Exclusive Interview with Speaker of House of Federation, Adam Farah

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ENA: Let us start with your point of view to the issue that some groups tend to say there is no government, House of Peoples’ Representative

Adem: Thank you, as it is recalled during the June 10, 2020 regular session of the House of Federation had decided to postpone the 6th national elections due to the global threat of COVID-19 pandemic and the House of Federation, HPR and regional council’s to remain in power until election is held.

Since the House of Federation is entitled to interpret the constitution, its decision is constitutional and is valid in all regional states. Therefore, no one be able to obstruct the federal and regional councils and all executive bodies from exercising their constitutional power and duty.

Thus, the efforts to create uncertainty among the public is not right and inappropriate. Anyone who is concerned of the public and has strong dedication for the democracy to flourish cannot say such things. Those who spread propaganda by saying there will not be government after this day, are those who have no concern for the peace and safety of the public, who are not comfortable with the multi-federalism and nations and nationalities unity, hopeless and defeated; especially, unable to live based on equality during the reform and works day and night to reverse the reform. They are committed to creating conflict and uproar but the public did not respond to their call for it practically knows them. That is the very reason they did not succeed and principally they will not in the future too.

The councils at every level and executive bodies more than any other time need to exercise their constitutional power and duty and pursue their regular task in strengthened manner. The public should not lend any ears to those who are attempting to violate the constitutional system through illegal way.

Accordingly, the federal and regional councils and executive bodies will remain in power until election is conducted and power transferred peacefully. As per the constitution power can only be obtained through election and there is no alternative other than this, which clearly is stipulated in the constitution. Since the House of Federation is the patron of the constitution, it works to ensure the rights of nations, nationalities and peoples is respected, and feels the sense of ownership and to maintain equitable growth across the country as well as ascertaining the fair benefit of the public. So, the House of Federation will do much in enforcing its decisions in strengthened manner.

ENA: The group that has been saying that there will not be a government after a certain day is repeatedly claiming to establish legal government. What has the House of Federation planned in this regard?

Adem: What should be clear regarding this issue is that unconstitutional election cannot bring legal government. In this respect, those who conducted unconstitutional election claiming as the only legal ones has no legal acceptance and is not in line with the constitution. The House of Federation in its extraordinary session on September 5, 2020 had passed the decision that the Tigrai Regional State election has no constitutional acceptance and the result is null and void.

The issue is not debatable as it is clearly stated in the constitution for elections be it national or regional is the primary mandate of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia whereby the members are nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the House of Peoples’ Representatives.

Moreover, elections are conducted at the same time all over the country unless it is in the credence of NEBE to hold separate election on reasonable circumstance and most importantly approved by the HPR. Conducting and executing election is the mandate of only NEBE; apart from this forming electoral commission at regional level is impractical.

The constitution clearly states the power separation of federal and regional in which conducting election is given to the federal government. Accordingly, Regional States must respect the power of the federal government and vice versa. Otherwise, it perceived as the constitution is at risk. In this regard, taking the power given to federal government illegally and conducting unconstitutional election and spreading propaganda of claiming to be the only legal ones is wrong and I think the public understand it very well.

ENA: Remaining the legal reasons as you have explained, there are tendencies of the situation to occur in other councils too. The councils in other parts of the country in this regard without accepting to that much extent, how do you think they can protect their voters?

Adem: Well as I have tried to explain the House of Federation’s decision is constitutional and is applicable in the entire country. Therefore, the councils have to pursue carrying out their constitutional power and duty. They should not listen to those who attempt to destruct constitutionality through unconstitutional ways and should continue doing their regular task in a strengthened manner. Especially, council need continue to controlling and following the executive bodies in order to achieve the desired results. They need to work in bringing those who have the intention of implementing destruction to court if there are any.

In this regard, government has been exerting utmost efforts to uphold the rule of law; it still is doing and will continue in with strong commitment. Government official at all levels need to stand firm and work with dedication to defy any destructive bodies. Taking the account that the public needs peace, national stability, and respecting of full democratic rights more than anything else, pertinent government official need to discharge their responsibility in accordance to and compliance with the constitution.

ENA: The whole national condition is repeatedly explained as unitary and the House and its members the ones that were there even before the reform. What is your evaluation on where this thing is heading?

