Ethiopia: Accountability and the Rule of Law in Developmental, Democratic State


Ethiopia is currently celebrating ‘Justice Week’, with focus on accountability and the rule of law. In the context of political lexicon of ethical standards and good governance, accountability implies answerability, responsibility, liability, and the expectation of obligation.

As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in various contexts. In a leadership context, accountability is the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions. It also includes the administration, governance, and implementation of decisions and actions within the role of employment position, while also encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.

Accountability also refers to legal, political and social responsibility that is bestowed upon states, institutions, corporate organizations as well as citizenry. On the other hand, accountability is closely connected with the rule of law, both in concept and in practice.

The concept of the rule of law has cross cutting and wider spectrum. In one sense, it means, the state of being in accordance to the provisions of the laws, which are clearly established and defined with no ambiguity. On the other hand, it implies functioning under given legal enactments, provisions, applicable rules and regulations.

In the public sector, both accountability and the rule of law are the basic pillars of a functioning government. For instance, in Ethiopia every ministry, commission, agencies and offices are established by proclamations that define their duties and responsibilities in the execution of state power. The legislature enacts proclamations that are binding and mandatory, and failure to comply with the laws and regulations as provided in each proclamation is subject to accountability and are punishable.

In the Ethiopian context, both accountability and the rule of law along with the principle of separation of powers are regulated by both houses of the parliament, and the judiciary and the executive branch of state power.

The federal constitution of Ethiopia had clearly drawn the duties and responsibilities as well as the legal relationship between the legislature, judiciary and the executive branch of government (chapters 4-7 of the FDRE Constitution). The constitution clearly sets the legal boundaries of responsibility and accountability not only between the three branches of state but also within each branch of government including the executive section of state power. The two Houses of the highest organ of state power are constitutionally empowered to hold the government and the judiciary accountable to the legal and constitutional duties and responsibilities entrusted upon them.

In a developmental, democratic federal state like Ethiopia, enforcing accountability and the rule of law among all sectors of state power is of crucial importance for the survival of the political system. The ruling party, EPRDF, is also accountable to the enforcement and implementation of the provisions of the constitution and other subsidiary laws of the country.

Rule of law in Ethiopia implies that nobody is above the law. This includes members of HPR and House of Federation. If members of the two houses are not up to the expectations that are bestowed upon them by the electorate, the principle of ‘revocability’ duly applies to them as seen in practice over the previous years.

In the executive section of state power, the government with all its ministries, commissions, agencies and offices’ is legally accountable to enforce accountability in accomplishing planned duties with effective, efficient and timely utilization of public fund. Failing to accomplish this without any reasonable and verifiable reasons or causes would subject the various branches of government to legal accountability before the courts of law. Such trends could lead to the disintegration of the political system and fragmentation in the ruling party.

‘Justice Week’ is being marked in Ethiopia by the public sector and all branches of state power. Such occasions will provide an ample opportunity for the developmental, democratic state to rectify any level of miscarriage of justice and promote equity at all levels of the political system.

The recent report Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) delivered to the HPR clearly indicates that Ethiopia has put in place a system that is self corrective. The country has already surpassed third party biased reports by organizations like Human Rights. Unlike ‘Human Rights Watch’, which has always been busy providing reports that are one sided and biased, EHRC has come up with a clear report that called for accountability before the court of law for all who had defied the rule of law in their actions during the recent unrest that occurred in different regions of the country.

Compared to other African countries and measured by international standards as well, undoubtedly, Ethiopia has the most complete law and legal system that is compatible with international normative laws.

Despite the existence of a complete legal system and constitution to enforce accountability and rule of law, the country is facing some challenges that need to be addressed to ascertain the prevalence of a full fledged developmental, democratic order. The nonchalance of a number of government ministries and commissions to abide to the legal answerability to the parliament, and non compliance to government financial regulations, financial and operational audit findings has become a hurdle for the prevalence of transparency and accountability in government functions.

Some loopholes in the operation system of government bodies has led not only to the proliferation of rent seekers, but also to the endangerment of government institutions being infested with bribery, nepotism, parochialism, abuse of position and power. It is quite true that the recent in-depth reforms had contributed a lot to curb these problems; but it is also equally important to check and recheck systems related problems that could give rise to another round of rent seeking and lack of good governance.

It is imperative to safeguard the existing system against those who wish to hijack the peace and stability that is currently prevailing in the country by continuously enforcing accountability and the rule of law at all levels and at all times. The entire political system in the country is constitutionally established to be accountable to the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia in whom the sovereign power of the nation rests. Accountability to the peoples of Ethiopia and remaining under the rule of law are the major principles that cannot and should not be compromised at any cost.

Socio-economic and political indicators (along with Ethiopia’s achievements in international relations and diplomacy) clearly indicate that the government is striving to ensure and maintain accountability, and uphold rule of law in the country through organizations like EHRC, Office of the Ombudsman, and the Attorney General. These institutions and the entire organs of justice are contributing their part to ensure accountability and the rule of law are upheld in the country. No doubt, the road to complete accountability and the rule of law could be torturous, but a developmental, democratic system is not in the horizon, but just around the corner.

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