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Yesteryear Giving Way for New Year!

Yesteryear Giving Way for New Year!

Amen Teferi 09-07-17

Ethiopia had, for many years, failed to accommodate its diversity -religious, lingual, cultural. Hence, the political as well as economic dominance that had come along with its failure to accommodate difference has given birth to the “question of nationalities.” As the state becomes increasingly centralized at the expense of regional autonomy, the political marginalization of the bulk of the community will be intensified and gradually leads the country into a protracted civil war that would bring the nation in question to the verge of disintegration. This a fact clearly evidenced by the recent history of our country.


As several studies had hinted, the resistances and conflicts observed in the traditional Ethiopia were mainly driven by political agendas that called for the state to reform. However, as these agendas are denied the proper attentions of the political entity in power, some resistances adopted a movement that at times challenges even the existence of the nation. The original interest of the resistances, however, was asserting some level of regional autonomy and not upsetting the whole system. These resistances, whatever form they take, were mainly looking for some adjustment and restoration of their violated rights by ensuring better administration, lower taxes, respect for local autonomy and the reduction of corruption.


Fully cognizant of this fact, the freedom fighters who later became farmers our constitution, designed a federal polity that tried to address the pressing demands of the peoples of Ethiopia.   Ethiopia, like many other multicultural federations, had tried to accommodate its ethno-linguistic, religious and regional diversities and thus come to terms with its past.


Ethiopia had begun this formidable journey by setting a multicultural federation that manage to thrive over the last two decades, leaving behind the damnable nation-state building project that aims at national integration or assimilation.


Ethiopia had begun to reconcile with its egregious past right after the collapse of the Cold War and at a time when the forceful thrust of globalization that penetrates the traditional nation-state was being felt. Failure to address tensions arising from ethnic and religious differences was menacing states around the world and has become a serious cause of violence. Worse still, such conflicts are becoming more common than interstate violence. Compared to traditional interstate wars, intrastate conflicts have become common in the contemporary world. Hence, integrating different ethnic and cultural groups as well as accommodating religious and other minorities within the boundaries of existing world states has appeared to be the main challenging issues of our era.

Therefore, Ethiopia had found the federal idea more attractive than any other alternatives and hence managed to accommodate diversity and dump intractable conflicts that had been ravaging the nation and its people for so many years. It had therefore set the course that helped it to forge unity from diversity that had been considered as curse for many years.


Ethiopia decided to adopt a federal dispensation that suits its unique political history. In fact, all federations have some common features and institutions. However, these similarities will be punctuated with range of differences that arise from the political cultures and state of ethno-linguistic, religious and regional diversities. Furthermore, differences may also arise from the emphasis given to a range of values that constitute federalism. In the context of multi-ethnic federations the main emphasis, among other things, is in federalism’s ability to reconcile the forces of unity and diversity.


Federations in principle are considered to be territorial. This feature will be more accentuated particularly in multicultural federations. Here, ethno-regional communities would be appropriately represented through their spatial compartmentalization (states, cantons, provinces), as ethno-regional communities usually wish to receive due territorial recognition.


Indeed, the principle of territoriality is at the core of any federation. However, in the case of multicultural federations, the territories are designed on the basis of major diversities that define a certain society. Such federations presuppose the existence of a territorial grouped diversity and here territory becomes the basis for political action. The relatively permanent boundaries of the states serve as a strong bulwark for the diffusion of power. They offer continued opportunity for diverse interests to find expression. It can also be used to protect minorities by allowing them greater autonomy within their political jurisdiction.


The crucial element of multicultural federations is therefore reconciling unity and diversity. It appears that the greater the diversity in a federation, the greater the need to find institutions as a means of articulating such diversity within the domestic political system. As a matter of fact, the important lesson we have learnt in the last two decades is that diversity, in and of itself, is not a threat of integration, but rather it can become a fertile ground for unity to thrive. If the existing political system does not allow articulation of the actual diversities and the political institutions are not designed with a view to reflect the diverse interests of the given society, then, political tension will ensue.


There must be a reflection of the diversity of the nation in all appropriate political institutions. This way we can translate diversity into the political process that would ultimately reinforce unity. This is actually the point where we observe significant differences among federations and this explain why some federations do better at minimizing tension among groups than others. In Ethiopia, yesteryears are giving ways for new years. Happy new year. 

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