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Multinational federalism is the only option for Ethiopia

By S.T.
Ethiopian News, Tigrai Online, February 16, 2016

Multinational federalism is the only option for Ethiopia
If Ethiopia is to remain strong and united country, the only form of governement is the federal system.

Multinational federalism is the definite approach to peace and advancement in Ethiopia, as it is the best way to deal with the Ethiopia’s ethnic diversity peacefully and democratically. Against the backdrop of its recent political and legitimate history. Given its history of gross and systematic group domination and discrimination (ethnic, religious, linguistic, etc.), the adoption of a multinational federation is not a indulgence that Ethiopia can afford but a requisite. The adoption of a multinational federation was necessitated by the resolve and intensity of the need to address the claims of the country’s ethnic groups of historic discrimination and inequality, and to build a multinational democracy.


As per Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Federalism is the theory or advocacy of federal political orders, where final authority is divided between sub-units and a center.” Federalism, as a normative political philosophy, prescribes the use of federal principles, i.e. combining joint action and self-governance.

An important difference for our purposes is that federations can be multinational/multi-ethnic or mono-national in character. In the former, the boundaries of the internal units are usually drawn in such a way that at least some of them are controlled by national or ethnic minorities. In addition, more than one nationality may be explicitly recognized as co-founders and co-owners of the federation. The first such federation was Switzerland, established in its current form in 1848, and the second, Canada, established in 1867. The Indian subcontinent was divided after decolonization into the two multi-ethnic federations of India and Pakistan. Africa has two federations, Nigeria and Ethiopia, while South Africa appears federal in all but name. The communist Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were organized as multinational federations, and the Russian Republic (RSFSR), one of the constituent units of the Soviet Union, was itself organized along federal lines.

These communist federations did not bestow genuine democratic self-government on their minorities, and fell apart in the early 1990s, although Yugoslavia continued as a dyadic federation incorporating Serbia and Montenegro until 2003, when it was transformed into a confederation renamed Serbia and Montenegro that looked likely to dissolve into two independent states. Bosnia became a multinational federation under the internationally enforced Dayton Agreement of 1995, with one of its units itself being another bi-national federation of Bosnians and Croats. Belgium has recently evolved into a federation, and both Euro-optimists and pessimists think that the European Union (EU) is moving in the same direction. Multinational federations have been proposed for a significant number of other divided societies, including Afghanistan, Burma, China, Cyprus, Georgia, Iraq and Indonesia.

Although federalism in its original form was not designed to regulate conflicts triggered by diversity (ethnic, religious, racial, etc.), it is today conceived as one of the better devices to calm inter-group or intra-state conflicts. Horowitz (1997), McGarry and O’Leary (1995), Coakley (2000), Hechter (2000) and Ghai (2000) are among those who argue for federalism as an appropriate method to accommodate difference in multicultural states. Horowitz classifies federalism as one of the structural techniques in conflict regulation. Together with electoral reform, federalism is the device to change the institutional format in which conflicts occur, “altering the structure of incentives for political actors without making any promises about ethnic outcomes”.

The aim is to make it pay to co-operate across ethnic boundaries. His prime example for this is Nigeria, where the change of federal structures through altering the number and ethnic composition of the federal units from the 1st to the 2nd republic has subdued conflicts among ethnic groups. Hechter claims that to the degree that federalism increases self-government, the demand for secession is correspondingly reduced. Federalism is seen as a stabilizing measure, because it meets the claims for autonomy by concession instead of repression.

With the demise of the Derg in 1991, Ethiopia’s borders returned to where it was nearly a century ago. In July 1991, the National Conference on Peace and Reconciliation was held in Addis Ababa with a view to laying down the foundations for governance and drawing up a transitional charter of governance. Twenty-seven political groups participated in the charter conference. The charter conference established an 87 -member Council of Representatives (COR), comprising "representatives of national liberation movements, other political organizations and prominent individuals" (Article 7). The COR acted as the national parliament for the two-and- half-year transitional period. EPRDF had the largest voting bloc with 32 seats, followed by the Oromo Liberation front (OLF) with 12 seats. The radical departure from the unitary policies of the two previous regimes provoked immediate opposition from pan-Ethiopian nationalists. At the other extreme, the OLF bolted out of the transitional government in June 1992 and abandoned its participation in the upcoming district and regional elections, accusing EPRDF of election irregularities and alleging that the provision for ethnic and regional autonomy enshrined in the Charter was not faithfully implemented.

In April 1993, EPRDF, which has ethnic constituents in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and Southern regional states, ousted five Southern political groups (the “Southern Coalition”) for expressing sympathy with opposition groups meeting in Paris. Thus, by the time the constitution was crafted in 1995, EPRDF’s ethnic federal design, as well as its political legitimacy, was already under challenge in some critical blocs. The transitional COR established a Constitutional Commission to draft a constitution. It later adopted the draft and presented it for public discussion. Then, a Constituent Assembly ratified the federal constitution in December 1994, which came into force in August 1995.


This assembly, as it appears from its composition, made it crystal-clear that state restructuring, henceforth in Ethiopia, will scrupulously follow ethnic lines. Andreas notes: "The history and identity of the protagonists that emerged in the wake of the victory over tyranny thus explains why ethnic federalism proved to be a decisive political instrument in Ethiopia’s transition to democracy." The rise of regional self-government during the Transitional Period was thus largely due to a desire to establish democratic institutions which would guarantee the right of national self-determination. Since then democratization has been inextricably linked to the protection of the sovereignty of Ethiopia’s nations, nationalities and peoples.

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