How to Resolve the Constitutional Crisis in Ethiopia (2018- 2021)?
By Dejene Tafa Gelete (LLB, MS in Social Work) (Deputy Secretary of Oromo Federalist Congress, OFC)
Ethiopia has been mired in and riddle by a range of intra and inter-ethnic conflicts in a century. The imperial regime; ruling as unitary government had used oppressive and assimilative means in order to exploit the resources of the century and deprive the political rights of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia. The nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia struggled against the imperial regime in various ways. The government was unable to withstand the political and economic crisis, and its demise was inevitable. Nevertheless, the popular revolt was usurped by the military and the quest for democracy, freedom and equality failed to materialize. The people continued struggling to fully and freely exercise their rights to ensure a lasting peace, bring and sustain democracy and rule of law, respect for individual and group fundamental freedom and rights, live together on basis equality and enhance their common and shared interests. After bitter fights against military dictator ship, the people were able to get the chance to build country based on a new approach of mutual respect and wider participation.
Subsequently, the concepts of nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia were approved through a referendum and the Constitution of FDRE which has entered in to force on August 1995 was written. As stated in the Constitution, 33 articles out of 106 articles of this constitution deal with the fundamental (human and democratic) rights; though none of the articles have been implemented to the extent the constitution grants. As the EPRDF’s legitimacy and governing capacity is deteriorated, the Prosperity Party (PP) came to power through populist rhetoric and deceptive pronouncements pretending as a reformist group. However, from the day of its coming to power, it entangled itself in political conspiracy and harassing opposition political forces to control the total political land space of the country.
It has continued to rule the country without the mandate of the people and particularly, transformed itself in to a one man dictatorship. Eventually, the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia have been deprived of their rights which emanated from the Constitution. The State dragged itself into civil war, economy is deteriorated and declined, looming starvation and famine, and as a result engulfed in Constitutional crisis. Regional security has been shattered and above all State sovereignty and integrity have been jeopardized.
2. The Causes of the Conflict.
In the process of State building in Ethiopia the causes of political problems were emanated from the two antagonistic and conflicting political thoughts and their recommendations for State and nation building. The political position and beliefs can be classified in to two major categories. The first one is that based on denying the existence of multiple nations and nationalities and prescribes for the building of a unitary nation without providing recognition for group rights. The other opposing thinking is based on the existence of multiple nations, languages, cultures and recommends for building a federal State which recognizes the rights of self-determination and self-rule. Political parties that have campaigned for unitary state building intend to organize one state based on one national language and culture which is reminisce of the dark days of the oppressive and assimilative regime of the imperial rule. They planned to unconstitutionally throw away the Constitution of the land.
They strive to totally eliminate the multinational national based federalist political parties and the related institutions. This political approach has been master minded by the extremist Amhara elites and their mercenaries. On the other hand, almost all nations and nationalities in Ethiopia has been organized under a federalist political approach to struggle for their rights and freedoms and to bring about genuine democracy except the unitary advocators. They accept and respect the constitution of the land. This constitution recognizes and guarantees the rights of equality of ethnic identities, languages, religious, culture and ethno- linguistic based regions state. Weak political culture failure to accommodate diversity of opinion, insecurity, economic inequality, and unemployment have fueled and escalated the conflict between the political elites. Amazingly, the amorphous grouping, prosperity Party deceptively but unapologetically rejected the ethno- linguistic based federal political thought of its predecessor (EPDRF).
It decides to pursue unitary state building. It invests on this political approach in all sectors i.e. political, economic and social spheres throughout the country. On the other hand, it is designed project to eliminate the federalist leaning political parties at the expense of unitary state building. It intimidates and harasses political parties and their leaders. Extra-judicious killings and mass arrest have become the norm of the day. The government is not ashamed to use rape and famine as weapon to frighten and quell any opposition. Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) & Oromo liberation front (OLF) from Oromia and Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) from Tigray and their supporters are among the targeted political Organizations. Intending to dismantle these federalist opposition parties which are popular among their constituents, the government postponed the national election of 2020 using the pandemic COVID- 19 as a pretext in disregard of the constitution.
Articles 54(1) and 58(2- 3) of this constitution provide that: Art. 54(1) – Members of the House of Peoples’ Representatives shall be elected by the people for term of five years on the basis of universal suffrage and by direct, free and fair elections held through the secret ballot. Art. 58(2) – The annual session of the house shall begin on Monday of the final week of the Ethiopian month of Meskerem (September) and end on the 30th day of the Ethiopian month Sene (June). The house may adjourn for one month of recess during its annual session. Art. 58(3) – The House of Peoples’ Representatives shall be elected for a term of five years. Election for a new house shall be conducted one month prior to the expired date of the House’s term. These articles clearly oblige the government to hold election of the members of House of Peoples’ Representatives for a term of five years. They are not vague, ambiguous and silent. They don’t have any loophole to create confusion of constitutional interpretation.
