What the future holds for Ethiopian Christians?

Ethiopia and Nigeria have a lot in common. They are among the most populous nations in the continent of Africa. And both suffer from sharp Muslim vs Christian polarization. Nigeria is almost evenly divided between the Christians and Muslims, while Christians constitute a majority in Ethiopia. According to the latest census in 2007, Christians in Ethiopia accounted for 62.8% of the total population, while the Muslims were at 33.9%.  The Amhara and Tigray ethnic groups, who account for the vast majority of the ruling elite are overwhelmingly Christian, while the Oromo (another dominant group) are evenly divided between Islam and Christianity.

Christianity was established in Ethiopia long before it was even introduced in Europe. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is still revered by Orthodox Christians around the world. Until the 1990s, Orthodox Christians constituted for more than 50% of Ethiopia’s population. However a comparatively low birth rate and loss of adherents to the aggressive protestant churches (among them, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus) weakened the position of the Orthodox church in Ethiopia. The Orthodox share of the population declined from 50.6% in 1994 to 43.5% in 2007. The loss of Eritrea was another blow to the Orthodox Church. The local Orthodox denomination is now a fully Autocephalous and Autonomous Church of the Oriental Orthodoxy (Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church). Adding fuel to fire, there is another splinter group (The Ethiopian Orthodox Tehadeso Church), which is also weaning away the members.

Islam is growing in Ethiopia, mostly as a result of higher birth rates. Most of the Muslims are Oromo, but the major Islamic strongholds are in the ethnic Afar and Somali regions. More than 98% of the population in the Somali region and more than 95% in the Afar region are Muslims. The Oromo Muslims are moderate to a big extent. But the same can’t be said about those residing in the Afar and Somali regions. For the past two decades the ethnic Somalis are fighting for independence from the Christian dominated Ethiopian government, with support pouring in from across the border in Somalia. The Ogaden National Liberation Front has frequently attacked oil fields and engineering projects in the region resulting in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and civilians. This was the main reason for the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006. So far around 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers have lost their lives in Somalia, with no quick solution insight.

Demographically speaking, the Ethiopian Christians face no major threat in the near future. But at the same time, the sparsely populated but Muslim-majority Eastern Ethiopian regions will remain a headache for the government in Addis Ababa. If the ruling elite succeed in separating the ongoing Somalian civil war from their own Somali majority areas, then it would be considered as a huge success in the future.

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