Ethiopians’ views of democratic government: fear, ignorance, or unique understanding of democracy?

Ethiopians’ views of democratic government: fear, ignorance, or unique understanding of democracy?

Five rounds of Afrobarometer surveys in up to 35 African countries show that ordinary African citizens tend to reach the same conclusions about the extent of democracy in their country as international expert rating systems. But the 2013 survey in Ethiopia produces a puzzling anomaly: While no expert assessment comes close to calling Ethiopia a democracy, 81% of Ethiopians consider their country either a complete democracy or a democracy with only minor problems. The best explanation for this anomaly is Ethiopians’ highly positive assessment of political and economic developments in their country. However, these opinions are marked by a syndrome of “uncritical citizenship” and a distinctively instrumental and paternalistic understanding of “democracy.”

Other contributing factors include the country’s low level of development, especially with respect to education and communications; its long-standing one-party dominance and low levels of political freedom; and significant political fear and suspicion of the interview environment. Because of the idiosyncratic way in which Ethiopians understand democracy, extreme caution must be exercised in attempting to compare any responses to democracy questions from Ethiopia with those from other African countries. Analysts are advised to use the Ethiopia data set only in a stand-alone setting or to limit their comparative analysis to items that do not use the “d-word.”

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