Tuesday, June 18, 2024
HomeOpinionThe Ethnic-Based Federalism The Legal Basis For Ethiopia’s Crisis   

The Ethnic-Based Federalism The Legal Basis For Ethiopia’s Crisis   

Ethiopia Ethnic Based Federalism
Image source : The African Report



Taye Berhanu /PhD  
Abstract 

Scholars seldom concur on the nature, causes and remedies of a nation’s crisis. There has  been a lingering debate on the nature of Ethiopia’s crisis in the last three decades. Though  there is a common understanding among many scholars on Ethiopia’s being engulfed by  crisis, there are diametrical views with regard to ascribing Ethiopia’s federal system as one  of the major causes of its crisis. There are some arguments on theoretical grounds on the  different political systems – unitary, federalism and confederation. Some consider  federalism more democratic than the unitary system, symbolizing it as dictatorial. There are  also tendencies of considering the question of changing the federal system as a taboo. They  portend grave danger if the federal system is changed. These controversial issues are  posing bottlenecks for free and independent academic discourse and discourage change  efforts. These issues will be slightly touched as they are relevant to the paper under  consideration.  

This paper attempts to briefly and succinctly present how the political philosophy of  Ethiopia’s federal system has immensely impacted the socio-economic and political  fabrics as manifested in the Transitional Charter establishing the Ethiopian Transitional  Government, the proclamation establishing the nation’s regions on ethnic lines and  eventually, the declaration of the FDRE Constitution. It is abundantly clear that the  polemics on the nature of the FDRE Constitution is not yet finished. The cons and pros of  the constitution are viewed distinguishingly depending on the political outlook and  motives of the individuals, scholars or non-scholars. In this respect, unbiased, balanced  and scientific approach is employed by demonstrating the definition of crisis, the  fundamental objective of a standard and democratic federal system and the country’s  objective reality.  

The theoretical and practical aspects do substantiate the danger ethnic federalism has posed  in Ethiopia. The current Ethiopian crisis is mainly the outcome of the supreme law, which  has given the means and protection to culprits. The treatment of the cause is instrumental  in finding remedies to the crisis. It is highly recommended that the avoidance of an ethnic  policy is a necessary and indispensable prerequisite to ameliorate and control the existing  crisis and to prevent its further deterioration and exacerbation. 

I. Introduction  

This short and precise paper attempts to address the governance and constitutional issues in  Ethiopia with specific reference to its ethnic based federalism system related to Ethiopia’s current  crisis. The supreme law of the land, the FDRE constitution, has been very controversial since the  very beginning of its proclamation. It stands as a critical aspect in comprehending the Ethiopian  situation with the view to making some recommendations to alleviate the crisis Ethiopia has  encountered. Many scholars attribute the ethnic based federal system to the deteriorating situations  of Ethiopia. Presumably, due to the sheer reluctance and, indeed, refusal of the successive leaders  of the Ethiopian government to address the root causes of the Ethiopian challenges and problems,  which lies in the political philosophy of ethnic federalism, the country is immersed to a critical  crisis of unimaginable proportion. After the tragic Ethio-Eritrea war in 1998, another war in the  northern part of the country and wide spread violence have occurred. The Ethiopian government,  having intrinsically and inseparably linking itself to the so-called new political philosophy of  ethnic federalism, has immensely contributed to today’s unprecedented crisis in Ethiopia’s modern  history.  

The fratricidal war in northern Tigray, which was triggered and unleashed by the TPLF on the  Ethiopian Northern Command Forces and neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, has exacerbated  the acceleration of the lingering crisis to its heights. The two-year ethnic based war marked by  devastating consequences in northern Ethiopia has, to some extent, its historical roots dating back  to Ethiopia’s ancient time. The nature of the war that broke out in 2020, embedded with  antihumanity and intrusion of genocidal crimes, was an explosion of the crawling ethnic based  politics engraved in the minds of top political leaders, primarily, and in the constitution of the  Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. With the advent of the war, the unheeded ethnic-based  atrocities and violence have widely spread throughout the country. Since the outbreak of the war,  the wellequipped and organized ethnic forces, viz.; the TPLF and OLF, have intensified their wars  of attrition against the Amharas and Afars on their respective borders; and the Amharas, in  particular in the Oromia and other regions. Other ethnic-based violence have flared up in different  regions.  

