In-depth

Ethnic federalism: a theory threatening to kill Ethiopia 

Ethiopia must move away from its Soviet-inspired ethnic federation to achieve peace, prosperity, and democracy.

Ethnic divisions have proved a major challenge to build national unity and achieve political stability in many African countries. To mitigate—and, at times, exploit—such divisions, political leaders in the continent have experimented with various political institutions, ranging from banning ethnic-based political parties to arranging regional states that cut across ethnicity.

But none is as radical as the approach taken by the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a party that ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades: adopting a Soviet-style, ethnically based federation which they incorporated, along with other supporters of ethnic federalism, into the country’s current constitution introduced in 1994.

Although the Soviet model—where each major ethnic group, regardless of size, is coalesced into a single state and given the unconditional right to secede from the federation—was emulated, to some extent, by some Eastern European countries such as Yugoslavia, Ethiopia’s was the first experiment of such an arrangement in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Soviet-inspired

In addition to their Marxist-Leninist roots, the reason the leaders of the TPLF looked to the Soviet model is that, with regards to issues of nationality, their assessment of what was wrong with Ethiopia was similar to the Bolshevik’s diagnosis of Russia’s ills prior to the 1917 revolution.

The Bolsheviks believed that the Orthodox Christian Tsarist autocracy oppressed non-Russians; similarly, TPLF believed that Orthodox Christian, Amhara feudal rulers subjugated Ethiopia’s non-Amhara ethnic groups, including Tigrayans. And, similar to the Bolsheviks, they believed national contradictions in a given society have to be resolved first before class antagonisms are eliminated through a communist revolution.

The original manifesto of the TPLF shows that their proposed solution for the perceived national oppression of Tigrayans by Amhara rulers was secession from Ethiopia and the creation of an independent Tigray. But they abandoned this goal in the early 1980s, possibly because of the lack of support for the cause in Tigray.

Even though the communist government that toppled Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime nationalized all land and redistributed agricultural plots owned by the nobility to peasants, TPLF’s leaders were convinced that these measures only addressed class antagonisms in the country and not the “national question”.

Thus, they resorted to an armed struggle. After achieving military victory in 1991, they embarked on a project to remake Ethiopia, modeled after the Soviet Union, which, ironically, had already started disintegrating two years prior to their ascension to power. and this was a contributing factor for the defeat of Ethiopia’s military government for which the USSR provided critical financial and military support that sustained the regime during the Cold War.

After a two-year transitional period following the removal of the Mengistu regime, the country got a modified national flag and a new national anthem. And, in the constitution introduced in 1994, the TPLF-dominated Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) unveiled what it believed will address the national question: a federal system with nine regional states, constructed mostly along ethnic lines, and two-self-governing cities— Addis Abeba, the capital city, and, later, Dire Dawa—that are accountable to the federal government.

This was not simply an attempt to keep the Ethiopian state united by making it more democratic. For TPLF, the old Ethiopian state had ended, and now the more than 80 “sovereign” ethnic groups of Ethiopia, which the constitution refers to as “nations, nationalities, and peoples,” (NNPs) are coming together to form a new federation.

The constitution does not identify which ethnic groups have achieved the status of “nationhood,” but defines nations, nationalities, and peoples as a: “group of people who have or share a large measure of a common culture or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identity, a common psychological make-up, and who inhabit an identifiable, predominantly contiguous territory.” This definition was largely borrowed from Marxism and the National Question by Stalin, who was the Bolshevik commissar for nationalities during 1917-23.

Most of these regional states are named after the dominant ethnic group in the state and have a significant variation in size. Over 60 percent of the Ethiopian population, estimated to be around 110 million, live in two states— about 34 percent in Oromia and 27 percent in Amhara regional states. Both region host significant populations from other ethnic groups, which account for about 15 percent of the total population in Oromia and 10 percent in Amhara.  Over 45 ethnic groups are combined to form the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (SNNP) region, which the federation’s newest member, Sidama, left in 2020 to become the tenth regional state.

Other than the ethnic-based arrangement, there are some peculiar features of the Ethiopian federation that distinguish it from other federations. First, sovereignty lies with NNPs. Second, the states have veto power in amending parts of the constitution, including the articles on land policy—which, currently, precludes private ownership of land—and the article on constitutional amendment.

Third, the constitution gives NNPs the unconditional right to secede from the federation or from the region they are currently in and form their own regional state within the federation—just like Sidama.

