Flag politics in Ethiopia and the Ethio-American diaspora

Goshu Wolde Tefera, A. Peter Castro

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5 Scopus citations


Flags hold "rich symbolic and political connotations," yet the examination of their use has been "relatively neglected in research on nationalism" (Eriksen, 2007, p. 1-2). Our study explores the transnational politics of Ethiopia's national flag, exploring its manifestation within the Ethio- American community in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, where the largest Ethiopian diaspora population in the United States resides. We also examine the historical roots of Ethiopian flag politics within Ethiopia's historical political economy. The country's well-known imperial flag, containing the emblem of the Lion of Judah against green, yellow, and red stripes, emerged by the late 19th century as Ethiopia defended itself against colonial intrusion. The flying of the flag, an essentially invented tradition, was originally used to reinforce the legitimacy of Ethiopia's imperial elite. Ultimately, however, flags-all flags-became associated with deep patriotic meaning. The tricolor stripes of the imperial of the flag became an important Pan-African and anti-colonial symbol after the country's resistance to Italian occupation during the first part of the twentieth century. Later, a plain tricolor flag of green, yellow, and red, without the Lion of Judah, was used by the Derg-the collective of military and police forces that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, imposing socialist rule under the leadership of Mengistu Haile Mariam, until 1991. The Ethiopian People's Democratic Revolution Front (EPRDF), which came to power in 1991, has promoted its own national flag, marked by an emblem symbolizing its vision of an ethnic federalism based on the self-determination of the country's ethnic and religious populations. The authority of the EPRDF has been challenged both by Ethiopian nationalists-who see ethnic federalism as fragmenting the country's long-standing national coherence-and by the peoples on Ethiopia's margins, who have been frustrated by the EPRDF's unwillingness to devolve authority to them. The severe reaction of the EPRDF against its opposition hardened political identities and stances. This conflict culminated in the declaration of a state of emergency on October 9, 2016. The political tensions within Ethiopia are displayed and played out within Ethiopia's diaspora, which is one of the fastest growing African immigrant populations in the United States. This study draws on the 2015 fieldwork of Goshu Wolde Tefera, conducted in the Washington, DC area, as well as on the library- and internet research carried out by Tefera and A. Peter Castro.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of International and Global Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Dissent
  • Ethiopia
  • Ethiopian diaspora
  • Ethiopian people's revolutionary democratic front
  • Ethnic federalism
  • Ethnic nationalism
  • Flags
  • Transnational politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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