Self-rule Federalism: The Legitimacy of Self-Determination in Ethiopia
Professor, DestaA sayehgn
on the recent unrest that has been precipitated by the Oromo people in
Ethiopia, a number of observers such as Davison,2015;Muindi, 2016; and
Borago, 2016, have argued that the Addis Ababa Master Plan has not only
undermined self-determination but also contributed to a further loss of
autonomy and the marginalization of Oromos living on the outskirts of the
Federal capital, Addis Ababa. As stated by the European Parliament (1, 21,
2016): for the past two months,
largest region, Oromia, has been hit by a wave of mass protests over the
expansion of the municipal boundary of the capital, Addis Abba, which has
posed risks of eviction for farmers from their land.
the Ethiopian Government argued that it planned to use its Master Plan to
expand the limits of the Federal City of Addis Ababa into the Oromo
Regional State. Agitators believe there are hidden motives in this plan.
Countering the attacks, Ethiopian Government Officials and their
surrogates argue that the strategic plan depicted in the Addis Ababa
Master Plan is nothing but a topographic sketch meant to enhance and
foster the development of both Addis Ababa and the Oromo Regional
States.That is, with the expansion of Addis Ababa to include lands that
belong to the Oromos, it was assumed that this would contribute
substantial direct and spillover benefits to both regions. In addition, if
the plan were implemented, the government has stated that any evicted
farmers in the Oromo Region might be given reasonable compensation.
Araia (2016) candidly asserts that the Addis Ababa-Oromia Integrated
Master Plan is not by any means related to ‘land garp’.
However, he Araia persuasively condemns the EPRDF governing party
for the “1) lack of transparency: the government should have clearly and
openly explained the nature and characteristics of the Integrated Master
Plan; 2) lack of peaceful resolution to the crisis once the people (mostly
youth) in the Oromia region
began protesting ...”.
there is a long way to go before achieving the intricately designed
Article 39 of the 1994 Ethiopian constitution, the magnitude of the Oromo
uprising has given a plausible signal for the possibility of secession or
the dismemberment of the Oromo Region from Ethiopia’s political
landscape. Given these debatable views, the questions that need to be
posed at this juncture are: Besides self-determination and/or secession,
does Article 39 as codified in the 1994 Ethiopian Constitution allow for a
possible expansion or at the extreme amalgamation of regional states in
Ethiopia? Did the respective
regional communities or their representatives effectively bargain for
their interests, express their grievances, and divulge their aspirations
before the Addis Ababa Master Plan was designed? To examine thesepivotal
questions, the content of Article 39 of the 1994 Ethiopian Constitution is
Structure of the Ethiopia’s Polity
dismantling the brutal and authoritarian Derg regime in 1991, the
Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), led by the Peoples’
Revolutionary Front (EPRDF), subdivided the Ethiopian polity into nine
autonomous regional statesand two federally administered city states. In
the second phase that started in 2001, the EPRDF further embarked on the
devolution of powers and responsibilities of the woreda,or
lower level of administration. As
highlighted by Assefa (2015),the 1991 manifestation of decentralization
was aimed at creating and empowering national and regional states of
governments, whereas as the second phase of decentralization extended the
devolution of powers to the woreda.
number of people supporting centralized states warned against devolution, because
it might serve as the ‘Trojan horse to independence.’ Others were
concerned that extending devolution to Ethiopian localities might cause
major inequalities with regard to economic development, taxes,
opportunities and administrative performances.Thus, from the start,
Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution faced a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of
criticisms. Merera (2003), for
instance, strongly argues that the application of Article 39 would wipe
the state of Ethiopia from the political map of the world. Fleiner (2006),
warned that if self-determination, up to and including secession, as
warranted in Article 39 of the federal constitution, is seriously
implemented, the viability and existence of Ethiopianfederal states is
likely to become highly questionable. Actually, Ethiopia is a
heterogeneous or multicultural society.The fact that the then Transitional
Government in Ethiopia by and large used homogenous ethnic denominations
to subdivide Ethiopia and restructure Ethiopia into different political
regions was less controversial than the inclusion of Article 39 in the
1994 Ethiopian Constitution.
39 includes various impediments to its application. For example, it
renders an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right
of secession to regional states, as follows:a) a demand for secession has
been approved by two-thirds majority of the members of the regional
parliament, b) the federal government arranges for a nation-wide
plebiscite within 3 years after receiving the demand for secession, and c)
the demand for secession is supported by majority vote in the referendum.
shown above, Article 39 of the 1994 Ethiopian Constitution was vaguely
worded. It also includes clearing various insurmountable impediments
before it is implemented. Intuitively Article
39 appeared appealing not only to emotionally charged ethnic groups but
also to those who were infatuated with Lenin’s
concept of the
“National Question” issue because it used to be the driving slogan of
the Ethiopian student movement in the late 1960s.
