Since 1991, Ethiopia has gone further than any other country in using ethnicity as the fundamental organizing principle of a federal system of government. And yet this pioneering experiment in “ethnic federalism” has been largely ignored.
After the end of the cold war era one of the greatest challenge to world security and order emanate from multi-ethnic states. The problem of multiethnicity is not confined to the so called third world states in Africa. Some western democratic states who has been known for their long-term stability are seen to be precarious lately due to problems of multi-ethnicity.Quite a Varity of solutions have been forwarded by scholars as part of the search for solutions to this problem. The suggestions range from strong unitary dictatorial regime-as a means to suppress emerging ethnic nationalisms to ethnic based federalism-as a means of accommodating ethnic interests.
Federalism which may be identified as territorial based or ethnic based has come to be seen as the best alternative to promote the management of conflict prone multi-ethnic societies. Even those who extend sharp criticisms against this form of government admit that federalism, when properly implemented, has more often than not proved to offer tools for the better governess of supra-national institutions and has facilitated effective decision making in complex systems and promoted democracy.
In principle, relating federalism to multi-ethnicity and evaluating its success as a balance between unity and diversity involves a number of factors. In particular, how the boundaries of member states are drawn up and how powers are distributed horizontally as well as vertically. Moreover, the institutional set up should be examined if it represents a structure of diversity or at least minority accommodation providing institutional and political power
which democratically command loyalty to the common state.How far federalism, in particular ethnic federalism practically solves problem of multi-ethnicity is yet to be seen. However, daring decision has already been made in 1995 in Ethiopia adopting this approach as a solution to the longstanding ethnic problems of the country. Albeit with difficulty, the choice was made, and ethnicity was favored as the underling factor in the process of state formation.
The new model of government ,nevertheless, appeared to be peculiar from the outset not only because it follows an ethno-linguistic line for state formation but also in a sense that it allows the right to self-determination including secession. The inclusion of particularly the latter has made the
Ethiopian model of federalism prone to critiques.The success of the Ethiopian model of federalism in light of the inherent problems it poses along with some of the existing opportunities. Particular emphasis was given to power sharing arrangement-with a view to see how wholehearted is the federal arrangement, inclusion of secession clause-how far is it a threat to unity of the country, and uniform human rights implementation-how far will it serve as a binding force of the federation.
A close examination of the power sharing arrangement and the explicit recognition of the right to self determination including secession to nations,nationalities and peoples depicts that there is an apparent paradox in the federal arrangement. On the one hand, the nations, nationalities and peoples have been granted the right to exit from the federation with out any conditions albeit for procedural red tape. This gives the impression that the constituent unites are more independent compared to other federal arrangements. On the other hand, the powers of member states are relatively meager and regional government remain dependent on the federal level to be able to carry out their duties. As expressed by the the Constitution proposes few self determination remedies, since nothing is specified as lying in the gaps between secession. While the trend in multi-ethnic federations is to extend secession remedies through various areas of self-government, the Ethiopian federation has chosen quite the opposite: asserting the most extreme right to secession it failed to grant to the member states as the same time the power given to member states in the administration of daily affairs are quite scanty.
As federal theories underline that the functioning of federal system is not to be measured by only looking at the theoretical justifications or constitutional frame work attempt was made in this study to examine the de facto federal system of Ethiopia from socio-economic point of view revealing the asymmetric nature of the federal structure.
As argued by scientist in a study of Ethiopian federalism it can be concluded that the major problems that make the federalism falter are half-hearted decentralization, deficient democracy, and insufficient protection extended to human rights. Accontrario reading of her conclusions would point to important solutions to the predicaments of the Ethiopian federalism, namely wholehearted federalism, a more vibrant democracy, and sufficient protectionof human rights values.
Federalism has already been institutionalized and member states of the federation are exercising some degree of political and cultural autonomy.Nonetheless, financial dependency of the member states on the centralgovernment, among other things limits the scope of the federal decentralization. Democracy, as expressed through the principle of popular sovereignty, is not far out of reach legally, nonetheless, lack of strong alternative parties due to many reasons, lack of civil societies and civic culture, undue interference in the independence of the judiciary, and other reasons could not help democracy be utilized concretely. Human rights arewell articulated in the federal as well as state constitutions to the extent of becoming an overriding principle. The absence of strong law enforcement agencies and lack of political will, however, could not enable intensive utilization of the principle. The pathetic situation of all legal institutions in the states and the no less pathetic situation of the Federal Courts and Federal prisons, coupled with the inoperation of the institution of the Ombudsman and of the Human Rights Commission so far, could be invoked as reasons.
Apart from the above, one might suggest the following as solutions to problems of multi-ethnic Ethiopia.
1. Exploit the structures inherent in federalism. This can be done by instituting true bi-cameralism through making the upper house a legislative upper house with a veto power over legislations this canhappen only if its composition is restructured, either through equal representation of each state as it is the case in mature democracies or through equal numerical representation of each people group as it is intended to be done (on the face of it in Ethiopia). A clearer separation of power must complement this bicameralism. Relegation of the task of constitutional interpretation to the courts or special constitutional court might also be considered.
2. Intensify the task of Federal Government to build a country of united destiny.The House Of Federation is entrusted with this duty. The federal intervention of the sake of maintain a uniform human rights standards while at the same time empowering state governments to take self-administration seriously( thereby molding the process of developing peculiar area of concern vis-à-vis human rights is immediately important.
3. Intensification of democracy requires the increase in civil societies substantive pluralism of parties and a secure legal ground protection freedom of association. Furthermore, it is imperative that parties be organized in a manner that can access cross-ethnic constituencies.
4. Concerned legislative and law enforcement agencies should try to strike a balance between the uniform implementation of human rights standards and religious and customary laws of the different ethnic groups borrowing interdisciplinary approach, brining to the ground the debates on universality of human rights norms and multi-culturalism; and with due consideration of the overriding nature of human rights norms in the constitutional framework.It is noticeable from the forgoing that readymade solutions are hard to come by.
On the other hand some of the criticisms advanced by commentators on the Ethiopian model appear to be excessive as they stem from what seems exaggerated expectation from the process. Knowing the situation the country has underwent for 17 years, knowing the change undertaken with a totally new institutional set up, new political personnel etc. it will be utopian-lookingoptimism to expect bloom and blossom out of the new model of federalism. One should also note that federalism is hardly a perfect institution. As any imperfect institution, it evolves, and dealing with the problems that unfold is worth the experiment as the solutions given promote the politics of love, tolerance and association than hatred, intolerance and dissociation
*Read more on Ethiopian Ethnic Federalism Here
–Ethnic Federalism: The Ethiopian Experience in Comparative Perspective (Eastern African Studies)
-Abate Nikodimos Alemayehu Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia