Ethiopia: Muslim critics reject national census for “missing millions”
Ethiopian Muslim critics say the country’s national census that put the Muslim population at 33.9 percent of the nation is inaccurate. They claim Muslims total between 45 and 50 percent of the country.
The Central Statistical Agency (CSA) recently announced that the Ethiopian Orthodox population makes up 43.5 percent of the country while Protestant Christians are 18.6 percent, for a total Christian population of 62.1 percent.
According to a Jimma Times correspondent in Oromia, critics claim the Ethiopian population census was flawed in its methodology in addition to being influenced by the country’s ethno-political and religious divisions. In Jimma town, one of the Muslim dominated places of Ethiopia, some believe the growth of Muslim development and aid organizations financed by the Gulf States have effectively checked the Protestant Christian influences financed by the West.
In addition to concerns of seasonal movement of nomadic Muslim inhabitants in the Somali, Oromia and Afar regional states affecting the census, Muslim critics anticipated a bigger impact from the civil war in Somalia on refugee driven growth in southeastern Ethiopia.
However, some Ethiopian Christians blame western organizations who made unverified estimations that put Muslim population much higher. During the last few years, institutions like the US State Department approximated Muslims to be around 50 percent of Ethiopia without giving reference. Such US predictions have been duplicated and often used worldwide, instead of the last 1994 census. The General Director of the Central Statistical Agency (CSA) Samia Zekaria said outside predictions are not accurate. Speaking in an interview, she said “there is a difference between those making guesses and the work CSA does on the ground by going door to door”
The discontent of Muslims was also displayed this week by two Europe-based Ethiopian Muslim radio stations, Radio Negashi and First Hijra Radio. They rejected the census saying that many millions of Muslims are not counted. The radio stations also condemned some Christians who are reportedly bringing back destructive slogans about Ethiopia being an “Island of Christianity.”
Meanwhile, some evangelical Christians also rejected the census claiming that their number should have been around 7 percent more, for a total of 25 percent of the country. They say Muslims are proportionally overrepresented in the Ethiopian parliament and inside Meles Zenawi’s government. They also claim evangelical Christianity is disdained in some rural regions and its followers are often fearful of being expelled from their families if they acknowledge their membership in an evangelical church.
In contrast, most Orthodox Christians have not showed opposition to the census, even though their population has been drastically reduced from over 50 percent in the 1994 census to only 43.5 percent in the 2007 census. But some opposition party members of the Ethiopian parliament have rejected the census numbers for the Addis Ababa and Amhara Regions, claiming that millions have not been counted. These two regions are traditionally Orthodox dominated areas and some opposition supporters accuse the government for allegedly undercounting them because the two areas were the powerbase of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) opposition party during the 2005 national election.
Similarly, members of parliament representing the Gurage and Oromo ethnic groups have criticized the census results as well. The Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) Bulcha Demeksa said around 460,000 Oromos are not counted in Oromia. Bulcha, who has previously worked for the United Nations (UN) and World Bank (WB), said he is aware of both the “technical and political aspects” of coordinating a census in various countries around the world. Bulcha said all countries use UN technical assistance but governments often have the final say.
Despite the various concerns about the census, most Ethiopians encouraged a united front to protect religious tolerance and secular governance in the country. The host of the First Hijra Radio in Europe advised evangelical Christians to be cautious for the sake of peace in Ethiopia. “Let us open our eyes to extremist and intolerant forms of both Islam and Christianity,” he added.
Ethiopian Muslims take pride in being the first society to embrace Islam. When Prophet Muhammed’s followers were persecuted in the Arab society, his followers fled Mecca and migrated to Ethiopia in 615, making the renowned northern town of Negash their first African settlement.