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Promoting Linguistic Equality and Inclusivity in Ethiopia’s Federal Institutions: A Call for Multilingualism

Linguistic Equality and Inclusivity
Image source : Reporter (File)

By Hussien Mohamed Yusuf

Ethiopia is a culturally and ethnically diverse country that has long struggled to foster inclusivity and equal representation in its federal institutions. Despite progress towards democracy and decentralization, the dominance of Amharic as the national working language has created significant barriers for many ethnic communities, including the Somali people. In this article, we explore the challenges faced by ethnic Somalis and other minority groups in accessing federal institutions due to language barriers and advocate for policies that promote linguistic equality and inclusivity.

Ethiopia’s linguistic landscape is incredibly diverse, with over 80 distinct languages spoken across the nation. While this diversity is a source of richness and cultural heritage, it also presents challenges in terms of communication and representation in federal institutions. Amharic has historically been prioritized in government, education, and business, marginalizing non-Amharic speaking communities.

For ethnic Somalis, working in  federal institutions often requires proficiency in Amharic, which poses a significant barrier to participation. Many Somalis may not have had the opportunity to learn Amharic fluently, limiting their ability to effectively engage with government services, pursue higher education, or seek employment in federal institutions.

The language barrier also extends to political participation, where the dominance of Amharic in political discourse and administration can disenfranchise ethnic Somalis and other ethnic groups. Political processes and decision-making within federal institutions are often conducted in Amharic, excluding those who are not proficient in the language from fully participating in the democratic process.

As a result, other ethnic groups  may face obstacles in running for political office, advocating for their communities’ needs, or participating in public debates and discussions. This exclusion not only undermines democratic principles but also perpetuates power imbalances and inequalities in Ethiopian society.

Promoting linguistic equality and inclusivity within federal institutions is not only a matter of social justice but also essential for building a more cohesive and democratic Ethiopia. Recognizing and respecting the linguistic rights of all ethnic communities is fundamental in fostering a sense of belonging and ensuring that no group is left behind in the nation’s development journey. By prioritizing multilingualism and providing language support services for non-Amharic speakers, federal institutions can improve accessibility and participation for all Ethiopians, regardless of their language background. This includes translating official documents and offering interpretation services to facilitate communication, as well as promoting the use of local languages in education and governance.

Moreover, by diversifying the linguistic representation within federal institutions, a wide range of perspectives and expertise can be brought into decision-making processes. This will lead to more well-informed and inclusive policies that address the diverse needs of Ethiopia’s population. Ethiopia is currently at a crucial point in its pursuit of unity, diversity, and democracy. Embracing linguistic equality and inclusivity within federal institutions is not only morally right but also essential for building a fairer and more resilient society. By acknowledging and accommodating the linguistic diversity of its people, Ethiopia can foster greater social unity, political stability, and economic prosperity for all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or language. It is time for Ethiopia to recognize multilingualism as a strength and a unifying force, paving the way for a brighter and more inclusive future for future generations.

The Kenyan Example
Kenya, a neighboring country with a diverse linguistic landscape, provides an instructive example of how transitioning to English as a medium of instruction and governance can promote inclusivity and equal participation. After gaining independence, Kenya adopted English as an official language to facilitate communication and unity among its ethnically diverse population.
The decision to prioritize English over any single indigenous language has enabled Kenya to overcome linguistic barriers and promote equal opportunities for all ethnicities within federal institutions. Proficiency in English has become crucial for accessing education, employment, and political representation, leveling the playing field for individuals from different linguistic backgrounds.

By embracing English as the medium of instruction and governance, Kenya has fostered a sense of national identity and unity while respecting the linguistic diversity of its people. This inclusive approach has contributed to Kenya’s stability, economic growth, and democratic governance, serving as a model for other multiethnic nations facing similar challenges.
The Kenyan experience offers valuable insights for Ethiopia in its pursuit of linguistic equality and inclusivity within federal institutions. While all languages spoken in Ethiopia hold cultural significance as national languages, transitioning to English as the primary medium of instruction and governance could offer a practical solution to overcoming linguistic barriers and promoting equal opportunities for all ethnicities.

By adopting English, Ethiopia can facilitate communication, enhance accessibility, and promote inclusivity within federal institutions. Proficiency in English could become a prerequisite for accessing education, employment, and political participation, ensuring that individuals from diverse linguistic backgrounds have equal opportunities to contribute to the nation’s development.
By prioritizing linguistic inclusivity and multilingualism, Ethiopia can foster greater social cohesion, political stability, and economic prosperity for all its citizens, regardless of their linguistic or ethnic background. It is time for Ethiopia to embrace linguistic diversity as a strength and a source of unity, paving the way for a brighter and more inclusive future for generations to come.

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


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  1. why would one of the two non-colonized African countries desert a native language that has its’ own alphabet for English? if you can learn English, why can’t you learn Amharic? this whole article is doing the opposite of fostering social unity bc you’re essentially saying you’d rather learn the language of an unrelated group of people that aren’t even native to our continent instead of learning the historically used language in Ethiopia that again has its’ own alphabet which is important to preserve.

    • Rando, Thank you! You said what I wanted to say. In addition to that Ethiopia already adopted childhood learning with mother tongue. By mandating one of the 6th main languages ( historically Amharic) that are spoken widely to be a National language. The remaining five (Afari, Somali, Oromigna, Tigrigna and Arabic) can be Federal working languages among Amharic. Rather than promoting English Ethiopia should do away with this colonial language.

  2. Exactly! 100% accurate.
    As to the writer; absolutely disgraceful and sad suggestions and thinking, promoting more division and backwardness. How can it be that our parents generations were fluent in speaking and reading Amharic. Adress root causes and suggest sustainable solutions. May our society be freed from such slavery minded thinking…

  3. The whole instability that engulfs our country since 1970’s is for the aspiration of democracy, equality among different ethnics. The different ethnics languages inequality is the part and parcel of this problem. Since then different dictator ascended to power and tried to impose their wish rather than building democratic state. The current regime is not different from the previous one. It rather exasperated the problem. In order to have a solution for language inequality I assume there should be a stable political system that would give a room for a well researched system that would enhance language equality from school on wards. As such demonizing Amharic as a dominant language is tantamount to hate. That’s what is going on currently. Now the current regime is trying to remove Amharic learning from school curriculum. Is what we call language equality? As long as we are not get out if political ego, we will never have language equality, dictatorial regime will impose its wish.

  4. Hussien Mohamed Yusuf, it appears your hate for Amharic is to the roof. You are more than happy to learn the colonialists language and alphabet. But you hate to death to learn Amharic and the only African alphabet. Worship your colonial masters , but we will never and never.


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