This arrangement is consistent with the Bolshevik Nationalities policy which gives every nation the full right of political secession, incorporated in the 1924 USSR constitution.

The current Russian Federation has abandoned this arrangement, giving its regions autonomy but not the right to secede, which, according to President Vladimir Putin, was a major flaw in the design of the USSR that caused its disintegration.

In the Ethiopian context, granting the states that are organized on an ethnic basis the right to secede from the federation is more problematic. Unlike the colonies that formed the U.S. or cantons that established Switzerland, the ethnic groups were part of an existing, albeit undemocratic, Ethiopian state, at least since Emperor Menelik II. Many did not have an independent existence as nation-states with mutually or internationally recognized borders. In fact, almost 25 years after the formation of the federation, all bordering states have territorial claims on each other, either based on current or historical settlement patterns.

Thus, if regional states exercise their constitutional right to secede from the federation, a peaceful dissolution of the Ethiopian federation where these newly independent states fully coexist as neighbors will not materialize. The conflict that preceded the formation of Sidama and the bloody border conflict between Ethiopian and Eritrea—a country that had an independent existence from the Ethiopian state as an Italian colony—highlight what could happen if NNPs exercise the right to secede. Accordingly, secession is a promise that the constitution can’t deliver.

Competition, conflict, and minority right

The main problem, however, is not simply that the constitution is making a promise that it cannot deliver. It is the fact that, due to this provision, grievances that can be resolved administratively become questions that involve identity.

A case in point is the dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions regarding Wolkait and Raya areas, which is related to the current war in Tigray. Political leaders in the Amhara regional state claim that Wolkait and Raya areas were incorporated into Tigray before the constitution was ratified against the wishes of the people in the areas and that TPLF has since then engaged in displacing and ethnic cleansing Amharas. TPLF disputes this claim and accuses Amhara armed forces, which now control the areas, of committing ethnic cleansing against Tigrayans, a charge both the federal and Amhara regional governments reject.

What is incontrovertible, nonetheless, is that there are considerable ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans living in these areas. If this was only an administrative problem, it would have been easily solved by making Amharic and Tigrigna the working languages of Wolkait and Raya areas and giving people in these areas the full measure of self-government.

However, Tigray and Amhara regional states are organized based on ethnic identity with the right to secede, and border disputes cannot easily be permanently solved through decentralization in a given state, as they involve issues of identity and historical territorial claims by the ethnic groups.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the federal constitution does not fully protect the group rights of minorities in the regional states, as it leaves it to the discretion of the states to determine at what level they want to establish local self-government within their boundaries—unless the ethnic group has already been granted local self-government when the regional state was formed.

While, in principle, the constitution grants ethnic groups the right to form a state, this right is only exercisable when the demand of statehood is approved by a two-thirds majority of the ethnic group’s legislature­—which can only happen if it already has one—and after the state’s council organizes a referendum.

The implication is that while some regional states, like Amhara, give the right of self-administration to some minority ethnic groups at the local level, others do not, regardless of whether an ethnic minority in the region forms a majority at a local level.

Moreover, regions have the authority to set their working language and can exclude minorities who do not have special zones from holding office even in areas they form a majority. For instance, the Harari constitution states that the region’s working languages are Afaan Oromo and Harari, and that no person can hold political office or work in the civil service unless they speak these two languages. At the time of the region’s formation, native Amharic speakers were 37 percent of the population, far outnumbering the 8 percent indigenous Harari speakers.

Some states’ constitutions explicitly indicate that their state belongs to the “native” ethnic groups. For example, Article 2 of the Benishangul-Gumuz constitution reads: “while other ethnic groups living in the state are recognized, the state belongs to the nations and nationalities of Berta, Gumuz, Shinasha, Mao, and Komo.” At the time of its formation in 1994, Amharas were 22 percent of the population, roughly the size as that of Gumuz (23 percent) whereas ethnic Oromos were 13 percent of the population in the state. In the last census, Amharas outnumbered Gumuz.

The ethnic federation also creates intense ethnic rivalry for resources, which is usually resolved in favor of who controls the federal government, where authorities use the power to benefit their own ethnic group.

For instance, notwithstanding the prevalence of extreme poverty in rural Tigray, the World Bank study that looked at the spatial variation in the provision of public goods among the regional states of Ethiopia from 2006-2016, during which TPLF was in power, shows that the region that experienced the highest increase in road construction is Tigray, whereas the Amhara regional state had the highest number of weredas that saw no growth in investment in roads during the period.

