By Addissu Admas
In the very preamble of the current constitution, we read the words “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples” with no clause or codicil defining what these words mean, or what they stand for. It is left to the reader to interpret these words as he or she thinks fit. By what criteria is a group of people belonging to an ethnicity is determined to be a nation, nationality or people? Is it by its population size, land area, or any combination of these? It does not appear to be so since it would be incongruent with the current subdivision of Ethiopia into Killils. The constitution affirms also in Chapter 4 article 47-2, that there are “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples within the states [i.e. Killils]” implying within each state or Killil. Thus, clearly, a Killil by definition is not an expression of self-determination, but an administrative division of convenience. Had the constitution aimed at a logical, though not convenient nor easy outcome, the following points would have been considered or implemented.
- The assignment of only one common term, i.e. either nation, nationality, or people (and not all three of them), or, for that matter, any other appellation that seems adequate to every ethnic group that self-defines as such, regardless of its population size or geographic area. Doing so is not only fair, but also eliminates confusion.
- The word State and the word Killil – this latter, I should add, is not only inadequate, but is charged with questionable connotation – are not only not equivalent, but would appear to confuse the issues. Ethiopia is a State composed of 11 States (and two chartered cities) within which, or at least from some of which, other states can be formed! [Cfr. Article 47-2: “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples within the States enumerated in sub-Article 1 of this article have the right to establish, at any time, their own States”. A simple straightforward solution would have been to assign “Statehood” to each one of the ethnic groups within Ethiopia. Nevertheless, if the current trend of demanding statehood (or Killil-hood) continues unabated, we will be witnessing this very same outcome. And, despite the federal government’s resistance, nothing can be done because it is enshrined in the constitution!
- If the above came to pass, Ethiopia will become a country divided into some 80 states ranging in population from a few thousand to tens of millions, and from territories of a few thousand acres to hundreds of thousands of square kilometers.
- De facto, the federal government, including the House of Federation, the House of Peoples’ representatives, and the judiciary would have no right or reason to delay, impede or prohibit self-defined ethnicities from seeking Killil-hood as per article 46-2. The absurdity of the recent measure taken by the head of the SNNP is a clear violation of this article and in fact should be investigated by the House of Federation.
Clearly, the constitution designed by avowed self-determination advocates has created a constitution that is not only incoherent, but defeats the very purpose for which it was framed in the first place, i.e., to create a peaceful, stable, well-governed and hopefully prosperous country.
There is also another major issue that the constitution has not addressed. Even though it clearly states the requirements of Ethiopian citizenship, and speaks of the rights of nationality [article 33], it leaves to the Killils to determine several issues that needed to be at least addressed if not codified in the constitution itself. For example, one of the main reason that we are observing the rise of secessionist groups like OLA (aka Shene) and other lesser-known ones is because the constitution has given the impression that Killils constitute separate and autonomous states free to enact laws that are not necessarily prohibited by the federal constitution, but only presumed to be prohibited. More specifically, being an Ethiopian citizen, for example, should clearly give one the right to reside, work, own property or conduct financial transaction in any Killil of one’s choosing, regardless of one’s ethnic or Killil origin. Yet the perception of many radical advocates of Killil-hood is that there is not only Ethiopian citizenship, but also “undeclared and unsanctioned” citizenship of a Killil! Often the latter taking precedence over the former. Even though this may not have been the objective of the framers of the constitution, by their omission or oversight that is where we are today.
Being of a certain Killil, whether this is based on ethnicity or by some other criterion, should not preclude an Ethiopian citizen, or for that matter any other citizen of the world, to be able to reside, work, do business in any part of the country as long as he or she fulfills the requirements of the law. Yet, by not spelling out clearly the rights of citizenship within the framework of “Killil federalism”, the constitution has essentially and de facto created multiple citizenships within the Ethiopian State. This will remain a source of contention, if not of outright hostilities, for generations to come.
As long as the fundamental rights of every ethnic group in Ethiopia are respected, as stated, for example, in article 39-2 [“Every Nation, Nationality and People of Ethiopia has the right to speak, to write and to develop its own language; to express, to develop and to promote its culture; and to preserve its history”], there is no good reason for multiplying the Killils. There is no reason to have a Killil system if the objective is to provide all ethnicities in the realm the kind of rights described in article 39-2. However, the constitution makes it appear that the only way to achieve the objectives of this article is to follow up with a Killil system. This is where the constitution fails. In fact, Ethiopia has more to gain by restructuring her territory in a manner that not only eliminates the misunderstanding and confusion inherent to the Killil system, but to avoid all possible conflicts, confusion and inconsistencies that the system is bound to lead her into.
One way of doing this is to acknowledge in the constitution itself all the existing ethnicities constituting the Ethiopian State. A statement that will, once and forever, affirm that in one nation there can be many ethnicities as the history of most nations can attest. Whereas in the past, there has been a clear tendency, one would even say forceful program, to homogenize Ethiopia by imposing a language and certain cultural norms, Ethiopia has come to appreciate today her rich ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious variety and a willingness to preserve them. This, however, must not be translated into a system of government that aims, or at least tends to isolate each group within its territorial enclaves in the name of self-determination. As history has also clearly shown, self-determination has produced more poor and unstable states than prosperous and stable ones.
Ethiopia will benefit economically, culturally and most of all politically if the current ongoing subdivision into ever smaller Killils is given up for a more rational and efficient one. This would be a subdivision that while preserving, nurturing and protecting the cultural, linguistic and religious heritage, opts for a more operative and equitable administrative scheme.
The present Killil arrangement has also the tendency of penalizing certain ethnic enclaves that by accident of history, religion or politics are relegated to unfavorable geographic zones. It precludes them from seeking relief in other areas, because venturing outside their Killil would be perceived as encroaching on the “presumed or real” property of other “nations, nationalities and peoples”. The irony of the recent war in Ethiopia is a glaring example why the Killil system is fraught with complications and dead ends. For generations, tens of thousands of Tigreans were able, unhindered and unmolested, to work and live in the fertile lands of Wolkait (what Westerners refer erroneously as western Tigray). It is precisely because of the architecture of the Killil system that the TPLF, perceiving the restrictive prescriptions it inserted in the constitution, began to expand its territory to the west while in power, since it did not want to be confined by its original territory, which could have never sustained the population of its Killil. Some have seen this as a first step towards the creation of the much talked about Greater Tigray ideology. However, evidence indicates that it was likely to circumvent the restrictions of the Killil system that the TPLF engaged in systematic annexations of Wolkait and other areas west of Tigray.
What Ethiopia needs is not a rigidly divided country into Killils, but one where all Ethiopians are free to move, reside, work and vacation without restrictions nor fear. This, as we know, does not only benefit the economy, but will draw ever closer the multitude of Ethiopia’s ethnicities and learn to live peaceably with each other. This reality can never be fulfilled by the present constitution. As many have indicated, there are better ways to configure Ethiopia’s vast and rich land and peoples. It is time to recast or overhaul the constitution of Ethiopia.
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