The nature and magnitude of ethnic based war and widespread violence in Ethiopia ought to be  fathomed in historical perspective in a political, sociological, economical and philosophical  analytical scrutiny. This presupposes the identification of the historical roots of the ethnic-based  war and violence that have propped up in a crisis situation. In light of this, the paper shall focus on  the contentious debates that are legally grounded and politically floated in diverse ways among  scholars and the general public of Ethiopia and others. The nature, causes and plausible solutions  of the lingering critical crisis shall be discerned and discussed with free and independent conscious.  

1.1 Objective of the Paper  

The major objective of this paper is to provoke free and genuine discussion by all scholars, the  academia and all stakeholders to examine the true root causes of the prevalent crisis in Ethiopia 

which have far-reaching impacts on global politics and to finding long-lasting solutions to the  crisis. As the topic refers to ethnic based federalism, the paper focuses on the examination of the  FDRE Constitution as related to the current Ethiopian crisis.  

1.2 The Concept of Federalism  

The understanding of federalism is an important aspect in addressing it in relation to the  Ethiopian crisis. There are three major political systems in the world, viz., unitary, federalism and confederation. They are all based on democratic principles, albeit, some distinct features in  government structures, degree of autonomy, power sharing and foreign relations aspects.  Federalism refers to a political system and structure of government in which the powers and  mandates are divided between the central or federal government and state/ regional  administrations or governments.1 

There are some Ethiopian politicians who consider federalism as democratic and unitary as  belonging to centralization of government with a connotation of dictatorial rule. Some also try to  consider it as a taboo with the feeling that an attempt to change the federal system of Ethiopia  would entail unprecedented crisis to the country. Moreover, some argue that the Federalism system  in Ethiopia is no different from other countries’ federalism. They assert that the problem in  Ethiopia is not because of the system or the constitution but because of the non-implementation of  the constitution. And, some cite the Soviet Union constitution as allowing the right of nations,  nationalities and peoples for self-determination, including and up to secession.  

Such views are shared or rather endorsed by the leaders and cadres of the Ethiopian government.  Conceptually, it is erroneous to rate federalism more democratic than unitary system. While both  are based on democratic principles, the major distinction is in the process of setting power sharing  between the federal government and state or regional governments. The majority of the democratic  states are of unitary system. About 60 percent of the world countries embrace unitary system. In  practice, there are countries of unitary states that have provided regions more autonomy than the  federalist states do. Again, in all countries, power sharing between federal and regional  governments vary. There are some federalist states that can be equated with unitary features and  the vice versa.  

In spite of this fact, what distinguishes the Ethiopian Federalism from the federalism of all others  is that it is ethnic based federalism, which is officially banned in some constitutions like Nigeria.  Ethiopia is the only country that has given the right to about 85 ethnic groups to form regional  governments and to secede unconditionally if and when they wish to do so. The argument that the  Soviet Union had similar rights in its constitution is erroneous and fictitious.2  

The other menacing warning not to touch the Federal Constitution on the assumption that if the  system is changed, the country will be in the abyss of crisis. Such position is against the fact on  the ground. It is a denial to the reality Ethiopia is in. Ethiopia is in crisis and on the verge of  collapse and disintegration unless and otherwise swift, wise and determined measures are taken by  the incumbent government, the political parties, activists and the people at large. Unless crisis is  defined otherwise, Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism and crisis are intertwined inseparably.3 

1.3 Definition of Crisis  

Crisis can be simply defined as a time of intense difficulty or danger with lots of predicaments. It  refers to a crucial stage or turning point in the course of something, or an unstable situation of  extreme danger or difficulty (Shabdkosh dictionary). Crisis is an expression of complex and  intricate situation. It is a cumulative effect of all sorts of crimes inflicted against people of any  nation where the government is feeble and incapacitated to manage the challenges and problems.  It is a consequence of overt and covert misdeeds and crimes carried on by anti-democratic,  antihuman and hegemonic external or internal or both forces.  