This not only distorts the optimal allocation of capital, which should be guided by expected country-wide economic benefits resulting from the investment, but also creates animosity among the ethnic groups, increasing the likelihood of inter-communal conflict.

Furthermore, the system of ethnic federalism has been a major barrier to create national unity and common public institutions. The stark manifestation of this problem was revealed during the current conflict in Tigray. Many Tigrayan military leaders in the Ethiopian army, including the former chief of the army, Tsadkan Gebretensae, sided with Tigray’s regional leaders and fought against their fellow colleagues with whom they served the country for decades.

The ethnic-based arrangement of the regions also ensured that almost all major political parties are organized along ethnic lines.

This is at least for two reasons: (1) by default, running for national office to promote the interest of the people in a regional state, which is a homeland of an ethnic group, means running to increase the ethnic group’s share in the allocation of political power and economic resources relative to other ethnic groups; (2) local politicians quickly learned that “playing the ethnic-card” is a potent tool in mobilizing support.

Indeed, a coalition between parties from different groups, especially between the largest ethnic groups—Oromo and Amhara—does not exist except for Abiy’s Prosperity Party, signaling ethnic polarization. This is ominous, as there are credible studies that show civil war is likely when there is such ethnic polarization where an ethnic majority is met with a significant minority.

The Oromia region in which Amharas form a significant minority fits the description. Hundreds of innocent ethnic Amharas living in Oromia lost their lives in targeted killings and the clashes involving the largest two ethnic groups in the city of Ataye, Northern Shewa, cost the lives of 200 civilians and led to the displacement of 250,000 people.

The relative political stability observed in Ethiopia under the current federal system when the TPLF dominated EPRDF was in power was a result of the country being under a de facto one-party, authoritarian system. Indeed, in the 2015 general elections, no opposition won a seat in parliament.

The moment TPLF decided not to join Abiy’s Prosperity Party, it effectively became the first opposition party governing a regional state in the history of the federation, and the resulting tension between the federal and regional government led to a military conflict.

And even before this conflict, the federal government had to intervene to remove a belligerent president of the Somali regional state who was responsible for the displacement of millions of ethnic Oromos. Furthermore, violence ensued when Sidama demanded secession from the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNP), which will likely be followed by others in the region. The federal government is also now battling militants in another regional state, Benshangul Gumuz, where there has been widespread ethnic conflict.

Thus, under the current system, even a federal government committed to democracy may be forced to intervene in regional states constantly—to protect ethnic minorities and keep the country together—beyond the legitimate authorities granted to it by the constitution, rendering the federal arrangement meaningless.

But, this cannot be sustained, and as the power of the central government eventually weakens,  the federation—made up of states that have territorial claims against each other and with no internationally recognized borders—will ultimately implode, analogous to what unfolded in similarly-designed Yugoslavia, with devastating and far-reaching consequences in the Horn and potentially with loss of lives that may dwarf the tragedy the world witnessed in Rwanda.

The assessment that there exists a considerable risk of massive ethnic conflict and large-scale genocide in the country is not an exaggeration. While the international community is focused on the conflict in Tigray, there were over 1.4 million internally displaced persons in the country as of December 2019, albeit lower than the 2.9 million recorded in 2018.

Autonomy and devolution, not secession

Despite these flaws and the removal of TPLF from the federal government, this institutional design of the constitution is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. This is because the dominant view among the country’s political elite, including within Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party, is that the major failures of the TPLF—its inability to create a democratic order, achieve lasting peace, bring about even distribution of political power and resources—are the results of the group’s lack of political will to implement the constitution as it is written, not the inevitable consequences of the way the federation is structured.

Nevertheless, Ethiopia’s recent history as well as the experience of other ethnically-designed federations, such as Yugoslavia and the USSR, reveal that there are serious flaws in the design.

This design entrenches ethnic divisions, promotes conflict by fueling rivalry for economic resources and political power, incentivizes regional politicians to engage in divisive and dangerous identity politics, and fosters secession.

Consequently, as observed throughout the life of the Ethiopian federation, the desired goals of creating a genuine federal system—where people have the full measure of self-government at the local level and the democratic and civic rights of citizens are protected wherever they reside—appear unattainable.

