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Muslim Hadramis in “Christian Ethiopia”

December 29th, 2011

Muslim Hadramis in “Christian Ethiopia”: Reflections on Boundary Making Processes

by Samson A. Bezabeh, Bergen University

[Note: This is the Introduction to a recent article on the Hadrami experience in Ethiopia. The full article can be downloaded from the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs.]


Throughout recorded history sporadic population migration from Arabia to East Africa and Ethiopia has been a noted phenomenon. In the modern era Hadramis started to migrate and settle in Ethiopia at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Thus, by the beginning of the twentieth century, Ethiopia hosted a number of Arab families who were mainly Yemeni or Hadrami by origin. Although the exact population of the Hadramis at that time is not known, various statistical estimates and narrations, including narration of present day Hadrami families indicate that their number was substantial. This is particularly true in the case of major Ethiopian towns and trading centres such as Harar, Jimma and Asmara.

Despite their pronounced presence, however, their numbers, declined during the second half of the twentieth century as a result of negative factors that have forced them to leave the country. One such factor was the movement of pan-Arab nationalism which gained momentum in the 1960s. To be more specific, in 1969 Hadramis were expelled from Ethiopia for “supporting” the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), whom Arab nations, particularly Syrians and Egyptians, were supporting for fulfilling their goal of creating a united Arab land which in their vision also included the highlands of northern Ethiopia. In this scenario, Hadramis along with other Arabs were accused by the Haile Selassie regime4 in Ethiopia of sympathizing with the Arab backers of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), and hence undermining Ethiopian unity. This has led many Hadrami families to voluntarily and involuntarily relocate themselves to Yemen and to oil reach countries in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia.

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