Monday, February 11, 2013

NEVIS REVIEW No 10, Section I: Ref # 10.1

Section I 
Ref # 10.1
Feb 11, 2013

Federalism and the Accommodation of Ethnic Diversity: The Case of Ethiopia 
By Christophe Van der Beken
(Excerpts from the article)

Today, federal political systems are increasingly used by states with a multi-ethnic population as a mechanism to accommodate the demands of their ethnic groups as well as to protect their territorial integrity. Federal political systems are thus created to prevent, resolve or at least mitigate ethnically inspired or associated conflicts and in this way to ensure stability within the state. The tendency to use federal structures as a mechanism for the accommodation of ethnic diversity is far less visible on the African continent and this is despite the large ethnic diversity that characterizes the population of most African states. In Africa, nation and state building strategies aimed at weakening ethnic affinities in favour of a national identity prevail. They are based on the hope that, in this way, the attachment to the ethnic group will transform into an affinity for the state. However, many conflicts show that these strategies have not been successful in the slightest in erasing the ethnic identity of African citizens and guaranteeing the stability of the African state. It is therefore interesting to look at Ethiopia where the government has, for over 15 years now, chosen to base the development of national identity explicitly on the recognition of the ethnic diversity of the population: hence unity in diversity. For this purpose, an ethnic federal state has been established.

Ethnic federalism – and Ethiopian federalism in particular – is hotly contested. The major argument against it is that ethnic federalism will only lead to further ethnic fragmentation, tensions and conflicts and will thus ultimately result in the demise of the state.The study of the Ethiopian case will however demonstrate that the political context at the time of adoption of ethnic federalism was such that a state building strategy based on the recognition and administrative/institutional accommodation of ethnic diversity was the only mechanism that could guarantee societal stability and the continued existence of the Ethiopian state. Moreover, it is submitted in this paper that Ethiopian federalism does have the capacity to effectively balance unity and diversity tendencies, but only if a number of constitutional/legal and political conditions are fulfilled. …
The paper will conclude that, in addition to a number of constitutional changes, it is the commitment of the current rulers to the implementation of Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism that will be the main determinant of its success [….] The way Ethiopia, through its constitution, approaches its population’s ethnic diversity is quite special in the African context. Though this constitutional approach has its origin in Marxism-Leninism, the protection of ethnic rights it includes makes the Ethiopian state building strategy fit in with recent trends in international law. Consequently, Ethiopian federalism should not be a priori rejected and, in fact, it is my belief that it does have the potential to guarantee unity and stability, through the protection of diversity, in Ethiopia. However, this will require political as well as constitutional changes. Firstly, the contradiction between form and practice should disappear or, in other words, the ruling party should accept the consequences of the constitutional choices. The constitutional grant of extensive ethnic rights on the one hand and the political limits to their implementation on the other is an important conflict generating factor. However, in order for it to be able to achieve unity in diversity, the constitutional framework also needs some changes. Most notably, the strong emphasis on separateness (e.g. through the right to territorial autonomy at different levels) should be reduced and countered by the development of mechanisms that focus on integration (e.g. political participation, non-territorial autonomy).