In other words, Ethiopia cannot achieve peace, democracy, and prosperity unless it decides to move away from the Bolshevik-inspired federation by taking steps similar to the following.

First, while maintaining a federal form of government, regional states should have autonomy, but not the right to secede from the federation. As I pointed out, secession is not attainable and the federation cannot be dissolved peacefully in light of the fact that regional states have territorial claims against each other and have no internationally recognized borders.

Second, the regional states should be organized not only based on ethnicity but also on economic and administrative efficiency. This will most certainly involve breaking up the two largest states, Oromia and Amhara, into smaller autonomous regions.

Third, there should be devolution within every regional state giving all cities and zones autonomy and self-administration, including setting their own working languages, which will protect the rights of minorities.

Fourth, regional languages that have a significant number of speakers, such as Afaan Oromo, should become federal working language along with Amharic. The education policy should be employed to promote the federal languages in other regional states. The resulting convergence between federal and regional languages will promote the mobility of labor across states, enhancing not only economic integration but also promoting cultural exchange.

Fifth, the constitutional provision that gives veto power to regional states should be repealed. Theoretically, a party that wins the majority seats in the smallest region’s parliament has the power to block, regardless of what the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians want, changes such as the federal policy on land ownership and natural resources as well changes to the article of the constitution governing constitutional amendment. This is unworkable, if not undemocratic—the constitution should be a living document responding to the interest and will of the significant majority of Ethiopians.

Of course, ultimately, such changes should not be imposed on the people. Ethiopians should be given the opportunity to express their will through a referendum or via their democratically elected representatives. But, the main lesson of Ethiopia’s experiment with ethnic federalism in the past three decades and the experience of the USSR and Yugoslavia is clear: such federations are inherently unstable and undemocratic.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the new generation of Ethiopian leaders and moderate forces from all ethnic groups to take such concrete measures to heal the existing ethnic division and move the country away from ethnic-based politics and federal structure. Failing that, the Ethiopian ethnic federation will eventually die a violent death and there will not be a better candidate for the epithet to be written on its tombstone than what Jefferson Davis suggested should be scribed on that of the Confederation during the American Civil War when Georgia threatened to secede: “Died of a Theory.”

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Main photo: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn holding the Ethiopian constitution at Abiy’s inauguration in parliament; 2 April 2018; Fana Broadcasting Corporation.

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About the author

Kassahun Melesse

Kassahun Melesse is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Economics at Oregon State University. His article on the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia was recently published on Foreign Policy.

19 Comments

  • It’s a relatively balanced article in this insight i have seen so far. But your portraits about Soviet type federation would probably be a west affiliated perception. What i mean is while you have the historical fact that the western powers had been massively engaged in imposing the ethnic system on Ethiopia, you have preferred to pick ideological failure by using failed Soviet union. Let us make it hard politics. There in Russia at least it was once a strong system that made the great Soviet union. And somehow the people of the union had showed some consent on it. Therefore our situation started from our weakness and poverty that did allow ethnic system to be imposed over us. It was not created by tplf’s cadre thinkers ingenuity as your writing mistakenly showing. Genuine political debate on ideologies has once passed in the 60th. Socialism had been in place for 17 years and conspicuous revolution was held. Your writing is too much for a conspiracy based transition that was done during 1991. Was there any discourse over political system alternatives during initial period of EPDRF? It must be just you want to make comparison with the Soviet type federation. When you come to Africa, there is no debate to choose the best leader and the best system as of the case in Ethiopia, it was all the interest of the westerners.

    The narratives about “Amhara” is not even patented to TPLF, those ruthless stories were fabricated again by the arabs and some west ccountries like Britain. They had deliberately singled out those communities in Ethiopia who are known by their war history and named them collectively as “Amhara”. As if all lords over the entire nation are amharas they artificially made a conquerer and a subjugated sentiment for them to make a country division easily in 1950th. Go and watch how bandit meles zenaw argue with prof. Mesfin about these namings. He was almost arguing like a teenage. Because these artificially made ethnic names does not matter once we fall under our enemies through TPLF. Were tigres abhorrent against gondere in history? Against wello? etc.. it started in the time of meles, isayas, simply because powerful countries promised them for help. Then they started rewriting history by the help of Britain and America. They even let kids to develop hatred against Amhara from nothing. So it was all alienation tactics for the big secession project adviced by UK & US.