A sober examination of Article 39 gives an impression that it might
have been purposely included in the 1994 Constitution not with the
intention of granting ultimate secession rights to a regional stateof
Ethiopia after referendum is consummated, but rather to be used as a
tactical selling point to lure members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)
into remaining participants in the Ethiopian political union. With this in
mind, it would make sense to assume that although the other regional
groups didn’t ask for it, the exercise of self-determination was imposed
on them, even their right to declare for secession, if their conditions
were to become inhumane and excessively intolerable.
case in point is that history tells us that the former Soviet Union
subscribed to Lenin’s politically designed concept of the
“National Question,” and pronounced the right of self- determination
in its constitution, but the member states never acted to secede or
separate from the Soviet Union during its tenure.The most glaring aspect
of secessionism is that though China included the right to secede in its
constitution of 1931, after China was fully consolidated,
it had to remove it from its Constitution when the Chinese
Constitution was revised in 1975 (kreptul, A. 2003).
is known that the value of geographical and economic ties and the
advantages of a big market and big state induce economic of scale and
efficiency. Based on this economic premise, Lenin might have argued that
the masses resort to secession only when national oppression and national
friction make joint life absolutely intolerable and hinder them from all
economic intercourse the masses (Lenin cited by Dixon, 2016).Thus,
contradicting those who opposed self-determination and the freedom to
secede as stated in Article 39 of the Ethiopian 1994 Constitution, as an
ardent supporter of the Lenin’s persuasive ideology, the EPRD
Fforcefully defended Lenin’s position for self-determination and
secession. As articulated by the ideologies of the EPRDF, democratic
federalism increases self-government and political participation. Therefore,
instead of dismantling the Ethiopian Federal state, the EPRDF ideologies
forcefully claimed that Article 39 would consolidate and harmonize all
groups of Ethiopia and provide for a better life. Given this contextual
argument, the question that needs to be addressed here is: Has the
creation of a democratic federal structure ever advanced the formation of
self-government and political participation, or created uncorrupt systems
of governance at the local or woreda
level in Ethiopia?
assessing the status of democracy in Ethiopia, it is worth looking at some
of the basic elements of democracy. Among other things, as a system of
government, democracy includes: 1) a political system of competition of
power that is based on free election- such that
those in authority are selected, monitored , and replaced, 2) the
active participation of the people, as citizens, in political and civic
life, 3)consensus-oriented decision making process, 4) accountability and
transparency, 5) the
tenets of human rights principles, and 6) the existence of a rule of law
that applies equally to all citizens (See, UNESCAP 2010; UNDP 2002; and
WorldBank,2007).Bearing some of elements of this framework, let us look at
the status of democracy in Ethiopia.
Status of Democracy in Ethiopia
decades after the implementation of federalism in Ethiopia, Turton’s
(2005:92-93) assessment of the Ethiopian political space indicates that
Ethiopia, which was on the brink of collapse during the centrist feudal
monarchy and the unitary military dictatorship, there structuring of
Ethiopia as an ethnic-based federation has been an undeniable success.
Although some internal and external opposition groups occasionally trigger
some form of violence, it is manageable.
Currently, Ethiopia provides peace and security for the great majority of
the population and is reasonably stable. Similarly, an analysis of the
implementation of Ethiopia’s federalism bythe World Bank reveals that
embarked on a bold and thoughtful process of decentralization, which has
been supported by a widely shared consensus over both the development
strategy and objectives, and very large transfers of united resources from
the federal government to the regions. At this point the system is
unquestionably working well (1999).
more specifically, on the status of democracy in Ethiopia, the Africa
Report (2009) claims that the dominance of one party behind the façade of
regional and local autonomy and an extensive patronage system have
severely hampered such a utopian view and the
proclamation of democratic rhetoric has not been matched by
democratic practice. In actuality, the African Report states that the
Ethiopian type of Federalism has allowed new ethnic elites to emerge but
has not fundamentally altered the principle of the elite-based
paternalistic politics of the past.
it stands, Ethiopia’s democracy is represented as a plan-oriented
development process. The current Ethiopian organization structure is ruled
by paternalistic political rule. Instead of power flowing from the people
to the leaders, the EPRDF controls the government.
