Distorted Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia BY Mohamed Hassen.
In 1991, as the result of military ruling collapsed, Ethiopia established a federal System creating largely ethnic-based territorial units, its framers claiming they have found a formula to achieve ethnic and regional autonomy, while maintaining the state as political unit. The initial process of federalization lasted four years, and was formalized in a new constitution in 1995. The Ethiopian ethnic federal system is significant in that it provides for secession of any ethnic unit.
The leading party EPRDF consisted of four parties; although, TPLF led the regime. TPLF working hand and gloves with Eritrea rebel at the time had deliberately designed a controversial article 39 so that EPLF should have created its own government and it succeeded to make Ethiopia a country without a port.
The secession clause is one of the most controversial issues in public discourse in Ethiopia and its Diasporas communities today. The TPLF and EPLF soldiers had disarmed Oromo Liberation Front and put them in jail; even though, the honey moon of TPLF and EPLF did last for a short period and we all knew that they had bloody war claimed the lives of 70 thousands innocent people in 2000.
Opponents of ethnic federalism fear that it invites ethnic conflict and risks state disintegration. The Ethiopian state, they worry, may face the same fate as the USSR and Yugoslavia. Others, of an ethno nationalist persuasion, doubt the government’s real commitment to self-determination; they support the ethnic federal constitution per se, but claim that it has not been put into practice. To many critics, the federal state is a de facto
one-party state in which ethnic organizations are mere satellites of one ethnic organization, the Tigray Peoples Liberationits Front (hereafter referred to as TPLF), the leading unit in the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (hereafter referred to as EPRDF). Finally, those who consider Ethiopia to be a colonial empire sees the federal exercise as yet another colonial trick, and advocate “decolonization.” Supporters of ethnic federalism point out that it has maintained the unity of the Ethiopian peoples and the territorial integrity of the state, while providing full recognition to the principle of ethnic equality. It is important to examine objectively whether ethnic federalism is a viable way of resolving conflict between ethno nationalism and state nationalism. Now that the ethnic federal experiment is more than two decades old, it is possible to make a tentative evaluation of its performance. According to a
reliable data, the ethnic conflicts have been exacerbated in the last two decades and more conflicts have been emerged in Ethiopia. The main ones are Somalis against Oromo, Oromo against Harari, Afar against Somalis and within Somalis etc. etc.
I posed a key question, not only about the conflict but about whether the current liberation fronts be it OLF, or ONLF should have the controversial secession sentiment is valid: “The question has hovered over Ethiopia Federal System from the moment the Deg regime collapsed whether TPLF, EPLF, ONLF or ONLF join their cousins fighting in its zone: Was the battle for Ethiopian power the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition fronts, or was it fundamentally a tribal civil war?” The brute answer was a tribal civil war and all the fronts have shown its ugly heads once they got a power seat.
This is the essential question because there are two kinds of school of thoughts in Ethiopia: “real united country approach” with long histories in its territory and strong national identities (Amhara, Tigray, Oromo, Somali, Afar, Gurague etc); and those that might be called “tribes with bullets approach,” or more artificial regions with boundaries drawn in sharp straight lines by pens of EPRDF powers. Those have been trapped inside their regional borders myriad tribes and sects who have volunteered to
live together for centuries and have fully melded into a unified family of citizens if they are not organized along the nation and nationalities line.
They are Somali Region, Afar Region, Amhara Region, Trigray Region, and
Oromo Region to name a few. The nations and nationalities and sects that make up these more artificial regions have long been held together by the iron fist of EPRDF powers, kings or military dictators. They have no real “citizens” in the modern sense. They have asked to forcefully endorsed the identity of their nation origin aka balkanization of apartheid South Africa. For example, the balkanization disease has not only gone through the people in homeland, but the Ethiopian who live in Diaspora. On April 9, and
10, Ethiopian officials visited 14 cities in North America and discussed the Growth Transformation Plan. According to a reliable information that I got from Minnesota, clash of clans had surfaced among the Somalis.
The President of Somali Region Abdi Mohamud Omar had welcomed his
own sub clan Ali Ysuuf of Ogadeni and did not want to see any other Somali clans who inhabited in Somali Region. These had a created a tension among the six other Somali clans had formed an organization to fight under the banner of unity of Ethiopia and distanced themselves from the ethnicization. On one occasion, the President of Somali Abdi Mohamudd Omar had insulted the counselors in Washington DC Embassy because
they did give a preference to his own sub-clan during the conference. It seems that the Meles regime is doing deliberately to foment tribal conflict so that he elongated his Power. For instance, Somali Region President has spent 90, thousands dollars during his visit to North America, but two millions Ethiopian Somalis are on the brink of starvation in Somali Region.
The same thing is going in Somali Region. Many Somali clans had sent a letters of complain to the Federal Government. This attested how much the
introduction of article 39 and zoning had destroyed the fabric of Ethiopian society. The people of Ethiopia had lived for centuries, intermarried and fought together to make Ethiopia a land that had never colonized.
Currently, ONLF, OLF and G7 political Organizations are meeting in North America and we urged them to focus on the unity of Ethiopia to dismantle the dictatorial regime of Meles Zenawi and to echo the uprising of Arab World.
Finally, sadly, we can’t afford to divide Ethiopia along nations and
nationalities line. We have got to get to work on our own country. If the Diaspora is ready to take some big, hard, urgent, decisions, shouldn’t they be first about fighting for freedom, justice and rule of law in Ethiopia? Shouldn’t he first be forging a real unity that will go beyond nations narrow outlook that weakens all the the unity and true Ethiopian identity and a budget policy that secures the Ethiopian dream for another generation? Once those are in place, I will follow the Meles and his gang to be routed out from the power seat as Mubarek and Ben Ali had been relegated to the history bin.