    Finally, i agree with your recommendations. But necessarily we should correct stories in this country written by TPLf employers that was even incorporated in the constitution. For example, amhara identity, oromo identity, borders in between them, wolkayit,. Truths that became lies in 1991 and lies that became facts after 1991, this is in the constitution. Therefore, i would ultimately expect the Government to open for constitutional amendment. The soul of our politics is rooted on betrayal!

  • Awale, let’s look at the problem from a different perspective. Example of education. Fifty, 60 or 70 years ago, the few high schools Ethiopia had were concentrated in the main cities. The reason for that according to ethno federalist proponents is “feudal Amhara”. Take a look at the actual data. What were the situations in then Gojam, Gonder, Wollo. You would find they were not any better off. On the contrary Harar and Dire Dawa were more metropolitan than those provinces and had more famous high schools as well. So the problem was lack of resources, money, adequate skilled labor force, teachers, lack of electricity, water etc, the pattern of settlement, size of population etc. Instead of demonizing, dedeicated public servants of the era, put yourself in their shoes, and tell us how you would have designed a different system.

    The Derg regime was not by any means an Amhara regime. Mengistu Haile Mariam was of Oromo and South Ethiopian Ancestry, Debela Dinssa was of Wollega origin, etc. so Ethiopians were told then. After it came to power, why do you think a nationalistic government operated the same schools that were constructed during Emperor Haile Selassie’s era as two shifts and three shifts schools????? Because the derg too lacked the financial resources to build as many schools as possible in as many places in Ethical as possible. Thus the carefully designed education system of the Imperial era where quality was emphasized had to be diluted down and degraded in quality to increase quantity.

    So as a move forward, remember what one thinks one understand on the cursory outlook may actually have some underlying complicated issues one is not even bothering to understand. We need to be through, and logical in our attempts to analyze, understand and eventually solve the multitudes of problems Ethiopia faces. Let’s collect our heads, focus and switch and wear different glasses frequently so we can learn to look at problems from different angles.

  • “There is No problem with the current federalism except that it stopped Amhara Imperialism and helped natives to become educated (which Amhara feudals denied to Non Amharas until the derg regime came to power) and promote their own culture,language and religion.”

    Big sigh. It is obvious from a perusal of the above, Ethiopia has managed to produce a generation of non thinking, non performing and non discerning “educated” bodies in droves. The chief economist and Finance Minister of Emperor Haile Selassie’s era was the very distinguished Mr. Yilema Deressa. A graduate of the London School of Economics, he was among the very few well educated Ethiopian technocrats of his era. Since the writer of the above quoted paragraph bathes in and out in ethno fanaticism, I will not disappoint him/ her. Mr Yilema Deressa was of Wollega Aristocracy. So an Oromo Feudal????

    “The fact that you can’t find a single sidama or gumuz or harari or somali or pretty much any other ethnic tribe of Ethiopia living in Amhara region and yet the Amharas managed to outnumber ethnic gumuz (as per the author’s census) in Benshagul region tells all you need to know.”

    Nah, you are way off there. Have you been to Mercato in Addis? Have you been to Dessie? Bahir Dar? You need to travel a little bit and try to take your ethno fanatic hat off. Relax and try to meet just a person, a human being without labeling him or her first. You will be liberated mentally, spiritually and physically from this disease brought by narrow- minded, village mindset crooks. Wish you the best.

  • Seyoum

    You count be more wrong. As you may ot may not aware of it,,the bigger problems of that impoverished Ethiopian impire, besides current crises., is a conflict of dramatically opposed visions and the nationality question. The old guard and minority beneficiary of the old system stuck with top-down ,exploitive and centripetal vision while the majority of multinationals and oppressed subjects aspire to a bottom up vision of centrifugal system such as federalism, confederation and idea of equality among citizens. Therefore federalism perse didnt came out of the blue nor was it an exclusive idea of the TPLF. There was a long history. of sacrifice, struggle and deliberations made by the multiple nations and many actors and there are supporting facts for this.. This country could have disintegrated into oblivion 30 years ago but ethnic and condos of multinational federalism system was seen as the only way out of the impasse. Furthermore . It was expected and agreed upon to build on that compromise and improve it later of any shortcomings, not the other way around.
    I think what your ilk is anticipating is sneaking failed agenda and idea from backdoor under the ccover of shame elections that hast no mandate to change a constitution nor has slightest credibility to do so.It serious mistake if you think otherwise.at this juncture.