Prevention and handling crisis demands strong dedication, determination, commitment,  knowledge, practical experience, astute and wise leadership. One of the pivotal prerequisites in  preventing, mitigating and avoidance of crisis is the capability of understanding the nature and  cause of the crisis and the political commitment in taking swift and rational actions. This implies  the importance of quick and emergency measures by the concerned parties, essentially by the  incumbent government before it is too late. It has to be done in a transparent and democratic  process.  

II. The Nature of Ethiopia’s Crisis  

Currently, Ethiopia is fraught with immense political, economic and social challenges and  problems tantamount to a situation of crisis. Apparently, Ethiopia is, without exaggeration, in an  appalling abject poverty situation. Poverty could be explained not only in shortages of materials  or products and poor distribution of the nation’s wealth among its people. By derivative, the mental  disturbances, psycho-physic paucity, disdain and loss of hope in the future destiny of the country  do partly explain a country’s poverty situation with a sense of crisis features.  

Despite the increasing role given to the private sector as an engine of growth; the booming in real  estates and road construction ventures as well as the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam,  which has augured great hope to the Ethiopian people for fast economic growth and development,  Ethiopia still remains as one of the poorest and least developed countries of the world. Its current  situation is characterized by various socio-economic quantitative and qualitative indicators.  

Ethiopia’s fragile economy- food insecurity, low productivity, high unemployment rate- rampant  corruption practices, and infringement of human rights.  

The socio-economic challenges in Ethiopia can be cited in terms of poverty rate (1.9USD per day  per person), low income levels(GDP per capita rank in the world 159th;inflation -34.8%; rural  Ethiopia poor -96.3%; Urban area poor 46.4 %), low education levels(), poor access to health  services(24.3% coverage), insufficient access to clean water(29%of the population access to basic  water supply), and insufficient basic sanitation facilities(6% coverage), Inflation (26.84% in 2023),  and unemployment rate (19.1%in 2023). According to some estimates, 68.7 percent of the  Ethiopian population is multidimensionality poor and 18.4 percent is vulnerable to  multidimensional poverty. Ethiopia is rated as one of the poorest and most heavily indebted  countries of the world, ranked last out of 208 countries.  

Though statistical data are sometimes controversial, the qualitative descriptions and analysis, and  more importantly, the objective reality do strengthen the evidence based socio-economic crisis.  This socio-economic crisis, having a pulling and pushing factor, is very much intertwined with the  contentious political philosophy. The political outlook which has obtrusive antagonistic  components. The constitution is the deliberate and intentional outcome of the ruling circle. It has  pronounced and engrained the ill-intent spirit of division. A divisive devise based on trivial and  fake historical fabrications and a denial of reality have increased the country’s crisis. Because, a  political epistemology that fans false narratives and lies negates the basic cognition a society  embraces. If the basis is contaminated with deformed avalanches of sinister political designs, the  chance for averting crisis is slim. Self-aggrandizement for economic interest or political power  directs a nation towards more serious crisis.  

In the political realm, one can discern the burial of honest and truthful principles under the cover  and protection of the FDRE Constitution. The societal cognition of Ethiopia’s history is  undermined by introducing new political terms and approaches of governance. The distorted and  obtuse ethnic-based political system has a euphemism of a federal language. The political system  filled with unfounded and unscientific so-called federal principles or postulates stipulated in the  Constitution is a spring board for the complex and intricate Ethiopian crisis.  

