21 April 2018

Ethiopia: How Can Federalism Contribute to National Unity, Shared Identity in Ethiopia?

After two decades of imple mentation, federalism has become a hot issue in the country recently, especially in connection with the flaring up of unrest in some parts of the country in recent years. Scholars, civic society and political party members stated that even though there is no debate on the necessity of the system for the multi-ethnic Ethiopia, there is no consensus on the structure and implementation of the system as it stands.

During a recent discussion forum entitled "Building federalism and democratic unity: opportunities and challenges" organized by Amhara Mass Media Agency jointly with Ministry of federal and pastoralist affaires, scholars and political party members said that federalism and its structure should be implemented by balancing ethnic identity and Ethiopian citizenship to build national unity.

Presenting a paper during the discussion Dr. Asefa Fiseha, Federalism Instructor at Addis Ababa University, said that as it promotes self and shared rule by distributing power to different centers, federalism, gives an opportunity for political empowerment of the people. He said that federalism is a complex government system which needs gradual process and continuous discussions to attain the desired level.

For him the problem of Ethiopian federalism is that it invests more on ethnic identity than shared identity. Presence of diversified society in one nation by its nature is not a problem; the only thing which leads to peace or conflict is the method of handling the diversity, structure and implementation of political system and policies and strategies of governments, he added.

For Dr. Asefa by respecting every identity, federalism is a cornerstone for nation building in diversified society.

The unrests in the past three years were outcomes of the absence of strong governmental institutions to solve public questions, the practical problem in exercising power between the federal and regional states, absence of merit on political appointment, party influence on government institutions as decisions are still decided by party than government intuitions, lack of sense of belongingness to a country and lack of awareness on shared identities, he stated.

Honorable Seyfu Kinfe, member of House of Peoples Representatives (HPR), on his part stated that federalism is not a matter of choice for Ethiopia, but its practice must be to strengthen unity than widening gaps among the people. Honorable Seyfu said that Ethiopia is suitable to apply federalism as the tradition of the people are helpful in building nation state through tolerance, mutual respect and harmonious living among diversified societies are the values and demonstrations of the people.

But federal government has not invested on those values of the society which by themselves are helpful to apply nation building under federal system by strengthening the tie between the people.

Based on the constitution, federal and regional governments are formed and shared power to create suitable environment for public administration but the presence of more than two governments should not become a threat for national state and should not focus only on ethnic identity, Dr. Asefa said.

Nations which build strong nation state under federal system apply citizenship in parallel with ethnic identity, hence Ethiopian citizenship should go side-by-side with ethnic identities and ethnic identities should go without opposing the national identity. By balancing Citizenship and ethnic identity, Ethiopian federalism should withdraw from zero sum game, Dr. Asefa restated.

Regional states created "first class" and "second class" citizens in the past three years and this is due to the weakness of the federal government since it is responsible to protect the right of citizens at any corner of the country, Dr. Asefa said. In federal system if regions violate rights of citizens, the federal government has a power even to suspend the regions power.

Dr. Sisay Mengiste, Federalism and Human Rights Instructor at Addis Ababa University, told The Ethiopian Herald that consensus is reached on the necessity of the federal system to Ethiopia; the problem is how to practice it. In Ethiopia, national identity and ethnic identity are not balanced, recently sense of Ethiopian identity is fading, he stated.

It is must to invest and reach consensus on Ethiopian history to create common consensus on history of the country as it is the history of all Ethiopians. It is also necessary to give attention to the working language of the country currently there is no a consensus on the working language, he added. If necessary, based on research it is also possible to make additional working language to the federal government, Dr. Sisay restated.

Honorable Seyfu said that building federalism and democratic system in Ethiopia should tie with the strong values and traditions of the society. In addition, just as the Constitution offers rights to every nation, nationality and people it should also focus on obligations, he said.

Daniel Kibret, participant on the occasion also stated that federalism should apply to strengthen unity, neighborhood by eliminating extremism. Daniel added that the federal government has not invested on the shared values of the country.

He said that usage of terminologies like "kilil", the way of implementing federalism in towns, and absence of strong government institutions is among the problems of the federal system in Ethiopia. He restated that the federal government should invest more on shared values and inter-regional people to people relations by expanding domestic tourism and domestic investment, creating strong and independent government imitations and by promoting ideology based political parties than ethnic based parties.

Mulugeta Wuletaw, State Minister Federal and Pastoralists Development Affairs, said that Ethiopian identity and ethnic identity could go together. Mulugeta said that Ethiopia has a habit of social capital like harmonious living, patriotism, brotherhood, tolerance and other shared values nationally; the new thing federalism introducing is equality based relationship.

For Mulugeta the federal system has made significant achievements but now it faces challenges especially regional states leave the national state behind as they focus on their region. Presence of ethnic political parties, the structure of federalism, and presence of diversified identities are not the illness for nation building in Ethiopia but the problem is the presence of two poles, he added.

The state Minister restated that the solution is balancing citizenship and ethnic identity to create national unity and peaceful coexistence of the people and to sensitize that the media, political parties, civic societies and all stakeholders have a responsibility.

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