    As for contrast /similarities of Soviet Union versus Ethiopia empire spinning by the author, they have similar beginning but I would say no in the end and that is all about it. Just like Ethiopia, Russia was a product of the expansioniist feudal Tsarist but only much older and more sophisticated system in which later overtaken by communists that promised to reform and solve the nationality and then failed to do so like the Derg or Woyane regime did. That is why many nations broke way from it at the first chance even though few like Chechens and Crimeans didn’t make it. Given another chance, the remaing ones will do the same next time around, because nothing has changed the political culture of The Russian empire. They better address the issue. just like Ethiopian should improve,eventhough one step ahead, in addressing this existential question otherwise it is oly matter of time before things fall apart.

  • So your idea was tested in the current election and it failed miserably. Even the so called leader of the unionist camp did not get a seat. My question is just ask the people. Organize a referendum today, tomorrow, or any day. We all know you won’t because you know what the people would choose.

  • There is No problem with the current federalism except that it stopped Amhara Imperialism and helped natives to become educated (which Amhara feudals denied to Non Amharas until the derg regime came to power) and promote their own culture,language and religion.
    The fact that you can’t find a single sidama or gumuz or harari or somali or pretty much any other ethnic tribe of Ethiopia living in Amhara region and yet the Amharas managed to outnumber ethnic gumuz (as per the author’s census) in Benshagul region tells all you need to know. They want to exploit natives by imposing their language and imperialism and the current generation is saying No Way as our ancestors did.

    There is a reason the current federalism is popular even with its problems like corruption.

    Amharas need to

  • We can discuss and argue for and against ethnic federalism but I don’t think we will come to a consensus. Those in favour of the ethnic federalism are predominantly the young generation of ages between 18 through 50 while older generation mostly supports the concept of non-ethnic based political system.

    The last 30 years political system in Ethiopia has proven, according to my opinion, that it did not meet the objectives of satisfying the group interests of the various ethnic groups. To start with, minorities did not get the chance to develop their local languages and sufficient representation in the politics of the country. The Amhara and Oromo and the Tigray (the latter one due to its political domination for three decades) were and are still the vocal ones and dominant of the political discourses. Theoretically speaking the ethnic politics was not bad as it advocates the rights of every ethinc group in terms of promoting own language, culture, history and faith. However, the last 30 years practical experiences on the ground has shown that was not the case as the dominant ethnic groups used to have upper hands in every aspect os political and social lives.

    It is worth mentioning that ethnic federalism is further characterized by subsequent division of one ethnic group into further sub groups until it reaches up to a sub clan. For instance – Amhara is one ethnic group but when it comes to reality Gojam is a bit different from Wollo, Gonder, North Shewa etc. Likewise, in Oromya – Wollega, Arsi, Harrar, Shewa, Bale, Illubabor. This shows that when the power is in the hands of any group the usual discrimnation one against the other prevails which you cannot easily avoid.

    Had it been for individual rights and united but with recognition of diversity of culture, faith and identity – it would be more appropriate and to the satisfaction of many. We are in the world of globalization and EU is a good example that 28 countries who were some of them in hostile for centuries (such as France and Germany) came together and formed a Union. African countries are also in the process of forming similar unity in forseeable time.

  • First of all, Ethiopia🇪🇹isn’t a normal country even African standards🇿🇦🇰🇪🇳🇬🇹🇿. its all old tribal ruled system (tribalism) country, Ethiopia never being a nation state & it never be until ethnicity accepted or resolved politically. in fact, Ethiopia was an Amhara Republic til 1991 switched into Tigrey-Amhara-Oromo-Waliyta/Gurago Republic of (so-called 4-Ethnic party Republic). these exclusive 4 ethnic party TAOWG or its illusive name Eprdf satisfied 30yrs other Ethiopians should not have equal representative or power. its unfair to accuse only Tigrey because other 3-AOWg shared & never one day exit the coalition & shared all resources among themselves. Somalis, Afar, Sidama, Harari & others were outside of governance, simply empty regional names. However, today, Ethiopia 🇪🇹have different realities including, war in TIGREY🇻🇳&🇻🇳Tigrey war declaration of Amhara🇨🇬state, Federal gov.🇪🇹in Addis Ababa &🇪🇷Eritrea. more importantly the UN & international community are talking about Tigrey genocide & intervention (peace keepers & humanitarian assistance-food).
    the issue isNOT “Federalism is bad & Centralism is good” in fact, current realities Ethiopia🇪🇹needs to be🇪🇹*SOVEREIGN CONFEDERATION NATIONS* OF Ethiopia🇪🇹 shared few policies like foreign affairs, currency, immigration, Taxation,

  • The Amhara regional state should be changed into Agew, Qimant regional states and redistrict the rest to Oromia to have peace in Ethiopia.

