Ethnic Federalism In Ethiopia Challenges And Opportunities

By | March 27, 2023
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Ethnic Federalism In Ethiopia Challenges And Opportunities – Yonatan Fessha (LLB, LLM, PhD) is Associate Professor of Law at the University of the Western Cape. His research interests include constitutional law and human rights. His teaching and research focus on examining the relevance of constitutional structures in addressing the challenges of fragmented societies. He has published extensively on subjects related to, but not limited to, federalism, constitutionalism, self-determination and political nationalism. His publications include a book on “Ethnic Diversity and Federalism: Constitution-Making in South Africa and Ethiopia”. He has participated in several constitutional development projects, including in Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen. Previously, he was a Michigan Grotesque Research Scholar at the University of Michigan.

Regional autonomy for ethnic groups is an important part of Ethiopia’s federalism designed to address the challenges of ethnic diversity. The constitutional decision to use nationality as the basis of state organization represents recognition of the political relevance of nationality. However, the decision that each major ethnic group should be dominant in one and only provincial unit reduced national identity to a basic political identity. This approach ignores other historically and politically relevant regional identities. Thus the Constitution misses the opportunity to respond to ethnic concerns without freezing nationality as a distinct political identity.

Ethnic Federalism In Ethiopia Challenges And Opportunities

Ethnic Federalism In Ethiopia Challenges And Opportunities

In August 2016, the Rio Olympics ended. The men’s marathon was one of the major events on the last day of competition. Except for the unusual American mix, the breed was generally dominated by the skeptics. Runners from Ethiopia and Kenya were at the forefront of the grueling 42km race. Although it was Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge who eventually won the gold, it was arguably silver medalist Fayisa Lelisa, from Ethiopia, who dominated global media following the competition. It’s what he did when he crossed the finish line that attracted extraordinary media attention: he extended his arms and crossed his wrists above his head. He was expressing solidarity with the Oromo protests that had been going on for more than six months in Ethiopia.

Pdf) Ethnic Based Federalism And Ethnicity In Ethiopia: Reassessing The Experiment After 20 Years

For the past three years, Ethiopia has been reeling from protests. They began as a protest against the Addis Ababa City Master Plan, which protesters claimed was encroaching on Oromia state territory, and eventually turned into a protest against Oromo marginalization in public life. Political tensions escalated when members of the second largest ethnic group, the Amara, joined the streets in protests against the government. Since then, hundreds of lives have been lost. The situation continued to spiral out of control and forced the federal government to impose a second state of emergency in two years, in February 2018. The first state of emergency was declared in October 2016 and lifted in August 2017.

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Why is it that a federal system designed primarily to deal with racial claims fails to survive these protests? The gap between constitution and practice makes it difficult to argue that the federal solution in Ethiopia has failed. The 23-year-old federal constitution, after all, has not been fully revived. Ethiopia may have a federal constitution but, strictly speaking, the country is not a federation. Federalism cannot be blamed when the credibility of a state’s federation is in question. However, the federal structure can be blamed for the form the protests have taken, for the fault lines that have become the basis for political mobilization. Here I am referring to the ethnic basis of the protest.

Nine states that are largely divided along ethnic lines and two administrative cities make up the Ethiopian Federation. More than 85 percent of the people living in five of the nine states, including Tigray, Amara, Oromia, Somalia and Afar, belong to the same ethnic group. Each of these states is also designated by the name of the dominant ethnic group in each state, the clear construction and designation of each state as the homeland of a single ethno-linguistic group. This article argues that the decision that each major ethnic group should dominate one and only one provincial unit has proven to be the ‘original sin of Ethiopian federalism’. It has brought national identity to the core political identity, thus ‘ethnicizing’ Ethiopian politics.

The decision to use ethnicity as the basis for state organization marks a major departure from the policies and practices of successive governments that sought to create a single Ethiopian identity in the image, language, and cultures of a particular ethnic group. It represents recognition of the fact that the creation of the Ethiopian state involved the relegation of large numbers of the non-America-speaking population to second-class citizens, contributing to the rise of nationalism as a fault characteristic of Ethiopian society. By making the ethnic groups a majority in a particular provincial unit, federalism has also given these groups territorial scope, which facilitates the self-management of their own communities along with the preservation and promotion of their language, culture and identity. Although it is weakened by a dominant political party that operates in a centralized manner, this arrangement provides for a system that promotes the self-management of ethnic communities by providing ‘regional elites’ with the means of political participation and representation. can help. The leadership structure of their respective states. This is further facilitated by a policy that allows for regional preferences in language use.

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Pdf) The Original Sin Of Ethiopian Federalism

The constitutional decision to grant a “homeland” to each major ethnic group and thereby to dominate ethnic groups within a single state is, however, not without problems. Insofar as it has facilitated the recognition of ethnic diversity and, to some extent, responded to ethnic claims, it has elevated ethnic identities to mainstream political identity. The rise of nationalism has been incorporated into core political identities and the fragmentation of populations along ethno-linguistic lines has been seen, for example, in the growing use of nationalism as a basis for political mobilization. Of the 79 political parties currently registered with the National Electoral Board and which actively participated in the 2015 national elections, more than 65 parties are ethnically based. The elevation of nationalism as a basic political line is also evident in the translation of cultural communities into political communities. Ethnic groups of all sizes have demanded recognition and some form of territorial autonomy. Communities that were considered to belong to a particular ethnic group have come to claim special status. This process of ‘breeding’ has not always been peaceful. The incessant demands of all kinds of ethnic groups to join or migrate to one state or another is another indication of the development of nationalism as the main basis of political identity. Some communities do not feel that they belong to the territorial unit in which they are demarcated. This is another consequence of the geographical logic of federalism, which is included in the Constitution’s decision to expressly create and designate states belonging to specific ethnic groups, leaving the rest with a sense of being outsiders.

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The gist of the argument is that the regional structure adopted by the Constitution has frozen ethno-linguistic identity and territorial boundaries. This has resulted in the elevation of national identity to the main political line, eliminating the formation of crossing or overlapping identities and thus, facilitating the fragmentation of populations along ethno-linguistic lines. However, it should be clear that this article does not claim that political nationalism is a product of existing institutional structures. The politics of ethnicity and its emergence in the Ethiopian political landscape can be traced back at least to the days of the student movement that participated in the 1974 revolution (Fisha 2010). Nor does this article suggest that nationalism would not have become a core political identity if the ‘sovereign homeland’ solution had not been proposed. The experience of multi-ethnic states does not support the claim that minority nationalism and its competing nation-building projects do not emerge as significant forces in the absence of a homeland solution. In fact, the Ethiopian experience itself indicates that, without any institutional arrangement such as regional autonomy, competing nation-building projects not only took root, but ultimately consolidated state power and the ‘ethnic question’. Democracy and stability became the main question. (Marquis 2011). It is claimed that this article is too narrow: Ethiopia’s territorial structure has increased the political relevance of national identity.

The question, then, is whether the architects of the Ethiopian federation had other alternatives in designing the internal boundaries of the stateā€”a federal structure that responded to ethnic concerns without privileging national identity above other non-ethnic identities? One option that the architects of the Ethiopian constitution had was to design a federation that might not be multi-ethnic but a composite state that recognized and, in some way, granted autonomy to the various ethnic groups. They can achieve this by dividing numerically large ethnic groups into several constituent units, however,

Ethnic Federalism In Ethiopia Challenges And Opportunities

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