Ethiopia has approved a policy to introduce four additional working languages alongside Amharic, which has been the working language of the nation. Going forward, Afan Oromo, the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia, Afar, Somali, and Tigrigna will all be adopted as official languages of government.
The new policy is among a series of reforms being introduced by Ethiopia’s reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year. It also comes just a month ahead of a national legislative election. Oromo-born Abiy, 43, who founded the Prosperity Party, is seeing his political honeymoon winding down, including in parts of Oromia and in the Tigray regions.
“Introducing additional working languages is a commendable action. In fact, it is long overdue,” says former political prisoner Befeqadu Z. Hailu, who now heads the Centre for Advancement of Rights and Democracy in Ethiopia.
According to the latest census, Afan Oromo speakers account for 34.4% of the population, while Somali and Tigre speakers account for 6%. The share of Afar people is just 1.7%, and the Sidama and Wolayita each have twice as many people.
“Amharic (has) played a big role in facilitating communications among Ethiopians. But in order to build a society that is integrated both politically and economically, introducing new working languages is very important,” said Abiy in a statement. “The new languages would play a big role in uniting the country and further improve cultural ties among Ethiopians.”