However, the government sent these articles for interpretation to the House of Federation where it has almost absolute control to mislead the Ethiopian people. Such unlawful practice allowed the government to postpone the election of 2020 against the true spirit of the constitution. The true desire of the ruling elites was to postpone the election until it belt confident in its hastily organized party. The using of the pandemic to postpone the elections was mischievous and misleading. The government, after weakening the major opposition parties decided to conduct election after less than a year. In fact, the pandemic has gotten worse this year than last year. Therefore, it is not difficult to conclude that, the government used the pandemic to extend its rule by manipulating the interpretation of the constitution using the “defunct” House of Federation, where it has an absolute majority.
Popular federalist parties like OFC, OLF and TPLF, majority of political activists, Diaspora communities and the youth who were the major players in bringing the reform strongly opposed the unconstitutional decisions of the government. By disregarding the quest for peace, security and democracy of its people, the government which is led by Prosperity Party decided to stay in power at any cost. It has futilely attempted to solve unilaterally the complicated political crisis in Ethiopia. As a consequence, the federal government and Tigray Regional Government which was led by TPLF were dragged into war because of the ruling elites’ poor management of differences and the heavy- handed handling and negligent of any political decent on various issues including the postponement of the 2020 national election. Except the members and supporters of the ruling party (PP) and few Amhara elites, the peoples of Ethiopia, political activities, Diaspora communities opposed this destructive conflict.
The federalist parties called upon the regime for cease- fire and recommended national dialogue as a way out from today’s predicament. Despite expanding and strengthening the oppositions, the battered Prosperity Party continued to drag the country into abides against the spirit of Article 88 of the constitution of the land clearly declares as follows: Art. 88(1) – Guided by democratic principles, government shall promote and support the people’s self- rule at all levels. (2) Government shall respect the identity of nation, nationalities and peoples. Accordingly, government shall have the duty to strength ties of equality, unity and fraternity among them. Contrary to this article, the ruling party continued to encroach the constitutional rights of the nations and nationalities which lead to serious conflict and civil war against the federations. Almost all regional states of Ethiopia were dragged into unwarranted and unnecessary devastating conflict.
3. The consequences of the Conflict
The centrifugal force between the federalist and unitary political oppositions in Ethiopia has gone from bad to worse in the last three years. Massacres of innocent civilians have continually committed in Oromia and Tigray regional states and others. Internal displacement of people becomes common in all regional states. Crimes against humanity, war crimes, shameful sexual violence have been committed. The situation in the country is getting out of control from time to time. The Ethiopian military forces, the Special Forces of Amhara Regional State and the Eritrean troops have built a common front against OLF- (Oromo Liberation Army, OLA) and TPLF. Eritrean troops have been looted shops, warehouses, industrial machineries, hospital equipment and agricultural tools Tigray region. They have been using rape as weapon to cause severe psychological and physical harm. In oromia and Tigray regions, the government soldiers raped thousands of young girls in front of their families and abused women in the presence of their husbands contrary to human decency.
The heart breaking acts of the Ethiopian government are taking place which is destroying the livelihood of the people. The Eritrean troops have perpetually committed those unwarranted and unprovoked crimes against the people by the invitation of the government in Finfinne. The government has no any treaty, pact or agreement that has been ratified by the house of peoples’ Representatives in accordance to Art 9(4) of the Constitution concerning military or security agreement. What makes it worse was the cooperation of the Eritrean government with Ethiopia which allowed the Eritrean government to work unhindered and inhibited to aggravate the internal conflict in Ethiopia, against to Art.9(4) of the Constitution.
Art. 9(4) – All international agreements ratified by Ethiopia are the integral part of the law of the land. In addition to this, the Ethiopia government allowed the sovereignty of the country to be violated in contradiction to Art. 86(1) of the constitution which provides that: – Promote principles of foreign relations based on the protection of the national interests and respect the sovereignty of the country. The armed intervention of the Eritrean troops in Ethiopia is against the principles of the international law that Ethiopia signed and ratified. The Declaration on the principles of the international law concerning friendly relations and co-operation among states adopted October 1970 by the Unite Nations General Assembly emphasis that:- No state or group of the states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly for any reason whatever in the internal and external affairs of any other state. Consequently, armed intervention and other forms of the interference or attempted threats against the personality of the state or against its political economic and culture elements are in violation of international law.
