Spotlight: Trust and independence underpin ISS support for Ethiopia’s transition


The ISS has forged a strong working relationship with the Ethiopian government based on trust, strategic cooperation and respect. These ties enable the institute’s independent research and technical support to boost the country’s political transition and peacebuilding.

Ethiopia is an important African state, with the second largest population after Nigeria. It also hosts the African Union (AU) in the capital Addis Ababa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ushered in the promise of political liberalisation when he took office in 2018. But many issues such as ethnic violence, political polarisation and delayed elections have cast a shadow over the transition, highlighting historical challenges that must be navigated on the road to democracy and stability.

The ISS has had a regional office in Addis Ababa since 2005. Relations have been steadily built with the Ethiopian government by demonstrating the institute’s strategic value. A host country agreement signed with the Foreign Affairs Ministry in 2018 frames the ISS’ contribution to the country’s political transition.

‘Our reputation for integrity and high-quality work together with personal relationships positions us as a partner, not a foreign think tank,’ says Roba Sharamo, ISS Regional Director and Representative to the African Union, Horn and East Africa.

We work alongside government officials to identify policy gaps and provide practical support

The ISS works with senior officials in many spheres of Ethiopia’s government, including the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Peace. ISS analysts also collaborate with the government’s Institute of Strategic Affairs think tank, the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission and the Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission.

‘We understand the needs of the nation and the culture of government and its people,’ says ISS Senior Researcher Semir Yusuf. ‘We provide research-based knowledge about the country’s challenges and work alongside government officials to identify policy gaps and provide practical support.’

The ISS is valued for its timely research on conflict, political transition and constitutional design. When Ethiopia faced an upsurge of violence, the ISS responded with an analysis of the drivers of ethnic conflict. The findings were presented to government agencies, including the prime minister’s office, and shared with Minister of Peace, Muferihat Kamil. One of the ISS recommendations was the reform of Ethiopia’s security apparatus, and when the Ministry of Peace developed a new police doctrine, ISS was asked to review it.

When COVID-19 reached Africa in early 2020, Yusuf responded quickly, publishing a policy brief and organising webinars on the implications of the pandemic for political stability in Ethiopia.

Officials from the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission welcomed ISS research on challenges and opportunities for the commission based on insights from international experience. ISS set out detailed recommendations for the country to consider, and the commission encouraged ISS to continue its constructive approach to policy analysis and support.

ISS is valued for its timely research on conflict, political transition and constitutional design

ISS experts collaborated with the Office of the Prime Minister on a roundtable on Ethiopia in the wake of reforms. Yusuf contributed a chapter to a book project supported by the prime minister’s office on Ethiopia’s political reforms. Demitu Hambisa Bonsa, Minister and Head of the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Affairs, thanked the ISS for ‘supporting the book project since its inception’. Bonsa also recognised ISS’ efforts to ensure the book reached a wide audience in Ethiopia and abroad.

The collaboration between ISS and the Ethiopian government includes providing technical assistance, and the Ministry of Peace has asked the ISS to help draft a new national peacebuilding plan. At the request of the Foreign Ministry, the ISS supports quarterly diplomatic seminars and partnered with Abiy’s office on a workshop where government officials and experts discussed political and economic reforms. 

The ISS Addis Ababa team’s work includes training government representatives in peacebuilding and good governance and developing the research skills of senior diplomats and foreign affairs officials. ‘There has traditionally been a gulf between academics and policy makers, and we helped to bridge that gap,’ says Yusuf. Capacity building has included providing mid-level public servants with training on the AU’s Agenda 2063, the African Continental Free Trade Area, migration and politics in the Horn of Africa.

For more information contact:

Roba Sharamo, ISS: +251 944 083900; [email protected]

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