  • This article shows Ethiopia’s current situation clearly. The constitution is killing Ethiopia. The Oromo nationalist will never agree with that because they want to build “ The great Oromo” on the crumbled Ethiopia. I say “ you wish”

  • Minorities in Oromia: An Outright De jure Discrimination

    The diversified nature of the Ethiopian polity is also reflected in Oromia regional state. According to the 2007 census more than 3.2 million non Oromos are believed to reside in the Oromia region. There are close to two million Amharas, 250,000 Gedeo and Guraghe each, 53,000 Hadiya, 45,000 Dawuro, and 42,000 Kambatea and others living in Oromia regional state.

    It is to be recalled also that some regional state constitutions including Oromia regional state constitution carry the clause that the ‘sovereignty’ in the region resides in the majority ethnic group or people, thus excluding the other inhabitants. Contrary to the diversified nature of the region, the constitution of the Oromia regional state both in its preamble and other provisions on sovereignty declares that ‘the Oromo nation’ is the owner of the constitution and the region Oromia, expressly excluding non Oromos residing in the regional state.

    Of course, the Oromia constitution doesn’t make discrimination between the Oromos and other non Oromo residents of the region when it comes to human and democratic rights (Art.14-38), the right to property, economic, social and developmental rights (40-44) as well as political and economic objectives (Art.103-104).

    Bu the holistic understanding of Oromia constitution, as an organic legal document, does not regard to the ethnic diversity of the Oromia region. Further examination of the Oromia constitution shows that there is almost complete identification of the Oromia region with the Oromo ethnic group. This identification is clear even in the preamble, which makes reference not to the population of the Oromia region, but rather to the “Oromo people.” Notwithstanding the fact that article 2(1) of the regional constitution recognises that Oromia is populated by “people of the Oromo nation and other peoples”, but article 8 stipulates that “Sovereign power in the region resides in the people of the Oromo nation.” The fact that “people of the Oromo nation” refers exclusively to people of the Oromo ethnic group can be deduced from article 39(6) of the Oromia constitution: “For the purpose of this constitution, the expression ‘the people of the Oromo nation’ shall be construed as meaning those people who speak the Oromo language, who believe in their common Oromo identity, who share a large measure of a common culture as Oromos and who predominantly inhabit in a contiguous territory of the Regional State. ” Thus, the sovereign power in Oromia does not reside in the various ethnic groups of the region, but in the Oromo ethnic group. From here it follows that the regional parliament, the Caffee, should not be perceived as the representative institution of the population of Oromia, but as the representative institution of the Oromo ethnic group. Several other elements support this conclusion. First, unlike the Amhara constitution, the Oromia constitution contains no provisions for the guaranteed representation of ethnic minority groups in the regional parliament. Second, it may be noted that the Caffee elects exclusively Oromo representatives to the federal House of the Federation. Article 39 (4) of the federal constitution stipulates that a demand for secession must be approved by the legislative council of the nation, nationality or people concerned. This provision has been included in article 39 of the Oromia constitution. Article 39 (5) of the latter constitution stipulates that the “Demand for secession is approved by a two thirds majority vote of the members of the caffee.” The legislative council of the Oromo ethnic group is thus equated with the Caffee of the Oromia region.

    Nor do Oromia’s constitutional provisions on the regional executive and judicial organs contain provisions for guaranteed representation. Ethnic minority groups in Oromia have no right to territorial self-administration. The Zonal administrative level is not an ethnic-based territorial entity, but an executive organ of the regional administration. There are no express clauses for representation in regional state institutions such as the legislature, judiciary and the executive nor does the constitution provide for territorial or non-territorial autonomy to non Oromos.

    In addition to the exclusionary regional constitution, the Oromia regional has also adopted the proclamation no. 116/2006 that governs urban local government of the region. Accordingly, the situation in urban local governments where non Oromos are believed to be relatively higher in number than the rural areas is particularly worrisome. The regional state executive can reserve up to 70 percent of the city council for the Oromos (50 percent for the Oromo residents of the city and 20 percent for Oromos coming from adjacent rural kebeles) to make sure that the institutions of urban local government are dominated by the Oromos. This makes elections for urban local governments nearly meaningless. The mayor is also appointed directly by the regional state president.

