Learning to Live with Conflicts: Federalism as a Tool of Conflict Management in Ethiopia -- An Overview

Author:Tsegaye Regassa
Position:(LL.B, LL.M, PhD Candidate), teaches at the Institute of Federalism and Legal Studies (IFLS) of the Ethiopian Civil Service College (ECSC)
Pages:52-101
SUMMARY

This article explores the relationship between federalism and conflict in the light of the experience of the federal experiment in contemporary Ethiopia. By reinforcing the truism in federal studies that federalism is not a panacea to the ailments of divided societies that are prone to conflict, it seeks to point out that while federalism, as a reaction to some long-standing historic problems,... (see full summary)

 
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LEARNING TO LIVE WITH CONFLICTS:
FEDERALISM AS A TOOL OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN
ETHIOPIA -- AN OVERVIEW
Tsegaye Regassa
Abstract
This article explores the relationship between federalism and conflict in the
light of the experience of the federal experiment in contemporary Ethiopia. By
reinforcing the truism in federal studies that federalism is not a panacea to the
ailments of divided societies that are prone to conflict, it seeks to point out that
while federalism, as a reaction to some long-standing historic problems, helps
us deal with some conflicts, it also has the potential to generate some other
(new) ones. By assuming that conflict is primarily a relation of divergence of
interests among parties with diverging strategies and methods, the article
describes federalism in general and the federal experiment in Ethiopia and its
persistent attempts to deal with the old and new conflicts that emerged in/from
the past and are emerging day by day. Throughout, it is argued that we need to
understand federalism as a tool of governance that both solves and generates
different kinds of conflicts, and that we need to lessen our expectations of the
federal experiment (by remembering that it does not establish the ‘peaceable
kingdom’ that idealist philosophers long hoped for), and take the modest road
of learning to live with the conflicts.
Key Words:
Conflict, constitution, ethnic diversity, Ethiopia, federalism, states.
(LL.B, LL.M, PhD Candidate), teaches at the Institute of Federalism and Legal
Studies (IFLS) of the Ethiopian Civil Service College (ECSC) and at the Law Faculty
and the Institute of Federal Studies (IFS) of the Addis Ababa University (AAU).
Currently, he is also a Visiting Professor of African Law and Legal Pluralism at the
Law Faculty of the University of Trento, Italy. He can be contacted at
tsegayer@gmail.com. The draft version of a part of this paper was presented at a
Training Workshop organized by the Council of Nationalities (CON) of the Southern
Nations Nationalities, and Peoples’ Regional State (SNNPRS) in July 2009, Hawassa.
I am indebted to the participants who, by giving me their insightful and empirically
informed comments, have enriched the piece in more ways than one. I am also
grateful to the two anonymous referees who through their helpful comments,
contributed to the betterment of this piece.
4(1) Mizan Law Rev. LEARNING TO LIVE WITH CONFLICTS 53
Introduction
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,
54 MIZAN LAW REVIEW Vol. 4 No.1, March 2010
say, facts emerging from the federal experiment for the last decade and a half did
not prove that it is a panacea. Indeed at times, it might have contributed to the
emergence of new--or the accentuation and multiplication of old—conflicts.6
This article aims at exploring the potential of the Ethiopian federalism as a
way of managing, or rather living with, conflicts. In order to do that, I address
myself to the following questions: Does federalism resolve or prevent conflicts
or does it cause, multiply, and perpetuate them? Was the Ethiopian federalism a
response to and a cause of conflicts? What conflicts did it respond to? How
effectively did it do so? What conflicts has it caused? How did it prepare for
them? How has it responded to conflicts that are its own creation? In other
words, has it given solution to pre-constitutional conflicts? Has it faced post-
constitutional conflicts? How did it respond to both? Is there any normative,
institutional, and procedural capability to effectively respond to and learn to live
with post-constitutional/federal conflicts? What were the old conflicts anyway?
How effective was our federalism in its response to it? What are the new
conflicts? How effective have we been in our response to them? What
challenges have been faced? How have they been overcome? Where did we fail,
and why?
In this article, I argue that conflicts are bound to be with us always. We
won’t “resolve” them. Nor can we eradicate them. We can prevent them. We can
handle or manage them when they do occur. We can transform them when we
are lucky. Federalism, with all its limitations, helps in this venture.
It is a truism to say that Ethiopia is riddled with conflicts. Class conflicts
and status conflicts predominated the political terrain of the 20th century.
Economic conflict and ethno-national conflicts were singled out as the
while it “dissolves” some conflicts, it might also, unwittingly, trigger or resuscitate
others. See, for example, Ronald Watts (2008), Comparing Federal Systems (2rd ed).
(Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press) and George Anderson
(2008), Federalism: An Introduction. (Oxford: Oxford University Press) both of
whom hold that federalism is far from being a panacea for all conflicts.
6 The many disputes that the state and federal institutions (such as the House of
Federation [HoF], Ministry of Federal Affairs, the Council of Nationalities of the
SNNPRS, etc) are seized with suggest that there is a notable incidence of conflicts in
many parts of the country. Such disputes that are presented to these institutions for
their legal/adjudicatory resolution include: the Silte quest for self-definition and
distinct recognition; the numerous border conflicts that often occur between the
Oromia region and the Somali, SNNPRS, Amhara, etc regions; conflicts over access
to power through election (between groups dubbed ‘highlanders’ and ‘natives’ in the
Benishangul/Gumuz region; conflict related to the quest for reassignment in one Zone
as opposed to another (e.g. Dalena Woreda of the Wolaita Zone); the quest for one’s
own Zone (e.g. Gofa) or Special Woreda status; etc.

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