Three Million Amara are Missing: An Analysis based on the 1994 and the 2007 Ethiopian Population Censuses By Berhanu Abegaz March 23, 2015

March 25th, 2015 Print Print Email Email

It is not uncommon for national censuses to be politicized in those countries where hyper-polarization along ethnic or sectarian lines makes politicians overly sensitive to the power of numbers. As one of the hallmarks of this phenomenon, the 2007 Ethiopian census count for the Amara inexplicably falls short by a whopping 3 million for 2007 or by 4 million for 2014. To fix ideas, this is equivalent to declaring all Gurage-Silte, or all Sidama, or all Affar plus Wolayta practically non-existent. This research note offers census-based estimates of this gap along with the possible reasons for a large gap that stretches one’s credulity.

Ethiopian Political Demography

Decennial national censuses of population and housing play an important role in providing data on fertility, mortality, migration, and growth for various sectors of the population. These data contribute to a better planning of the economy, the family, and the administrative as well as the electoral systems. Ethiopia has conducted only three national censuses in its long history: in 1984, 1994, and 2007. There have been significant improvements in conforming to international standards, especially in terms of the coverage of enumeration areas and in efficiency of the count.

Much like the 2006 Nigerian census, the 2007 Ethiopian census has unfortunately raised eyebrows with regard to a significant miscount–especially of the Amara ethnic group but also the Gurage-Silte group. All sorts of numbers and motivations have been thrown around in the acrimonious public discussion on the subject. We do know with some certainty that the Amara are one of the two linguistic groups which together account for the majority of the Ethiopian population with the Oromo/Amara ratio being 29%/28% in 1984 and 32%/30% in 1994. This ratio, however, showed a precipitous rise in 2007 to 34%/27% which begs a satisfactory explanation that is yet to be provided by the census authorities.

Demographic changes are generally slow especially in a traditional society which has been experiencing only a moderate improvement in living standards. Since there is little evidence of a large differential fertility, mortality, emigration, or socio-economic development among the various groups in Ethiopian society, the sizeable deviation of the census count in 2007 from a reasonable expectation is rather puzzling.

As we will show below, a careful analysis of the census data shows that at least 3 million and possibly as many as 6 million native Amharic speakers were missing from the 2007 census. These are remarkable numbers which call for a careful ascertainment of their validity and a clear identification of the probable reasons for this outcome.

It should be noted at the outset that the 1994 Ethiopian Constitution enshrined a system of political ethnicity. Ethiopians were for the first time in their long history required to carry ethnic identity (gosssa) cards. The 1994 and 2007 censuses asked citizens to self-identity by ethnicity as well as by one’s mother tongue from lists provided.

Estimating the Size of the Missing Amara

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