  • Awale, you are interpreting the article your way. You are reading it but not comprehending because you are subservient to the word federalism without understanding what it actually means. Consider this, the greatest federal government in the world is the United States. A citizen, for that matter a resident of the US can live, work and settle in any parts of the country be whether New York or California. A citizen of the US can elect his or her government representative in any part of the country she or he has established legal residence. Taxation with representation is what is the norm of a modern state. In fact, if you are in “Oromia” with one million non tax paying Oromos but say one tax paying Amhara or Somali, who contributes to the betterment of your regional Oromia? Similarly, if you are in “Amhara” with one million non tax paying Amharas but say one tax paying Oromo, or Tigrean, who contributes to the betterment of your regional Amhara? Let that sink in first.

    Also your obsession with the words federalism and centralism rather betrays a concrete understanding of the reasons. The Era of Princes or Zemene Mesafint can be equated with the time when central state power was the weakest. Demonstrate to the readers, a single province or area that shone with economic prosperity, language development, human capital enrichment etc. from that era? Name one! Naturally, the emerging government from that period would be a centralizing government. That would have been the logical follow up. Of course, we can always argue to what extent that centralization should go, and to what extent regional power devolvement must go. These are always fair and legitimate arguments and healthy. One more point, in the greatest federal government of the world, the medium of language shared by all is English, a common working language to unite all. In fact, by second and third generation most descendants of immigrants know how to speak only English. The claim of unitary system, etc is patently false, learning a common working language in Ethiopia has not eradicated the native languages in Ethiopia, otherwise your claim of a country with “nations and nationalities “with 0ver 80 languages and dialects would be moot. So let’s be consistent and have arguments based on logics and narratives based on facts not political fictions with a hidden goal.

  • Great article. Very commendable that the author used the concrete examples of the cases of the former USSR and Yugoslavia to bring the arguments forward to the reader. Ethnic federalism in Ethiopia has brought nothing but misery. It sure helped TPLF to stay in power for three decades to steal, loot, and turn brother against brother and sister against sister. It did not solve the basic fundamental needs of even our Tigrean brothers and sisters. For how is it possible for over 1,000,000 of them to have been on constant food aid for over 30 years while TPLF preached double digit economic growth for decades? Where was the accountability? Die hard communists from the derg era to an even worse die hard ethno fanatics of the TPLF era have not improved the life of a single farmer in Ethiopia whether she or he is an Amhara, Oromo, or Martian if there were one. The quality of life of the average Ethiopian from whatever ethnic group in whatever zone or geographical area will improve not by debating ad infinitum about the identity question, but by holding those who claim to provide public services accountable to provide adequate water supply, reliable electric power supply, ensuring the safety of precious lives free from murder, mayhem and torture, guaranteeing freedom of movement and the right to live, work and settle in parts of the country an Ethiopian citizen chooses and so on. To ethno-fanatics, the question is what is the fate of millions of Ethiopians who are descendants of two or three or more ethnic groups? Perhaps you want to make an 11 th or 12th or 20th killil exclusively for them too?

  • To make long and winding story, you mean federalism is bad thing and centralism good thing.; olden days were good , glorious and peaceful while these days are wrenched due to the overbearing multinational federalism system; let us do away with federalism constitution system immediately and we shouldn’t bother with pesky of nation wide referendum and so on and on. Couldn’t disagree more with it.. Why afraid to ask directly majority of the masses whether or not the believe so? Or aren’t they capable of making decision for themselves and for their own good? Just asking!

  • This is a historical Amhara nationalist false narrative and dangerous move to impose their wish on others, Was Ethiopia peaceful before the current federalism? of course not, it was in a never-ending civil with endless liberation fronts, which leads to Eritrea succession because Hileslase abolished the federation and their independence. It also brought Ethiopia to the brink. The fact the matter is the borders are very well set, there is no dispute unless one is claiming others territory. The constitution enjoys overwhelming support, and if we disagree on that, we can easily hold a referendum on it and see what the people say. If there is one thing Amhara elite need to get through their head is, changing the constitution doesn’t change the reality on the ground, especially if it’s done involuntarily by force.

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