The ethnic based fratricidal conflicts, internal displacements, and demolition of houses unlawfully,  lack of shelter and food in emergency situations, worsened at times of severe droughts; unbridled  corruption; and, lack of good governance have accelerated the wave of Ethiopia’s crisis leading to  war, instability and chaotic circumstances. The list is too long to mention all. In a nutshell, the  backward developmental stage, the rampant violations of democratic and the universally  recognized human rights like the right to life, the right to own property, the right to shelter, the  right of movement and the likes have created conditions for civil wars and widespread violence  aggravating the existing problems and creating new ones that extremely threaten the sovereignty,  territorial integrity, unity and independence of Ethiopia. The agonizing nature and magnitude of  the political challenges added to the persistent socio-economic critical problems define a national  crisis. Ethiopia’s crisis has trickled more stringently and at a faster rate since the introduction of  an ethnic based policy in 1991 by TPLF/EPRDF and is lingering in a more dangerous manner.  

Though Ethiopia’s uniqueness in history has been embellished with positive and encouraging  features, its current situation is marred with an obtrusive uniqueness that does not match the  international political arena of the 21st century. A political device that had been used by the  expansionists and colonialists to divide and rule, fully control and pillage its resources, and which  was tattered with fierce struggle of the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world prior to the 

21st century is busily employed in Ethiopia by its own sons and daughters. The use of the external  machination by internal forces is a unique but a lackluster caricature that spoils the good images  Ethiopia has enjoyed for so many years.  

3. The Causes of the Ethiopian Crisis in Historical Perspective  

There are some scholars who attribute Ethiopia’s crisis to the civil war waged in the northern part  of Ethiopia and the violence widespread in the country. True, the two-year fratricidal civil war  fought in northern Ethiopia between the TPLF forces and the Ethiopian Government’s national  army; the TPLF’s unprovoked attack against the Amharas and the Afars; the continued intensified  incursions of the OLF against the Amharas in various parts of the country; clashes erupting  between ethnic groups in different regions – all war attritions in the whole country define  Ethiopia’s crisis.  

Obviously, the peace deal reached in Pretoria, South Africa, in November 2, 2023 with the  mediation of the African Union has helped cease the war. Based on the efforts being shown in  implementing the peace agreement by both parties compounded with the decision of the  Government to disarm and disband the Amhara Special Force and the Fano Fighters (traditional  armed organization of Amhara) and the problems created, have casted signs of uncertainty and  shadows of suspicion and mistrust that portend the exacerbation of the crisis to a higher level.  

On the other hand, absence of war is not necessarily absence of crisis. War is, per ce, an intense  armed conflict between opponents. It is a last resort action taken by various pushing and pulling  influencing factors including some sorts of augmented disdain, exploitation, suppression and  oppression. It is either a defensive or offensive act. In the absence of domination or legitimate  justification internally, war is usually instigated by war mongers that bar all roads for dialogue and  negotiation. War is, in other words, an eruption of a time bomb buried clandestinely by dictators,  expansionists or colonialists. It is a time bomb that can be ignited by the oppressor or oppressed  party at mature time. It is an apex stage of the simmering and uncontrolled latent factors which  evolves to a crisis.  

In this regard, the 2020 war unleashed by the TPLF against the various federal military posts in  Tigre region is not necessarily the commencement of Ethiopia’s crisis. Rather, it is an utter  revelation or naked expose of the long-awaited tacitly concealed device. The war exploded as an  eventual consequence of the political conspiracy that the hegemonic war mongers of TPLF had  sought to use it as a final resort for reclaiming, sustenance and ascertaining its supremacy. In other  words, it is an act of conspiracy to meet its objectives as per the FDRE Constitution.  

