23 August 2018

Ethiopia: Democracy and Federalism Go Hand in Hand

Since the adoption of the 1995 Constitution, the states that formed the Federal Republic have been enjoying their rights for self-determination and administration. Unfortunately, following the recent change in the country, violence has been witnessed in some states that caused violation of human and democratic rights. This has forced some to question the sustainability of the federal system in maintaining peace and stability.

Yet, the major causes of the violence seem to be absence of democratic system and strong and independent institutions. This is also what has been reflected by scholars on federalism, whom the Amharic Daily Addis Zemen approached for comment on the main sources of the violence and attack that target specific religious and ethnic groups in some parts of the country. The absence of a democratic set up, they said, has allowed individuals and groups to instigate violence and shield their voracious interests.

True, the absence of strong democratic institutions, particularly in a federal system, opens the opportunity for individuals or groups, mainly those who have been part of the statuesque, to abuse the system for their personal interests.

In Ethiopian case, in their bid to maintain the statuesque and personal network, few groups even went as far as letting lawlessness prevail, as has been witnessed in some states.

Obviously, the nonexistence of democratic culture and strong democratic institutions that guarantee accountability and transparency has allowed individuals to form networks and install their own structure to abuse the constitutional rights of citizens.

Those who came to power undemocratically would by no means respect rule of law. As there is no instrument to keep their powers and authorities in check, they think, nobody would be able to stop the violence they instigated. In fact, what has been witnessed is that these forces even tried to misuse the federal constitution as a cover to prevent the federal government's involvement, even at the height of human rights abuses. Alas, this led to an enumerable loss of precious human life and property. At the end of the day, had it not been for the intervention of the federal government, they would have been able to cause unprecedented causalities.

The supremacy of the law can only be guaranteed when there are strong and independent democratic institutions. It is only then that we will be able to prevent future causalities that might be instigated under the cover of federalism. Otherwise, it would be unthinkable to make accountable those responsible for instigating violence and human rights violations.

In federal countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium where states have extended political power, it is the presence of strong democratic institutions that keep the executive bodies at state levels in check and help overcome various challenges without much difficulty.

Though there are similar legal frameworks in Ethiopia, their applicability has been questionable so far. In addition, institutions that are meant to ensure their implementation are also inextricably intertwined with party structure. That is why federalism scholars advice that without a genuine democracy, it would be impossible to build a genuine federal system. As democracy is a necessary condition for the proper functioning of the federal system, democratic and human rights institutions such as independent security forces, independent judiciary, human rights commissions, the institutes of the ombudsman and the likes need to be established not only at federal but also state levels.

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