Adem: In my view the process which was close to unitary system was before the reform because there were huge gaps in exercising the constitution and the genuine federal system. Seen from the puppet administrations of regional states and democratic centralism the system prior to the reform is closer to unitary system. After the reform, efforts were made for the continuation of the strong practices and filling the gaps in carrying out the constitution and federal system in a more genuine way. Those who are claiming what is being carried out as unitary system is one due to the reason of losing the benefits they used to get to entertain their individual desires while some of them are attempting to grab power through a short cut and put the public in vague.

It is essential to distinguish the difference first in order to evaluate whether the existing system is genuine federalism or unitary. Federal, unitary and con-federal are all governance systems where countries chose to apply one based on their tangible circumstances. Unitary means all power is concentrated in central government where there is no clear power limit along different levels and officials are appointed on the will of the central government.

On the contrary, con-federal system is the collective of strong and independent regional states whereby the power of the federal government emanatesfrom the regions. The federal system is where clear power separation is put in place and regions obtain the power to self-administration. This is best to harmonize self-administration and joint administration, especially in diverse environment with plenty identity, various languages and cultures.

It is preferable to keep shared political and economic situations in tolerance and if genuinely practiced in alignment to the tangible circumstances of the nation provides the opportunity to self-administration of nations, nationalities and peoples. According to this when we look at what is existing in our country, there was no chance for regions to exercise the constitutional rights provisioned to them before the reform. And there was unlimited intervention of the federal government. Furthermore, using the party structure and based on democratic centralism regions were defied from independently deciding their own issues and beyond that puppet administrators were placed in every region undermining the administrators elected by the people.

Following the reform, comprehensive efforts were undertaken to change the situation and tangible results gained. Currently, regions are freely exercising their constitutional rights and there is no way that the federal government intervenes. I am a witness for this; as I have come to this position recently and served as deputy chief administrator of the Somali region and I can give my testimony that my region has been executing its rights with no federal government intervention and it is the same with other regions.

As the House of Federation has the responsibility to safeguard and protect the constitution, we follow up every activity and we observe that what is happening nowadays is strengthening the federal system. Not only allowing regions to exercise their constitutional right of self-administration efficiently, but also properly strengthening the elements of unity within diversity; especially people-to-people relation has gained due attention which in turn facilitates national unity. Therefore, prioritizing on tasks that will solidify national unity does not mean unitary.

In the aftermath of the reform focus was given to brotherhood, coexistence, promoting people-to-people relations that strengthen national unity cannot be concluded that it is turning out towards unitary system. Rather it makes the federal system to be speedy and fruitful; so in this regard I believe that what has already been started at national level helps to further strengthen the federal system by combining the previous best practices. While the gaps were mainly lack of implementation of the constitutional and federal system as well as democracy; corrective measures were taken to adjust them and implement the genuine federal system.

ENA:Over the past three decades, the oppressed narrative has come to the forefront and dominated Ethiopian political arena. It still seems to be following in its footsteps. What needs to be done to put an end this discourse, especially in light of the fact that people do not oppress people?

Adem: My point with this narrative is that we should focus on making our own history rather than the past narrative that undermines our peace and unity, instead of trying to reconcile the present and the future with the past. I also believe that we need to look forward and make our own history by doing things that are important to our country and people. Beyond that, our history should not be the source of differences. In this regard, those issues have to be addressed in a proper way.

 It is clear that we have different views and ideas on nation building. Similarly, there is diversity in our country which needs to entertain suitably. However, if we do not make diversity the basis for our unity, it will have a negative impact on the country’s continuity and development. In this regard, we need to stop and think over these important issues. The Political elites of the country, in particular, have been instrumental in this respect. I believe that there is an urgent need to move the people forward rather than looking back by focusing on what is important for nation building as well as establishing a democratic system. 

It is in the interest of all of us to live in Ethiopia and strive for having strong country that would allow for us to live in peace and national unity. That is something we all need to do. Everyone needs to look at it in terms of attaining sustainable development and ensuring a democratic system. In particular, what is expected from us now is nation building. For me, it is a matter of creating strong institutions and also it is about creating a strong government and institutions that will be able to exercise the powers and functions given by the constitution.

 ENA:There are so many signals that this narrative has been sometimes eroding brotherhood and peaceful coexistence. Besides, identity, ethnicity, and religious based messages are evolving. How do you think about the local councils should view it?

