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Young People have been Key Drivers of Social and Political Change in Ethiopia

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, university students played a crucial role in the massive protests that led to the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime. A military regime was installed in its place. Subsequently, an armed rebellion against the military regime – known as the Derg – was powered by young combatants. Most leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front – including prime minister-to-be Meles Zenawi – left university to join the armed struggle that overthrew the Derg in 1991. These young people grew to be the country’s governing elite as part of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, who would themselves be challenged in the mid-2010s by a new crop of youths. This led once again to a change in the balance of power in Addis Ababa with the rise of Abiy Ahmed in 2018. Many young people in both regions said that they did not trust members of the regional bodies to represent their interests or to voice their demands. The youths said they were not consulted when laws were enacted, including those which directly affected their lives. Youth movements are demanding greater inclusion. They suggested that quota systems would give young people their own representatives and a say in their governance. These young people want more democracy, not less, and would like to see free and fair elections.