The existing bureaucracy is managed by civil servants,
functionaries that are primarily members of the political party. The 1994
Constitution is supposed to provide for a multiparty electoral system to
promote political choice and guarantee the democratic rights of the all
Ethiopian people. However, Araia’s(2013) observation seems to indicate
that Ethiopia is led by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic
Front (EPRDF) that has been reluctant to reconcile democracy and
every election, the opposition political parties in Ethiopia have
complained of harassment and intimidation. As ascertained by the Africa
Development Bank (2009), opposition parties perceive an absence of a level
playing field, attributing the outcome of the electoral process to have
narrowed the democratic space. The electoral process appears to lack
administration by a neutral and professional body that treats all
political parties equally.
is pivotal that citizens in a democratic system participate in public
life. Also, participation comes not only in public services but arises
through active membership in civic affairs. However,
a cursory look at the Ethiopian local (woreda)
levels shows that residents are hardly empowered. They have not been able
to participate meaningfully in selecting their representatives for public
offices, except when the outcome is a forgone conclusion. The local people
do not have the right to choose their leaders. In
name, all local (woredas) are
supposed to be autonomous and the leaders are chosen by the local people,
however, the zone governors, mayors, and killel
leaders are carefully chosen by the ruling party from the hard core cadres
of the governing party. As observed, this kind of system has encouraged
voter apathy and has allowed the existing ruling party to perpetuate its
case in point is this. During the last election in 2015, some of the
federal members of parliament were never endorsed by their constituents
and never went to their local areas to present their agendas for the
future. To add insult to injury, some of the candidates never cared to
listen to the concerns of their constituents. Being faithful and
accountable to their political party, the cadres were endorsed; a green
signal was given to the constituent units to elect them rather than
encouraging the local people to be active members of the election process
(Desta, 2015). This clearly indicates that the citizens of Ethiopia are
being denied their basic rights. Democracy entails abiding by a system of
rule by laws, and not by individuals or parties. Therefore, if Ethiopia
wants to exist as a viable country, the political climate needs to be
competitive and the existing ruling party needs to stimulate voters to
entertain many options. This would rekindle reforms in Ethiopia’s
a democracy out of the ruins of a brutal dictatorship and highly cherished
command system requires courage. For the last twenty five years, by design
or default, Ethiopia has been on slippery slope, governmentally, though it
has been participating in a very successful market economy.
To support more strongly the path to democracy, however, the ruling
party, EPRDF, has the duty to encourage local residents to choose their
representatives. To foster dynamism within the Ethiopian political
climate, the ruling party must encourage and allow other parties to
compete equally on a level playing field. If
the EPRDF doesn’t stimulate other parties to reorganize and compete
against it, it is very likely that the EPRDF Party will lose its early
dynamism and it then resort to authoritarianism its stay in power.
the current political unrest that has mushroomed within the Oromo regional
division, it would have been possible to resolveit peacefully before it
arose, if the Ethiopian governors were willing to accept and respect the
democratic rights of their citizens. It is because the Oromo people were
excluded and the system failed to listen to them that the whole situation
turned ugly. The result was, it didn’t only frustrate the Oromos, but
triggered a number of Oromo university students to act violently. Before
it got out of hand, and in
accordance with autonomy and self-determination as stated in the 1994
Ethiopian Constitution (such as, autonomy over culture, religion,
education, language, land, physical structures etc), the local people of
the two regions should have entered into a fruitful dialogue.
is possible that the expansion plan of Addis Ababa might have been
intended for a good cause. But, as it stands now, the Plan infringes on
the self-determination clause and violates the rights of the Oromo People.
Since democracy is based on compromise, if the Addis Ababa Regional Unit
wants to expand, for whatever purpose, the Oromo people and the residents
of Addis Ababa need to sit down with one another and negotiate, and openly
reexamine the direct and spillover effects of Addis Ababa’s expansion
plan. Now, the government’s decision to scrap the Addis Ababa Master
Plan is welcomed because as stated by the European Parliament (January 19,
…calls for an immediate inclusion and transparent political dialogue,
including the government, opposition parties, civil representatives and
the local population preventing any further violence or radicalization of
the population; takes the view that such dialogue, conducting to the
democratization of the country, is not possible under the current
Article 39 of the 1994 Ethiopian Constitution was politically motivated
and not meant to be practiced. It has created anxiety and disillusionment
in the Ethiopian people. Now it is worthy that the Ethiopian Parliament,
democratically nominated and elected by the people, deliberate on the
relevance of Article 39 in the Ethiopian society. Personally,
I am of the opinion that if Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution, as
in China, is being deleted from the Ethiopian Constitution, it will give
respite to the Ethiopian people from the intolerable headache they endured
for the last twenty five years. Instead of cogitating over this incurable
disorder, borrowed from elsewhere, it is better for the open-minded nature
of the Ethiopian people to become visionary and seriously dwell on
pursuing fulfillment of democracy in Ethiopia. Of course, Ethiopia can’t
achieve full-fledged democracy without undergoing challenging hardships. Since
the existing political structure of Ethiopia is impossible, the existing
federated system needs to be further divided into manageable autonomous
short, the goals of a democratic and self-ruling federalism created by the
Ethiopian people needs to guarantee self-determination, provide for
power-sharing, and contribute to government stability. It needs to be
transparent and include a reciprocal relationship between central and
local governments, and between local governments and citizens. Through the
transfer of authority, responsibility, and accountability from the central
to local governments, democratic political decentralization incorporates
both devolution and power to develop, implementing policy, and fostering
the extension of the democratic processes to lower levels of government
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