Adem: The issues that unite and bring us together are far greater than the bad narratives that divide us in our country. This is a fact and nobody can deny it. The values ​​that we have built up over centuries so far have not been eroded. So, representatives of the people and the government bodies at all levels should create a conducive environment for the development of the peoples’ values ​​and pass them to the next generation. There is a need to narrow the extreme differences and work together to find the right place in the process of nation building, national unity and democracy. 

Of course, we have experienced some occasional problems in some areas which emanate from lack of foresight and lack of understanding the impact of any decision on its own regional state and the country at large. So, everyone has to look at things vigilantly and it must be seen from our neighbors and the real world. One thing that will definitely ensure the wellbeing of our country is rule of law if it is established. This would help to enable the government to effectively carryout the powers and functions given to it by the constitution. When there is a system of accountability for our country, a strong democratic structure can be created that ensures all parties are subjected to the rule of law.

ENA:Last year, the House of Federation (HoF) passed various resolutions. But there are complaints that those decisions have not been executed properly. One of those decisions is about the Tigray Regional State. As you know Tigray says the federal government is illegitimate but, the House for its part says Tigray’s election which conducted early this month is illegal. Is there any legal action to be taken by the federal government?

Adem: In the case of the Tigray Regional State, as we have repeatedly stated, their moves are generally unconstitutional. And their activities are totally opposing the constitutional system. Therefore, the Federal Government is more tolerant of the activities perpetuated by the Tigray Regional State in a very wise and responsible manner. 

In connection with the Tigray Regional State’s election, the House of Federation passed a resolution and it has been repeatedly urged to stop its unconstitutional activities indeed. However, one thing must to be cleared that it is important to look at the differences between the groups that have not benefited from the ongoing far-reaching reforms of the country.Eventually, this political group in Tigray Regional State beliefs its benefit could not be kept without spreads of instability, violence and conflict across the country. 

As a matter fact, the federal government believes that the people of Tigray should not be harmed by the actions of those who do not want the sustainable benefit of the people. Therefore, any measures against this group which will be taken should distinguish the group that does not want peace from the people of Tigray. That is why the government is paying a special attention and perusing a cautious procedure.

 As far as legal action is concerned, there are issues that are clearly stated and enshrined in the constitution and other related laws. The actions that have been taken by government is weighing things in the interest of the people of Tigray. This has to be clear. 

In general, as a House of Federation, we would like to call on all parts of the country abide by the constitution and refrain themselves from unconstitutional activities. Essentially, we need to put the interests of the people first and that would be better.

The other issue is violating the constitution, which has been reinforced by some parties, must be seen by their threat posed on the people and the country at large. For instance, some groups like Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fear that if they hold a fair and democratic election, they will be defeated because of their lack of self-confidence. Then they conducted election and declared a landslide victory in unconstitutional way.  

You know, many of the political parties who were interested in participating regional election did not take part so far. On the other hand, the constitution says free and fair elections should be held in all parts of the country so that everyone can have equal chance to participate in the elections. As a result, we understand that this hasty election in Tigray Regional State is based on fear that if all parties participate, we will lose the elections. 

Thus, it is unacceptable to act on the basis of a defeated and frustrated mentality that will cause troubles to the people. So in principle, the benefit of people, peace and security is always remained the priority of the federal government.

ENA:If the Tigray Regional State continues in its current position, how far the federal government will remain tolerant to this problem? Are there any constitutional measures to be taken in this regard?

Adem: Constitutionally, if the regional states cause danger to the federal system, right away the federal government can intervene to settle the situation. To this end, there is a proclamation issued, in particular the Proclamation No. 359/95 on Federal Government Intervention.

In the case of Tigray Regional State, the region conducted an election which is totally contravened the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia’s (NEBE) mandate. Though the region claimed that it has formed an election commission, the commission is totally unconstitutional. The regional government formed following the unlawful election is null and void. This clearly violated the provisions of the constitution and the Tigray government is considered as jeopardy to the constitutional order.

So, the steps to be taken by the federal government are clear. The first step is to ban the legislature and the executive and establish an interim administration accountable to the federal government. The other measure could be taken also to engage the Federal Police and the Defense Forces in the region to stop the unconstitutional moves. All the measures to be taken by the federal government are with full reverence for the people of Tigray.