The territorial integrity of Ethiopia our collective homeland is at stake and it is not a trifling matter
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The territorial integrity of our collective homeland is at stake and it isn’t a trifling matter

This is my humble reflections on settling the federal border and other disputes in Ethiopia.

By Samuel Estefanous
Tigrai Online, Sept. 16, 2017

I heard of the recent Oromo-Somali border conflict with some kind of sinking heart. Just when the infamous Tsegede tragic dust is settling, a fresh one flares up and here sadly it went in to a disagreeably tit for tat mode at higher level between the respective Federal States. It sure left a sour taste in my mouth.

The two Northern Federal States handled the whole thing in the age old ‘screening gemena’ style and were able to quell the conflict with minimum damage but down here it is impossible to ‘screen’ anything from the public. You cannot save your love or hate for any other day. For good or bad, transparency of governance is beyond reproach. You see, native democracy has its roots so deep in to the core of the social fabric that the Chiefs have to hold regular briefings in a spirit of total enviable accountability to their respective people.


1-The Wild, Wild Beautiful East

From early times, unbridled freedom and being the ultimate boss and arbiter of one’s fate lured Americans to the Wild West. Little taxation and small government sums up the manner of exercising the entire ‘pursuit of happiness’ basic Constitutional Clause. That spirit of having government at the barest minimum level is the unique epitome of Republicanism as we know it today. When you travel to our own East, you have that kind of ‘free roaming’ spirit in the wide prairie like expanse.

That is why Federalism is indispensable to begin with. In Ambo, Wukro,  Gonder or Awassa, the government is so very close by that you might feel your natural private space is being rudely violated and invaded. The public media talks to you like you are a nursing baby on the lap of Big Brother to whom endless lullaby is being sung whether you like it or not. You see, being on the lap of the government does give you a sense of impregnable security but it comes with a price. You might as well get freely pinched or spanked for a minor or presumed transgression. You know why? Because presumably Papa knows what is best for you. It was near impossible to do that in the Ethio-Somali Federal State or the Eastern and Southern Zones of the Oromia Federal State.

So, Federalism did come to the rescue and step one is ticked right

2-The Glitch and the Irony in the Ethiopian Federalism

From the very beginning I hated the concept of relegating a bunch of Federal States as semi autonomous weaklings who need constant guardianship and tutorship from the mighty Federal government on account of their presumed ‘less developed’ statuses. I have no reason to doubt the fact that the original intention was honorable.  You know, I hate this as much as I hate fencing in and caring for the First Nations in the infamous Reservations by the Federal Governments of the US and Canada.  It is demeaning, fettering and incapacitating.


In our case, too, these Federal States are endowed with bottomless natural resources-yes, bottomless, that is not a careless hyperbole-and enterprising hardy people who never needed or required the care and guardianship of any Central government.

They were supposed to function with minimum interference from the Federal Government but they ended up curling in the warm embrace of the Federal Government and are wastefully dozing off…

Their age old enduring dispute settling mechanisms are carelessly broken down and these days they tend to dial up Addis every single time a conflict dust gathers some force and shapes in to a twister…

3-Nursing the Federal States

Basically Federalism functions through the instrumentalism of fiscal federalism. That is why taxation is a Constitutional domain. I remember how folks looked little convinced and disoriented when the late Premier tried to drive the point home at the Parliament to the effect that the Federal Government is totally dependent on the Regional Governments and he was leading a delegated government at the mercy of the Federal States.

Why did the Premier have such a difficult time trying to make a presumably simple text book statement? Have you ever encountered ‘highly educated’ Civil Servants and even agents of federally registered Public Enterprises on duty in any one of the Regional States? They got the weirdest idea of Federalism. They always carry themselves like they are a tier or two above their regional counterparts and have this vibe to them like-do you know whom you are dealing with? They always make me laugh.

But this false state of mind had its roots in the Federation Council, Federal Council of Ministers and the HoPR. So it wouldn’t be fair to knock out the bad sense from the poor civil servants. You see, I wouldn’t be this incensed if-in reverse course-the federal states were propping up the federal one as Principals collectively delegating the latter. Not that I want to but it would make a measure of good sense. 

Now do you realize why the late Premier sounded less convincing at that particular moment, though he was just articulating- like I said- a text book dictum? It is basically because the Federal States have become attached to the federal one like a leach and wouldn’t last a day if the Federal Government shuts down the way the Belgian government did a couple of years ago.

This cycle of impotency will never break for as long as the Federal Government keeps the Regional States on an artificial ventilator a.k.a the notorious budget supplement. Ironic, isn’t it? This federal largesse accounts for more than 50% of the actual regional budget and they call it a Budget Supplement.

The downside-the Regional authorities’ capacity to collect tax is made impotent, though they have got ten sources of taxation in contrast to nine reserved to the Federal government.

A few days ago Zemedeneh Negatu of Ernst & Young had delivered a very interesting interview summarizing the significance of the ability to generate and collect tax in comparative context on EBS. I hope and believe the government agencies were tuned in. 

4-The Boomerang Effect

Being so dependent on the Federal Government inevitably throws back some folks to the other extreme end.


The Federal Governments exclusive domains are clearly charted out for it in as little ambiguity as possible. It is indeed the absolute prerogatives of the Federal Government to maintain the Constitutional Order and Regional States have little leverage to contend that. Remember the notorious standoff between President Kennedy and Alabama Governor George Wallace? Eventually the latter had to back off in his own home turf. You know why? That was virtual federal space, considering the federal marshals had descended on Montgomery to enforce a federal court ruling desegregating Colleges in the Deep South.

But here, too, I have come to notice some pale imitations of a George Wallace trying to edge out the Federal Government because the ‘dispute’ happened in the territory of a given state. Wrong. The Federal Government shares every inch of the Sovereign territory of the FDRE with any given Regional State.

5-‘The FDRE Constitution Will Set You Free’

In due course and in good time, there will always be a solution under the aegis of the law for any problem that might surface.

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…the Constitution has singularly identified and reserved the rights, prerogatives and duties that are unto the Federal Government and those residual ones retained by the Regional states-just follow it through.

This far, we all have messed it up big time but please no further, the territorial integrity of our collective homeland is at stake and it isn’t a trifling matter.

6-God Bless

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