The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is the only legal blue print for the establishment of a federal system in the country. Only few months after the public ratification of the constitution, a call for constitutional amendment was heralded by a number of political parties for which the constitution was not palatable or for those who did not fully understand its lofty goals and provisions.
The Constitution did not only cement the establishment of a federal system but has also clearly set the legal basis for a new democratic political order. The constitution clearly indicates that sovereignty is vested in the nations, nationalities and peoples of this country. In this sense, the Ethiopian constitution allotted the recognition of diversity in the context of united peoples of the country.
Accepting and implementing the provisions of the constitution is a sine qua non for abiding with the principles of inclusive federal democratic order. The question is, to what extent are the provisions of the constitution became part of the public social consciousness?
While quite a few "scholars" were demanding the revision of the constitution, millions of Ethiopians are still unaware of its basic provision let alone calling for revision. There is a huge awareness gap among the public on the basic democratic and human rights provisions. In such condition, how is the public expected to understand and act in support of the federal system?
Quite a few think that federalism is exclusiveness, isolating oneself from other group of people. This is a corrupted understanding or conception of federalism. Still others attribute the multifarious challenges in the country to the prevalence of federalism. The concept of unity professed in all the previous regimes which cherished a unitary system is quite different from a unity in a federal system primarily because the federal system recognizes diversity as a main factor for genuine unity based on common will.
If the public is not fully aware of the constitution, there is a potential possibility for a dangerous misconception on federalism.
On the other hand, if the ruling party and the government are not up to public expectations, this cannot be a raison d'être for proving that federalism is incongruent with the Ethiopian objective reality. A federal system is never a paradise. It is built and developed on the basis of full public ownership and participation of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia.
All Ethiopians, wherever they are, share one common country and they are citizens to this sovereign nation. Waiting only upon the government is tantamount to denying the role of the public with a contractual relation with the government which is expected to deliver on public expectations.
In the Ethiopian context, federalism took into account the ebb and flow of the entire history of the country by promoting self actualization for the peoples of this country some of whom were branded as "ye teresu behair behairesebotch" or the "marginalized peoples"
Ethiopia is still working to build the federal system on fully fledged economic foundation from which the peoples of this country are expected to benefit. The push and pull factors in the entire process are still persisting but the national optimism to build a new democratic mid-level income country bears fruit only when every Ethiopian contributes his/her part and never through political squabbling or "much ado about nothing" as in Shakespeare's play goes.
Promoting and implementing the federal system in Ethiopia, among other things, requires setting up a clear and measurable demarcations between the powers and prerogatives of the federal and regional governments. This is of crucial importance because the power of the federal government emanates from the regional governments that make up the federal state. Such demarcations need to be based on the provisions of the federal constitution which is the supreme law of the country.
Regional governments need to strengthen their capacity to contain and resolve conflicts that flare up between them. It is very important that federal priorities must be addressed without dismissing the development interests of the regional states. Conflicts that flare up between regional governments need to be addressed by the regional states instead of politicizing on issues that need to be resolved by them.
There are also some misconceptions about the Ethiopian federalism. Ethiopia's federalism is not entirely ethnic federalism as some scholars seem to assert. This is simply meant to reduce the lofty goals of Ethiopian federalism to mere ethnicity without regard to culture, geographical settlement pattern and geo-ecological factors.
By all standards, the Ethiopian federal system is still at a very young stage. The system was constitutionally declared before the necessary economic base was created for the system. This was a bold step that helped the nation to emerge from a danger of possible fragmentation while the whole totalitarian economic system was to be totally overhauled.
For a country like Ethiopia with less developed economic system, registering a two digit economic growth was no miracle that was performed by heavenly power but by the government and peoples of Ethiopia in the context of federal democratic and economic order. Therefore, what for is the federal system to blame?
However, this does not mean that the federal system operated on a red carpet, far from it! Policy and legal as well as strategically framed action plans were to be prepared and duly financed. Democracy was to start from feudal, pre-feudal mentality that had prevailed in the country for ages. Peace was needed to prevail in a war torn country that became a testing center for demagogic socialism. What is then to be done?
The future of Ethiopia's federal system rests on the shoulders of the Ethiopian youth which constitute more than 60 percent of the population. Educating the youth on the whole content of the constitution and the federal system is of no less importance than economic empowerment of the youth. Youth associations at all levels need to have a clear understanding on the constitution and the merits of the federal system. This in turn requires ridding some sections of the youth from egocentrism, narrow nationalism and chauvinistic views. The entire elements of the political system need to organize continuous training programs to implant democratic patriotism into the minds of the youth in the country.
The proliferation of corruption and lack of accountability when designed programs and projects are not completed on time, the hidden motives of rent seekers, absence of equity on addressing development programs to outback areas, disruption of peaceful development programs are not compatible with the national goals of federalism and should not be tolerated if democracy is to prevail in the country.
Manning the entire operation in the federal system with patriotic, well educated and dedicated professionals is very important because only personal commitment to federalism or the constitution can not pull the nation out of poverty. Practical output and measurable contribution is the litmus paper for evaluating the contribution of citizens for sustaining the federal political order in this country.
The Ethiopian educational curricula need to effectively incorporate topics on the Ethiopian constitution and the Ethiopian federalism. Topics on local government in the nation's institutes of higher learning need to be taught and extensive researches on the constitution and the federal system need to be sponsored by the three branches of the Ethiopian government.
Civic societies need to do their part in educating the youth on the major contents of Ethiopian constitution and the federal system. Every element of the political system need to be engaged in implementing the provisions of the constitution and the federal system.