The objective realities on the ground, in both Oromia and Tigray regional states the international organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and World Food Program continued to expose. The Eritrean troop’s atrocities in Ethiopia continued to be unabated. CNN, Aljazeera and other international media reported the continually exacerbated unprovoked atrocities committed by those troops. The international community including the United States of America (USA), European Union (EU) and United Kingdom (UK) called on the Eritrean government to withdraw its troops from Ethiopia. Consequently, Ethiopia faces diplomatic crisis and witnessing isolation from the international community. Its political standing has fast deteriorated. By flip flopping its positions on Nile water- usage, it has brought substantial pressure on itself. Obviously, its handling of the Nile Crisis and the negotiation on the issue has been unprofessional which invited unnecessary pressure from many quarters. It failed to strongly adhere to the strategies and tactics of the previous years. The episode exposed the shallow understanding of the present government on the vital national interests of the country, and the ways and the means to secure them.
The government also coined what it defamed Oromo Liberation Army – OLA as OLF- Shane and TPLF as terrorists and ratified the designation by the House of peoples’ Representatives to harass and discriminate against the peoples of both regional states. In general, the economy has severely declined, social development has stagnated. The prosperity Party has become mother of all these complicated total chaos and crisis in Ethiopia.
4. The Threat of the Conflict
The conflict in Ethiopia will continue as it become complicated an uncontrolled. International crimes like crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide have been committed on the nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia. This is creating uncontrollable and disastrous political crises in Ethiopia. Unconstitutional measures are common practices of the officials of the federal and regional governments. The exclusionary national election of 2021 may result in uncontrollable conflicts. Arbitrarily use of forces and violence and lawlessness will spread throughout the country. The country may face total constitutional crisis and its existence would be jeopardy. Civil war in Oromia and Tigray regions may expand to the rest of the country. It may cause non-repairable harm to the sovereignty and integrity of the country. Some nationalities may attempt to exercise their rights to self-determination including the right to secession. This situation may fast deteriorate to force the country to slide into failed state. This crisis left unmitigated may negatively influence the peace and security of the sub- region. As the second most populous country in Africa, its disintegration may have serious consequence including for regions far from the neighborhood. The armed conflict and its effect may force the people to leave their homes and attempt to migrate in search of security, food and shelter. That will bring serious problems and chaos to the region and as far as Middle East and Europe.
Peace and democracy cannot be achieved unless the government and opposing groups (OLF- OLA) (Oromo Liberation Front) and TPLF) are committed to cease- fire and sit for dialogue. Political fragility and constitutional crisis in Ethiopia will result in failed state. Fratricidal struggle that would have not repairable and unforgivable outcome, which would sink the possibility of the country’s continuation as one integral entity should be avoid as much as possible to salvage situation from chaos and destruction, the following would be worth considering:
5.1. Cease- fire: – The government and the opposing combatant groups in the war should create conducive environment for cease- fire. Specially, the Ethiopian govern should stop using the Eritrean forces to quash the aspiration of its people and push the Eritrean government to withdraw its troops from Ethiopia without ant preconditions.
5.2. Addressing the Conflict: – The ruling party (PP) must to have the acts of political conspiratorial activities and discrimination against ethnic groups where its support is weak and opposition political parties to stay in power. It should bring all suspects of atrocities such as perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, and sexual violence to justice.
Inclusive Political Dialogue and Developing Consensus: – Political tolerance, inclusive political participation, consensus among political elites and negotiation in vital issues of country. Hence, all concerned political parties, political activists, Diaspora community, famous individuals; including ruling party must be committed and have the political willingness and readiness for all inclusive national dialogue to form national compromise and consensus government which would be acceptable to all political shades.
5.3. Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program: – Individuals, families and communities in both Oromia and Tigry regions have been psychologically and physically tortured and international war crimes have been committed, the resources were damaged, looted, and destroyed. Hence, the Endeavour to construct and restore the regions has to start in earnests. The international community should play its role in the rehabilitation and reconstruction program, which might require substantial finance and other resources.
5.4. Building Peace:-
A. Insuring independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the state’s democratic institutions such as: – National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), Public Prosecutor General, Human Rights Commission, Anti- Corruption Commission, Office of the Ombudsman, Judicial Organs and the Auditor General to exercise their responsibilities and perform their functions without prejudice and political interference is paramount.
B. The government shall stop the exclusionary and conspiratorial national election of 2021. It shall be held based on universal suffrage and by direct, free and fair secret ballot. Political Power should be held through popular preference but not using gun, and political conspiracy and violence.
Kality Prison Finfine, Ethiopia!
June 15, 2021. “Ballots, rather than Bullets are the preferred methods of Contestation for Legitimate, Efficient and Effective State Power”.