aspect of government has some level of corruption. In principle, Ethiopia’s framework to prevent corruption is strong, but similarly with South Africa they fail to implement these laws, partly because the judiciary is known to be politically corrupt. They have established revised versions of ethics and anti-corruption laws, as well as signed multi-national agreements against corruption, but fail to enforce them. (GAN)
Political corruption is a major political problem for both of these states, and have many of the same problems, same methods of solving them, and the same ineffectively of them. South Africa ranked as the 64th most corrupt country on the corruption perceptions index, is much stronger than Ethiopia’s 108th ranking. Perhaps the older civic institutions and economic development from the colonial era of South Africa have contributed to its lower levels of corruption relative to Ethiopia. South Africa has had much more support internationally and has signed more anti-corruption acts and multi-national agreements. Maybe since Ethiopia is still one of the poorest nations to exist in the world, has had less time to develop as a democratic government, and is an extremely diverse state, is one of the reasons they are so low. I’m sure the history of these two nations and their extreme levels of ethnic diversity who desire autonomy have contributed to the levels of corruption. They are moving up faster compared to many of those among similar rankings and could perhaps surpass South Africa one day. (CIA) (GAN)
In conclusion, while both South Africa and Ethiopia have drastically different histories, both of them face many of the same problems. South Africa and Ethiopia are significant regional democracies and their domestic environment is important. Both of the countries face problems when it comes to the historical domination, addressing ethnic problems, and dealing with widespread political corruption, as well as many more. In some situations, they deal with it very similarly, and in others they contrast quite differently. The future of both of these nations is volatile and significant, both of them are important landmarks for democratic success in Africa.

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Works Cited
Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 1 Feb. 2018,

Davison, William. “Ethnic Tensions in Gondar Reflect the Toxic Nature of Ethiopian Politics.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Dec. 2016,

“Ethiopia Corruption Report.” Business Anti-Corruption Portal, GAN,

Jeffrey, James. “Hundreds of Thousands of Displaced Ethiopians Are Caught between Ethnic Violence and Shadowy Politics.” Public Radio International, PRI, 15 Dec. 2017,

Murray, Christina, and Richard Simeon. ” Recognition without Empowerment: Minorities in a Democratic South Africa .”Recognition without Empowerment: Minorities in a Democratic South Africa , vol. 5, no. 1, ser. 1, 4 Nov. 2007, pp. 699–729. 1.

Lie, Jon Harald Sandie, and Berouk Mesfin. Ethiopia: A Political Economy Analysis. Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2018, pp. 1–57, Ethiopia: A Political Economy Analysis. (Academic Source)
“South Africa Corruption Report.” Business Anti-Corruption Portal, GAN,


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