Ethiopia’s Federalism a Blessing or Source of Problem?


Addis Ababa December 06/12/2018 Ethiopia has been using a federal system, which is based on language and geography, for the past 25 years. The governance system that the Horn African country is implementing, which many says is ethnic based federalism has been subject to debate.

Some say that the system is the cause for the current problem that the country is facing as it promotes ethno-nationalism and undermine citizenship, while others think to the contrary, saying it helped the country to respect the rights of ethnic groups, which were oppressed for centuries.

Obang Metho is a political and human rights activist, who thinks that the current governance system is the cause for the problems that the country is facing now including violence.

Besides the governance structure, the composition of the ruling party, which comprised of four ethnic based parties, has made the Ethiopian politics to rotate around ethnicity, Obang argues.

According to him, ethnic violence has become a permanent feature of Ethiopian politics due to these factors.

 “One of the root causes of the crisis we have in Ethiopia today is ethnic political structure. We are the only country in the world that our constitution says that nation, nationalities in other word we are the tribe not the peoples that promotes ethnicity above national unity,” he noted.

Obang said the ethnic based governance system, which paves the way for increased intolerance among different ethnic groups’, which causes increased ethnic-based attacks.

Over the past few years, Ethiopia has been witnessing ethnic-based violence, which internally displaced more than a million citizens.

According to Obang, this is a “result of ethnic political structure” that the country is implementing.

For Dr. Samueal Negash, a political analyst and lecturer at the Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia’s federal system is not the source of problems that the Horn African country is facing now.

Instead of being a problem, Dr Samuel believes that the governance structure has provided an answer to one of the country’s longstanding problem – ethnic oppression and inequality.

Ethnic based oppression was not hoax in Ethiopia. We had many ethnic groups who were marginalized and oppressed during the previous governments. I think that was a detrimental factor forced various ethno-nationalists to struggle a de- facto war to eliminate injustice or inequality and establish this federal system,” he said.

He said that the structure has helped to restructure the political scenario and ensure equality among ethnic groups by increasing their political participation.

Acknowledging the problems related to increased tension among ethnic groups and attacks, Dr Samuel said failure to properly implement the system is the result.

 “Basically, federalism is a new phenomenon for Ethiopia that could bring some setbacks. Personally I don’t believe ethnic and linguistic based political practice is source of all problems in Ethiopia,” he said.

In spite of their differences on the impact of the federal system, both are hopeful that the current reforms that the country has introduced will lead Ethiopia to democracy and stability.

Obang Meto hopes that the situation will be changed for good, as he believes the reforms are promoting citizenship based attitude.

 However, he argues that the ruling coalition has to undergo through a reform, saying it is impossible to address the problems with the current composition of the party.

 “Prime Minster Abiy is still running EPRDF, in which its base is ethnicity. He has the responsibility right now to reform this because the structure which was done before is not for peace and the advancement of Ethiopians”, he said

For his part, Dr Samuel emphasized on the need to work to realize a genuine multi-party democracy in the country in order to sustain the federal system.

He believes that the current reform that the country has introduced would enable Ethiopia step by step realize this.

 “When we are looking at the current reform, it has been allowing a more reasoned discussion among different concerned bodies such as political parties, Diaspora and others on the issues of the country. Therefore, this bold reform would help the general public for having more  chooses  based on ideas,” he added.