The Genesis and Trajectories of Social Movements in Ethiopia: The Case of the 2015 Oromo Protest and the 1974 Students' Movement

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Elsabet Samuel
Meron Zeleke
Wolfgang Benedek


Ethiopia has experienced numerous social movements that failed to sustain its organization and ensure the emergence of a democratic government structure. The cyclical occurrences of mass protests in Ethiopia have not been examined well, as available research on the issue tends to focus on analyzing street demonstrations and the government's reaction. The underlying objective of this article is to provide insights into Ethiopia's own experience of why and how social movements form and sustain collective actions. It also scrutinizes the challenges and prospects of embracing the demand for human rights and democratic reform as organization resources during political transition periods. The study collected data from purposefully selected 42 interviewees and 48 discussants of FGDs, and document review as part of a Ph.D. project on freedom of expression and social movements. The study analyzes thematically themovement agenda, framing, organizational structure, and mobilization resources and strategies utilized by the 1974 students' movement and the 2015 Oromo protest. The article found out that the involvement of the Ethiopian diaspora, the use of violence, and the solidification of ethnic identity hindered selected movements from ensuring democratic change and the rule of law. This article highlights the need to create a state accountability system that encourages the emergence of in-country movement leaders who do not rely on the distant mobilization capacity of the Ethiopian diaspora. It also suggests continuous dialogue with the existing social movement actors to help shape the ongoing democratization process and break the recurring happenings of violent protests.

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Samuel, E., Zeleke, M., & Wolfgang , B. (2022). The Genesis and Trajectories of Social Movements in Ethiopia: The Case of the 2015 Oromo Protest and the 1974 Students’ Movement. The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences and Language Studies (EJSSLS), 9(1), 3-19. Retrieved from
Author Biographies

Elsabet Samuel, Addis Ababa University

Elsabet (P.h.D ) is a senior independent researcher. She pursued a Ph.D. in Human Rights at the Center for Human Rights, Addis Ababa University. Her research interest includes freedom of expression on the Internet, social movements, and the media.

Meron Zeleke, Addis Ababa University

Dr. Meron (P.h.D.) is an Associate Professor of Anthropology based at the Center for Human Rights,Addis Ababa University

Wolfgang Benedek, University of Graz

Prof. Benedek is an emeritus professor of international law at the Institute of International Law and International Relations, University of Graz, Austria. His publications are in the field of human security, international and regional human rights, globalization, and human rights, among others.