Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Imbalance of economic, political power, and representation in Ethiopia needs to be addressed

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

Ethiopia Representation _

By Abdirezak Sahane Elmi

Ethiopia is home to more than 86 ethnic groups, currently organized into 12 regional autonomy states and two city administrations within the federation established by the 1994 December constitution. The country operates under a system of multinational ethnic federalism. Despite the rights and obligations granted by the constitution to nations and nationalities, the federal system has not been fully implemented. This challenge can be traced back to the era of the EPRDF/TPLF. Following the establishment of the constitution, many ethnic groups were denied the opportunity to have their own autonomous regional states by the EPRDF. For example, in the southern part of the country, ethnic groups like Sidama, Gurage, Walayta, Silte, and Hadiya were all grouped into one regional state known as the Southern Nations and Nationalities Region. Notably, the Adari and Ganbela nations were allowed to have their own region, indicating bias in decision-making that hindered the effective implementation of the federal system.

Furthermore, regional governments were not granted the autonomy outlined in the constitution to govern their territories freely. Political interference aimed at consolidating power was widespread during the TPLF/EPRDF era. Regional governments, even those led by other EPRDF member parties, faced political pressure from TPLF political elites and military commanders.

Regions governed by stakeholder parties such as Somali, Afar, Ganbela, Benishangul Gumuz, and Harari were indirectly marginalized in political decision-making at both regional and federal levels. These regions were treated as second-class citizens under EPRDF rule, lacking equal economic opportunities, political power, and representation in federal institutions, including parliament.

As a former official of the Somali regional state government, I witnessed significant political struggles to address the inequality faced by our region under EPRDF rule. Despite our efforts, we were unable to achieve success due to the aggressive political culture and lack of recognition for equality among nations and nationalities in terms of power, economy, and politics. While the Somali region gained some political independence, it was not fully realized due to ineffective leadership and political immaturity.

Political Power Distribution during the EPRDF Era

Under the reign of the EPRDF, political power in Ethiopia was concentrated within the ruling coalition composed of four parties: TPLF, the founding party, OPDO, ANDM, and SNNP, governing the regions of Tigray, Oromia, Amhara, and the Southern Nations and Nationalities and People’s Region respectively. The EPRDF held dominance at both national and regional levels, influencing political decisions across the country.

The EPRDF established a system where the Central Committee and Executive Committees selected the Chairman and Deputy Chairman, with the Chairman automatically assuming the position of Prime Minister without requiring a vote from the House of Peoples’ Representatives. The Prime Minister then appointed cabinet members primarily from the four regional states of Oromia, Amhara, Tigray, and SNNPR, with only a few ministers appointed from other regions.

Moreover, key positions such as the State President, Supreme Court President, Speakers of the Two Houses, National Army Chief of Staff, National Security Agency Director, and other significant officials were predominantly selected from the four regions under the governance of the EPRDF.

This system clearly demonstrates an unequal distribution of political power in the country during the EPRDF’s rule.

Representation in the Two Houses and other crucial institutions.

Let’s start with the House of Peoples’ Representatives, a pivotal institution in the country. The establishment of this House is rooted in the 1994 constitution. It comprises 547 members, with each representative being appointed by the nation’s various nationalities and peoples based on their population sizes. The guideline states that for every hundred thousand people, there should be one representative.

The crucial issue here is whether the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) adhered to this constitutional provision. To examine this, let’s look at a concrete example. Regrettably, the EPRDF, particularly the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) faction, has historically taken unjust actions that unfairly impacted the people of the Somali region.

At one instance, the population officially recorded by the national statistics agency was 3.53 million. However, this population figure was intentionally reduced. Although the Federal Parliament originally allocated 36 representatives to this population, 13 members were reallocated to the Tigray region. Consequently, the Somali region ended up with only 23 representatives, while the Tigray region had 38, essentially doubling its representation.

This decision was indefensible, given that the Tigray region’s population at that time was 3.1 million, which is 530 thousand less than the Somali region’s population. Despite this significant population difference, the Tigray region ended up with almost double the number of representatives compared to the Somali region.

Representation in the National Army and other vital institutions.

