POST-TPLF POLITICS: CENTRALISM VS MULTINATIONAL FEDERALISM

POST-TPLF POLITICS: CENTRALISM VS MULTINATIONAL FEDERALISM
 
It did not take much to defeat TPLF by the massive Ethiopian Defense Forces firepower. At the outset of the conflict, it was clear that TPLF did not stand a chance to engage the federal forces in a conventional war. A guerilla armed resistance is only a thing in the future and remains to be seen.
The other side to the debate is the hitherto subdued multinational groups whose constituents firmly support the federal arrangement that gives autonomous power to nine regional governments. These are elites of eight of the nine regions which make up the federation.
 
Triumphant Prime Minister Abiy paid a visit to Makale on Dec. 12, 2020 and introduced the regional president, Dr. Mulu Nega, to the elders and Tigray stakeholders. Aid has started pouring into Makale; electric services are resumed, and reconstruction will start in earnest, says PM Abiy.
 
While remaining oblivious to potential “war crimes” charges that may be leveled against him, he promised to apprehend what he termed the “junta” as soon as possible. Junta is a title given to TPLF since the conflict began. Is Prime Minister Abiy also going to get rid of the federalist constitution?
A victorious TPLF introduced in 1991 in London a transitional Charter that served as the precursor for the adoption of the existing federal constitution, which became operational in 1995. Although the national debate over what type of government system fits Ethiopia started in the 1960s with the student movement, it is as contentious today as it was 60 years ago.
 
There are two irreconcilable camps to the debate; a centralist group, largely drawn from the Amhara elite, that wants to bring back a unitary system. This group’s voice has been noticeably vocal since 1991 when said charter that paved the way for the federal constitution was promulgated.
The other side to the debate is the hitherto subdued multinational groups whose constituents firmly support the federal arrangement that gives autonomous power to nine regional governments. These are elites of eight of the nine regions which make up the federation.
 
Often than not centralists ad nauseum argue that Ethiopia’s political problems emanate from “ethnic federalism.” Some have even characterized federation as a “tribal federalism” (Regassa, 2001). This is an effort to belittle and defame federal power-sharing.
 
Alas, centrists conveniently forget that non-Amhara people were largely reduced to a second-class citizen in the era of past unitary governments. As if that was not enough indignation, urban dwellers from non-Amhara nations and nationalities were either converted to Christianity, the official religion until 1974, or they were assimilated to a point of changing their indigenous names and cultures. Assimilation into the dominant culture was the norm.
 
The elite that opposes federalism would like to argue that ethnic politics is often associated with a perpetual social dis-harmony where intergroup solidarity is minimized. This group sees ethnic representation not with the lens of equity but through the prism of violence and disharmony.
On the other hand, Donald L. Horwitz’s instructive study on “Ethnic Groups in Conflict” contradicts and disproves this assertion. Horwitz sees recognition and accommodation of ethnic roles in modern politics as a positive and necessary public policy (Horowitz, 1985).
 
In a globalized world where the search for ethnic equality is ubiquitous and information about oppression and rights is easily exchanged, giving a legitimate and institutionalized role to ethnic and identity politics is inescapable. Even in the advanced world, ethnic representation is more of the norm and will hold a bigger space in the future.
 
Although the word “ethnic” does not appear anywhere in the federal constitution, the preamble of Ethiopia’s constitution recognizes that Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia make the federation of Ethiopia. Recognizing the political space of ethnic groups helps the ruling system to earn the trust of each nation and nationality. So is also article 39, which theoretically affirms the respective rights of nations, strengthens but not weakness the federation.
 
Despite those who decry federalism, the right to self-determination is indelible and cannot be taken away from the people in the federation. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson warned the U.S. Congress in 1918 that self-determination is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of action which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril.” These words provided nationalists and reformers the sparkles that helped them gain moral and legal grounds against oppressive governments. Calling Ethiopian federal arrangement multinational affirms this Wilsonian theory of self-determination.
 
By ignoring the rights of the Igbo people, for example, Nigeria had to go through the bitter civil war in late 1960s, which Robert Dahl, professor emeritus at Yale University, called “the greatest scourge in Africa since the slave trade.” Today, Nigeria is a nascent federal system. Ethiopia had and still is having its own share of devastating wars over the concept of self-determination.
 
Whether one calls it an “ethnic” or a “multinational” federal system, Ethiopia is a collection of nations joined together through a cruel history of conquest. Inequality has and still is a permanent feature of the political landscape. A reversion to a unitary system would aggravate the already precarious ethnic relations. Many experts warned of the danger for a possible disintegration if identity politics is not given its due space.
 
It was none other than an enlightened Amhara youth that first raised the need for solving Ethiopia’s ethnic problems. The son that Amhara elites today would love to hate is Walleligne Mekonnen, who in 1969 clearly articulated the national question as the vexing question of modern Ethiopia. He argued each nation be accorded with its respect without being Assimilated.
 
The political problem of Ethiopia is not the term “ethnic” as centrist forces would like us to believe. The real problem is power sharing. Proponents of multinational federalism want to see a genuine horizontal and vertical power sharing between the center and the regions. The dominant minority that historically controlled the center does not want to see equitable power-sharing to happen. Equity is the enemy to the centrists.
 
TPLF’s egregious abuse of the federal system cannot be used as a justification to impose a unitary rule on the hitherto conquered regions. It is given that TPLF established an ethnic oligarchy where its elite looted the resources of the country, violated human rights, and fomented conflicts and wars not only in Ethiopia but in the entire Horn of Africa region. So did the Dirge regime or the feudal reign of Haile Selassie before it. Why recycle the same oligarchy under the rubric of a centrist rule?
 
Prime Minister Abiy political conundrum is how he is going to cash his victory over TPLF. Would he camp with centrists and reconstitute a unitary state or embellish the tortured federalism and cede more powers to the regions by expanding the political space given to the regions.? Going back in history would cost everyone dearly and conflict will soon intensify. And that would be a sad saga.
 
– Faisal A. Roble
Email: faisalroble19@gmail.com


“Ethiopians will never forget the support the Eritrean government gave our army.” – Lieutenant General Abebaw Tadesse (pictured)
“እንደ ኢትዮጵያዊነቴም እነደ ሰራዊቱ መሪም የኤርትራ መንግስት በዚያ ቀውጢ ሰዓት የዋለልንን ውለታ ከፍለን የምንጨርሰው አይመስለኝም። የሆኖ ሆኖ አረመኔው የህወሓት ጁንታ በመወገዱ በኢትዮጵያውያን እና ኤርትራውያን መካከል ያለው የማይበጠስ ወንድማማችነት እንደገና በቅርቡ ተመልሶ ያብባል። የዛኔ ይሄንን ታሪክ እያስታወሳችሁ ኤርትራውያን እህት ወንድሞቻችሁን በፍጹም ፍቅር እንድትንከባከቧቸው ኢትዮጵያዊያንን አደራ እላለሁ።” – ሌ/ጄኔራል አበባው ታደሰ