Taye Berhanu /PhD
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.
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.
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