The current crisis in Ethiopia is not a new phenomenon. Ethiopia has passed through long periods  of trials and tribulations at different historical epochs. The current Ethiopia’s crisis is partly an  inherited and continuation of the past with further complexities and intricacies. The crisis during  the Derg regime was inherited by the forces that toppled the Derg/PDRE and ascended to the helm  of the state power apparatus, the TPLF/EPRDF. The inherited crisis from the Derg are basically  the socio-economic backwardness, food insecurity, low basis of democracy, non-respect of human  rights on non-ethnic discriminatory basis. These problems were further exacerbated by a new  political outlook alien to the Ethiopian people; thus making the current crisis, which has existed  for more than three decades, different and unique in nature. What makes the current crisis different in nature is very much related to the characteristic features of the main culprits or creators of the  crisis and their creation or product – the TPLF and OLF and the final political and legal instrument  – the FDRE Constitution. 

Continue reading full article on PDF file here.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com 

__

To Publish an Article On borkena , please send submission to info@borkena.com for consideration.

Join our Telegram Channel : t.me/borkena

Like borkena on 
Facebook

Business Listing / Directory   Get Listed! 

Join the conversation. Follow us on twitter @zborkena to get the latest Ethiopian news updates regularly. To share information or send a submission 

advertisment

3 COMMENTS

  1. Ethiopia’s federal system is not in itself bad, or even better than the old feudal (in Menelik’s time) and dictatorial (Derg, the Red Terror) systems, but it is the way in which certain politicians in the pay of foreign powers, who, in order to achieve their strictly personal interests, want to destroy federalism.
    For a regional state to develop, it needs a large degree of autonomy, enabling it to manage its own affairs and to know its own priorities perfectly well. It is absolutely not dependent on a centralised system where certain ethnic groups are served more than the rest, so it is preferable to have a federal system rather than a very closed centralised system that does not take account of the specific priorities of each region and ethnic group.

    Français :

    Le système fédéral éthiopien n’est pas en soit mauvais même meilleur que les anciens féodals( au temps de Ménélik)et dictatoriaux ( Derg, la terreur rouge) mais c’est la façon dont certains hommes politiques à la solde des puissances étrangères, qui, pour parvenir à leurs intérêts strictement personnels qui veulent détruire le fédéralisme.
    Pour qu’un état régional se développe, il lui faut une large autonomie, lui permettant de gérer ses propres affaires et connaît parfaitement ses priorités et ne dépend absolument pas d’un système centralisé où certaines ethnies sont plus servies que les restes donc il est préférable d’avoir un système fédéral plutôt qu’un système centralisé très fermé qui ne tient pas compte des priorités spécifiques à chaque région et ethnie.

  2. Ethiopia’s federal system is not bad in itself and is even better than the old feudal (in Menelik’s time) and dictatorial (Derg, the Red Terror) systems, but it is the way in which certain politicians in the pay of foreign powers who, in order to achieve their strictly personal interests, want to destroy federalism.
    For a regional state to develop, it needs a large degree of autonomy, enabling it to manage its own affairs and to know its priorities perfectly well, and not to depend on a centralised system where certain ethnic groups are served more than the rest. It is therefore preferable to have a federal system rather than a centralised or feudal system that is very closed and does not take account of the specific priorities of each region and ethnic group.

    Français :

    Le système fédéral éthiopien n’est pas mauvais en soit et même meilleur que les anciens systèmes féodals( au temps de Ménélik)et dictatoriaux ( Derg, la terreur rouge) mais c’est la façon dont certains hommes politiques à la solde des puissances étrangères, qui, pour parvenir à leurs intérêts strictement personnels veulent détruire le fédéralisme.
    Pour qu’un état régional se développe, il lui faut une large autonomie, lui permettant de gérer ses propres affaires et connaît parfaitement ses priorités et ne pas dépendre d’un système centralisé où certaines ethnies sont plus servies que les restes donc il est préférable d’avoir un système fédéral plutôt qu’un système centralisé où féodal très fermé qui ne tient pas compte des priorités spécifiques à chaque région et ethnie.

    • What if we downsize may be 3 of the biggest states to make them comparable to other state in population size and/or land mass? I feel especially Ormomia and Amhara are too big compared to the other Federal states.
      Downsizing them would facilitate competition among themselves and between other states.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here