Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Is Ethiopia Federal?

This Article was Originally posted on Arkobkabay and nharnnet in 2013

This article is a shortened and slightly edited version of a previous article I wrote last year under the title: Post PM Meles Zenwi Ethiopia and the Challenges Ahead, which was posted on Arkokabay.com on 20 September 2012.
Earlier today an activist comrade was telling me that the Ethiopian regime was organizing an event to promote, and perhaps export, their version of federalism to East African countries. That led us to discuss whether Ethiopia was federal in the first place before it can claim to have such a system to export to the rest of the region where (excluding Eritrea) there has been better experience and knowledge of federalism as well as power-sharing arrangements when Ethiopia was still ruled by autocratic dictatorships throughout the last 100 years. We also discussed governance options for Eritrea post-pfdj-dictatorship. We agreed with the comrade to raise awareness about this latter issue without appearing to be prescribing “the solution”, as solutions have to come from within the country and in full consultation and agreement with the people: the source of legitimacy for any system of governance. In the mean time, I thought of reposting a slightly revised short version of my old article to just highlight some of the issues related to Ethiopian federalism.
To start with: federalism can not exist without democracy. The two are synonymous. Failures of federal experiences in the world have always been associated with absence of democracy – USSR and Yugoslavia can be mentioned as examples. For the last 21 years Ethiopia – home to over 80 ethno-linguistic groups squeezed in 9 “ethnic” units – has been ruled by one ethnic-party, which is a clear manifestation of absence of genuine democracy in the country. No national parties are allowed to thrive, and to propagate political programs nationwide. The ruling EPRDF coalition itself can hardly be classified as a “national party”. It is a coalition of satellite “ethnic parties” allied to the powerful TPLF (itself an ethnic Tigrayan entity). The EPRDF tolerates no other multi-ethnic political alliance or an independent (non-aligned to the TPLF) ethnic movement to exist in the country. This has made Ethiopia a one-party-dictatorship with national power and wealth concentrated in the hands of one ethnic-party.
The TPLF led EPRDF has been ruling the country in a highly centralized manner, with all the key state institutions in the country, such as the army and security agencies, finance and economy firmly in the hands of the TPLF party. Hence, Ethiopian “federalism” lacks two most important pillars of federal system of governance: democracy and decentralized or devolved public administration.
Another important factor the current Ethiopian governance system lacks is the “protection of minorities”. This is an important area with which federalism is often associated and indeed identified, but not in the Ethiopian case. At the structural level, Ethiopian “federalism” does not protect minority rights. Minority rights are only used and promoted to keep Amhara chauvinists at bay, and to secure loyalist alliance for the TPLF to continue ruling Ethiopia. For example, the legislative chambers of the Federal government are composed of the party that wins the majority of votes (whether by rigging or otherwise). Representation to the Federal House (the upper chamber) is proportional based on the number of each ethnic group’s population size. This means an ethnic group with the largest population will always have domination in both chambers of the legislative organ of the state. In most federal states the upper chamber is used to protect minority rights by ensuring fairer and equal representation of minorities at the national level. With this shortcoming in mind, even if this system was genuinely implemented, the result would have meant that the Oromos, as the largest ethnic group, would have come out to be the dominant force in the country. However, as stated above, Ethiopian politics have been defined by the TPLF in a manner that fits their size and interests. For any ethnic movement to have a say at the national or local level, alliance with the powerful TPLF is a pre-requisite. Constitutional phrases and rights such as “federalism”, “self-determination”, and “nations and nationalities” have been selectively used to fit the interests of the ruling TPLF elite.
Ethiopia is therefore a country governed by a highly centralized authority based on the will of one-party elite. When that party weakens or is forced out of power, there is a strong possibility that the governance system they have imposed from top will most likely collapse and lead the country on to further uncertainties. Hence, while “federalism” may still be the best available option to hold Ethiopia together, the country is in need for fundamental reforms before it can be considered a full-fledged “federal democratic republic” or a source of inspiration to the peoples of East Africa.
May Peace and Justice Prevail in Ethiopia and East Africa!



The views and opinions etitled "Is Ethiopia Federal?", are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Setit Media. ኣብዚ "Is Ethiopia Federal?", ዘርእስቱ ጽሑፍ ተገሊጹ ዘሎ ርእይቶን ሓሳብን ናይቲ ጸሓፊ/ት እምበር መትከላትን መርገጽን ሰቲት ሚዲያ ዘንጸባርቕ ኣይኮነን።

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