In a country with over 86 different nations and nationalities, it is imperative that all national institutions reflect the diverse ethnic makeup of the nation. However, this principle was inadequately upheld within the EPRDF, as numerous ethnic groups were noticeably absent from senior command positions in the national army. The top military commanders primarily hailed from just four regions, with one region receiving disproportionate favoritism.

Notably, there was a lack of Somali ethnic representation among military commanders during that period. Furthermore, Somali individuals were underrepresented in national security and intelligence agencies. Additionally, people from the five marginalized regions – Somali, Afar, Gambela, Benishangul Gumuz, and Harari – were largely excluded from positions in embassies, ministries, and federal institutions. It was common to observe only a limited number of ambassadors, typically ranging from 3 to 4, appointed from these regions, with their diplomatic roles often deemed less significant.

Economic development and resource allocation were unfairly skewed towards the four predominant EPRDF regions. Major development initiatives such as industrial parks, power plants, industries, roads, housing programs, and universities were predominantly concentrated in these regions.

These disparities have led to feelings of being treated as second-class citizens. It is disheartening that many educated youth from marginalized regions lacked opportunities for national employment. While these regions actively contributed to upholding national security and interests against separatist groups, their efforts were not fully acknowledged or valued by the leadership at that time.

Freedom fighters like the ONLF have criticized Ethiopia for neglecting the rights of people in the Somali region and have urged them to join and fully support their armed struggle for self-determination. However, the people of the Somali region have a different perspective, believing that laying down arms would lead to the realization of their rights, whether in terms of political representation or economic benefits on par with other regions.

These issues, along with various others, including human rights violations, led to significant changes in 2018. Consequently, the country transitioned from being governed by the EPRDF for approximately 27 years to a new government system.

After Reforms and Current Status.

Following the reforms and subsequent improvement measures, a new era of politics began in the country when Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed assumed power. The political landscape underwent significant changes, with armed rebels being invited to participate in the country’s politics peacefully. The four regions coalition, known as EPRDF, was dissolved, and the Prosperity Party, representing almost all ethnic groups, was formed, creating a more inclusive political environment. Regional governments gained greater autonomy to administer their regions without interference.

Marginalized regions, such as the Somali region, saw their representatives assume high-ranking positions, including Finance Minister and Deputy President of the ruling party. The Southern Nations have been permitted to establish their autonomous regions, and three additional regional states have been recently established under the leadership of the Prosperity Party. Efforts were made to normalize and diversify the national army with the appointment of military generals. I commend the leadership of PM Abiy Ahmed for these endeavors.

However, the reality remains that our representation at all levels of the federal government structures is still below 5%. Opportunities for employment in institutions such as embassies, the military, security agencies, ministries, and federal entities like Ethiopian Airlines, Electric, and Telecommunications are limited due to past oversights and exclusions.

We are eagerly anticipating the leadership of PM Abiy Ahmed to ensure diversity in job opportunities across the country. I have heard that the federal government is working on a new policy to reform civil service in federal institutions, aiming for greater diversity among nations and nationalities. This is crucial, as we recognize the existing inequalities within federal ministries and institutions.

For example, if one were to visit any federal institution in Addis Ababa today, it would be unlikely to find a civil servant from the Somali ethnic group, and individuals from the Afar and Oromo ethnic groups are also rarely seen. It is unfair that only two ethnic groups dominate these institutions. Therefore, we wholeheartedly support the federal government in implementing reforms across all federal institutions, including the House of People’s Representatives, to ensure that every nation receives equal rights based on their population, area, and economic importance.

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


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  1. Abdirazak wrote
    “For example, if one were to visit any federal institution in Addis Ababa today, it would be unlikely to find a civil servant from the Somali ethnic group, and individuals from the Afar and Oromo ethnic groups are also rarely seen. It is unfair that only two ethnic groups dominate these institutions.”

    How many Somalis or Oromos live in Addis Ababa? Addis Ababa has its own administration and is accountable to its residents, not obligated to provide jobs to people from Somali or Oromia regions. Fairness should be maintained. The claim only applies to federal jobs.


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