Ethiopia will hold its first population census in more than a decade, a step that could have far-reaching consequences for the Horn of Africa nation that’s grappling with multi-ethnic representation and rippling demands for self-determination.

The census’ advisory council will have 20 members, including nine ministers and officials from all nine of Ethiopia’s ethnically based regional states, the ruling party-funded Fana Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a meeting with previously outlawed opposition groups it’ll be before the 2020 election.


“The new census might change the visibility of thus far undervalued ethnic groups,” independent researcher Benedikt Kamski said by phone from the southern city of Hawassa. This could provide “statistical backing to self-determination movements” in large parts of Ethiopia’s south, where a zone named for the ethnic Sidama people has already requested statehood and others are seeking to follow, he said.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, was reconfigured a quarter century ago as a federation to give autonomy to its more than 80 ethnic groups. As Abiy promises multiparty democracy, revived opposition groups are calling for greater regional autonomy in a country once under the tight grip of the ruling coalition.

Census Each Decade 

Ethiopia’s last census was in 2007, and the constitution requires one every 10 years. The Central Statistical Agency’s director-general, Biratu Yigezu, didn’t immediately respond to two calls and two text messages seeking details on what information the census will gather and the deadline for its completion.

Abiy, meeting Tuesday with the leaders of about 80 political parties, said the government is working on amending the election law before the 2020 vote, according to the Ethiopian Press Agency. He also appointed new officials, including two national security advisers, Fana reported.

The last census under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who ruled until his death in 2012, was dogged by claims of politicization and that it under-represented some ethnic groups.

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