Ethiopia: Ethnic Federalism for Democratic Unity in Diversity

by Zelalem

Being an Ethiopian is based on our unity and diversity as we are diverse in religion, nation, culture, language, sex, age and so on. What binds us together is the advantage we have when we are united-common interest, the socioeconomic and political power, the democratic willingness, the rule of law and our history.

As the late PM Meles Zenawi said on interview on November 26, 2009, “If the advantage of being an Ethiopian is weak, no one can maintain it by doing whatever he or she can. The unity in Ethiopia is based on common interest. The advantage of being an Ethiopian is if every citizen considers reasonably being an Ethiopian as a respect and grace, there should not be reason for risk of disintegration.” He promoted, if there is no enough motive for being an Ethiopian, disintegration is inevitable.

He further explained, Christians, Muslims and other religion followers need to be proud of their being an Ethiopian equally. Everyone needs his religion to be respected and has to respect others to be proud of the diversity and remain in it.

The youth and aged, the men and women, literate and illiterate, urban and rural require equal acceptance to be confident of being an Ethiopian. This requires the democratic will through reasonable and equal participation. If being an Ethiopian does not entertain or celebrate these diversities or does not respect these differences, the source of the strength relinquishes, he added.

He added, neither being an Ethiopian can be separated from nations, nationalities and peoples nor the reverse is possible. He stressed, “If we need to make our differences the source of our strength, we need to entertain and include these differences.”

For example, he elaborated, if one is Ethiopian Oromo, he /she cannot speak of being an Ethiopian excluding being an Oromo; likewise talking of an Oromo without Ethiopia becomes meaningless as they are inseparable.

Likewise, the father of peoples’ equality in Ethiopia continued, for an Oromo to accept being an Ethiopian, his being an Oromo as a nation should be respected. If we think raising the issue of Oromo disintegrates Ethiopia, as in the totalitarian Derg regime, the reverse would disintegrate the country underground. For an Oromo, to be an Ethiopian, requires neither to deny ones being an Oromo nor undermining the Oromo culture. Or it does not require quitting being an Ethiopian to guarantee ones Oromo identity.

Let us also consider how the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia decided togetherness is the source of their strength in all aspects on their FDRE constitution.

As it is on the preamble, they are united and strongly dedicated, in full and free exercise of right to self-rule, to construct a political society based on the rule of law and capability of ensuring a permanent peace, guaranteeing a democratic order, and advancing the economic and social development of the country-common interests.

They are absolutely convinced that the completion of this requires full respect of individual and people’s primary freedoms and rights, to live together on the basis of equality and without any sexual, religious or cultural favoritism.

More, it displays, they are convinced that by continuing to live with our rich and proud cultural legacies in territories we have long inhabited, have, through nonstop interaction on range of levels and forms of existence, built up common interest and have also contributed to the appearance of a common outlook.

It adds, the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia are entirely aware that their common destiny can be served best by correcting historically unfair relationships and by further promoting the people’s shared interests.

Further it shows that the people are convinced that to live as one economic community is essential in order to generate sustainable and mutually supportive situations for ensuring respect for our rights and freedoms and for the collective promotion of our interests. This has become true through the consistent economic development and international acceptance the country achieved.

All nations, nationalities and peoples are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law, article 25 states. In this regard, the law promises to all persons equivalent and effectual protection without bias on grounds of race, nation, nationality, or other social origin, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, property, birth or other status. Therefore, there is no reason why the ethnic federalism should be feared for disintegration.

Freedom of movement is also legalized on article 32, “Any Ethiopian or foreign national lawfully in Ethiopia has, within the national territory, the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence, as well as the freedom to leave the country at any time he wishes to.” Therefore, the ethnic federalism unifies through this common interest of movement peacefully and freely. The respect Ethiopians have for one another and interest to know others culture has grown.

Furthermore, the rights of nations, nationalities, and peoples are also affirmed on article 39. It says, they have an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession. It adds, they have the right to speak, to write and to develop their own language; to express, to develop and to promote their culture; and to preserve their history. So, togetherness is based on democratic will, not on oppression or domination. It does not open a loophole for disintegration; rather it created confidence on unity.

These are made true as all the regions in Ethiopia are being governed by their choice, educated and governed in the language widely spoken in their respective regions and even to the district level if the South Ethiopia Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region is considered.

Further it enshrines the right to a full measure of self-government which includes the right to found institutions of government in the territory they inhabit and to equitable representation in state and Federal governments. Based on this, all the regions are governing themselves directly in their regions and through their representatives at the federal level.

Similarly, the right to property is legitimated on article 40. They have agreed every Ethiopian national has the right to possess any tangible or intangible private property anywhere in the country. It included the right to acquire, to use in a manner compatible with the rights of other citizens, to dispose of such property by sale or inheritance or to transfer it otherwise.

So, there are many Nations, Nationalities and Peoples in regions outside their own owning private properties including land and natural resources in different regions of the country peacefully. The right to own rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian peasants are obtaining land without payment and have the protection against eviction from their possession. And the government is paying in advance compensation proportionate to the value of the property when it expropriates private property for public purposes.

Additionally, as specified under article 41, every Ethiopian has the right to engage freely in economic action and to follow a livelihood of his alternative anywhere within the national territory.

Therefore, every Ethiopian chooses his or her means of livelihood, occupation and profession as well has equal access to publicly funded social services anywhere in the country. Health, education, job opportunity and tourism services are examples.

Moreover, rights of labor stated under article 42, stresses employees of any kind have the right to form associations to improve their conditions of employment and economic well-being including the right to form trade unions and other associations to bargain collectively with employers or other organizations that affect their interests irrespective to their culture, religion, language, race and so on for their common interest. This is the reasonable unification and willingness opportunity created by the ethnic federalism.

Likewise, the Peoples of Ethiopia as a whole have the right to enhanced living standards, to meet their basic needs and to sustainable development, to participate in national development and to be consulted with respect to policies and projects affecting their community, article 43 states. In different words, they have a common interest- sustainable development-that requires their unified effort to be achieved. It enabled them to understand the power of unity. Among the main achievements of such a harmony, the great renaissance dam is one.

Similarly, the FDRE has a parliamentarian form of government, agreed under article 45. That is, in modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative, elected body of government. Commonly, a modern form of government that has three purposes: on behalf of the electorate, making laws and supervising the government via hearings and inquiries. (Wikipedia) The people are participating through their representatives in national lawmaking, economic, social and political issues.

In FDRE parliament, a citizen from different region has been raising the socioeconomic and development issues of other region. And the different committee of the parliament comprises citizens from different regions that have been enhancing better unity among different regions than the disintegration interest at downfall of Derg regime.

So, the delimitation of the states on the basis of the settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the peoples, as mentioned under article 46, has been leading to better unity than the threat of disintegration. The reason is that it helped to avoid the discrimination used to exist and assisted living together democratically and respectfully. As well, FDRE member states have equal rights and powers on both national and regional affairs as it is forwarded on article 47.

In summing up, the ethnic federalism in Ethiopia has led to democratic unity since the peoples have agreed to avoid discriminating one another and have considered their diversity as a power for the achievement of sustainable development in every aspect. They have concluded that it is impossible to unite without respecting one another. So, their slogan seems to have become, united we are strong separated we are weak. Our diversity is the source of our strength.

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