By Kebour Ghenna

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Ethiopia’s regional states are quickly becoming a loose confederation of autonomous states, less and less bound by a common law. Today, any form of equal justice is increasingly inaccessible across the nation. Most states have literally dismantled the existing federal norms.

At stake here is the “rule of law.” If the regional states can simply chart their own course and establish their own rules, not being bound by the legislative or judicial branches of the federal government, they’re effectively “above the law.”

So, you ask, is Ethiopia still a federal state?

I say it’s somewhere in between a federation and a confederation with a trajectory moving ever further away from confederation towards something resembling non-viable self-governing independent multiple nation states. Even if the pace of travel slows in the years ahead, it is now difficult to see that there will be any reversal or retreat.

Is it good? Is it bad? We don’t know.

It’s clear that the balance of power has shifted decisively in favor of regions’ politics. The expansion of the regional state powers is beginning to encroach on the cohesion of the federal government. The debate on whether the Constitution holds the federal government and the state governments as co-equals, each sovereign, or whether the national government is supreme over the states is yet to be settled.

In practice there are generally two methods to restore national authority: one by law, and the other by force. The first method is one of men or women, the second of beasts. But as the first method is insufficient, people have recourse to the second. This is what we’re beginning to witness across Ethiopia today.

Regional officials are increasingly defying federal laws, or block federal authorities who attempt to enforce a federal law that the regional state has determined to be unfair.

Can a regional state impede federal authorities from enforcing their own law? Technically the answer is “No,” although more radical politicians would disagree.

Thus far in the short history of federalism in Ethiopia, leaders seem to envision a simple binary divide of decentralized/centralized powers. It’s time to see Ethiopian federalism in a more sophisticated way, and explore ways of establishing institutional architecture to operate shared powers as well as to re-conceive of the way Ethiopia’s regional and federal governments interact, and, in particular, how they share power. This is not about more decentralization or centralization: it’s about how much more is needed to reinvigorate and secure Ethiopia’s territorial governance.

Dear Reader: Everyone say they don’t like the current form of government. Let’s not waste time playing the blame game? Let’s do away with feckless fights, rather let’s determine whether the pervasive dysfunction in the government is in spite of the Constitution or because of it. Let’s debate how should power be divided among the federal and the regional state governments? Let’s agree on what rights of the individual must be protected against the claims of the government? Let’s ponder why the government existed: to serve people, or the artificial entities known as regional states? These are the main Ethiopia’s fault lines, these are the issues we should fight for like hell.