4(1) Mizan Law Rev. LEARNING TO LIVE WITH CONFLICTS 53
Ethiopia is a land of diverse peoples with divergent interests.1 The demographic
diversity is expressed in multiple ways such as ethno-national, cultural,
religious, economic way of life, and so on. Of late, diversity of the ethno-cultural
type has become salient in the public square.2 As a result, ethnicity is taken
seriously in the endeavor to reconstruct the state as a multi-national, multi-
cultural federal polity, de facto as of 1991 and de jure as of 1995.3 This salience
of ethnicity in public life is the result of a history of uneven and conflicted
relations among ethnic groups. Federalism was allegedly chosen to respond to
the challenge of ethno-national conflicts that beleaguered the old Ethiopian state
from the time it has been built into a multi-ethnic empire often seeking to build
one nation out of many.4 This has been taken to mean that federalism is opted
for in order to serve as a panacea for all the conflicts in Ethiopia.5 Needless to
1 This diversity has prompted the Italian historian, Carlo Conti-Rossini, reportedly to
have said the now almost proverbial saying that Ethiopia is “un museo di popoli” to
mean a museum of peoples. See, for example, Donald N. Levine (1974), Greater
Ethiopia: the Evolution of a Multi-ethnic Society. (Chicago and London: University of
Chicago Press), pp. 19-20.
2 Bahru Zewde refers to this increasing salience of ethnicity as “the deification of
ethnicity”. See Bahru Zewde (2008), Society, State and History: Selected Essays.
Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press, p. 20.
3 Both the Transitional Charter of 1991 and the Federal Democratic Republic of
Ethiopia (FDRE) Constitution of 1995 stress the constitutive power (alias pouvoir
constituant) of “nations, nationalities, and peoples” although the wording in the
Preambles of the two constitutional documents differs slightly in the two cases. Thus
the Charter arrogates the constitutive power to “the Peace Loving and Democratic
Forces/Elements of Ethiopia,” (paragraph 4 of the preamble) whereas the Constitution
begins with “We, the Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples of Ethiopia.” See the
Transitional Period Charter of Ethiopia, Proclamation No. 1, Negarit Gazeta, 50th
Year, 22 July 1991 and Proclamation N0.1/1995, the Constitution of the Federal
Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Federal Negarit Gazeta, 1st Year, No.1 (1995).
4 The old Ethiopian state had a varying territorial expanse over the centuries, its
peripheral boundaries bulging and shrinking, and bulging again, across time in history.
The idea of building one nation out of many evokes the thought of the E Pluribus
Unum (out of many, one) motto which is more benign than the assimilationist stance
of the old Ethiopian state, although this in itself is more integrationist than the plures
in uno (to mean many in one, or within one, many) motto that should be the hallmark
of a pluralist, multi-culturalist polity that tolerates, nurtures, and cherishes diversity.
5 This is what prompts many among the public to ask if the federal dispensation has
solved conflicts or has perpetuated and intensified the incidence of conflicts. One
quickly notes that this (at times misguided) question is often asked rhetorically only to
answer it by saying that it has actually triggered more conflicts than it has solved. But
in truth—and scholars of federalism agree here—federalism is not a panacea. As such,