Nation in the State

The rationale behind the nation’s adaption of federal, unitary or hybrid political structures, one way or the other, is to sustain territorial integrity and national unity. The pre-1991 Ethiopian state formation was unitary, where cultural assimilation played a prominent role.

Through the federal democracy, though, nations and nationalities’ rights have been more or less respected as the system merges both elements of national shared-rule and regional self-rule. This has undeniably allowed different cultural groups a level of political representation and sovereignty.

The process of instituting equality and justice for Ethiopia’s multicultural societies has borne some fruit. In other words, the task of setting the foundation has already been accomplished by the tactful patronage of the 1995 Ethiopian constitution, though not easily. However, the time to celebrate is not now as the track has to be upgraded, to rebuild the fracturing sense of unity, where Ethiopia needs to become a strong and equitable country that can accommodate all its heterogeneous societies.

Ethiopia’s federal system, drawn along linguistic-cultural lines was only the means and not an end to Ethiopian unity. Now that a particular structure has been established, within the last two decades and more, the second and contemporary phase should be instituting a sense of national unity. This is a task for the government, society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other stakeholders. Thus, I believe that the Nations, Nationalities and People’s Day, has run its course. It is, of course, a good indicator of how far we have come as a country, but it does not paint a precise picture of what needs to happen in the future.

I propose either a conversion to or an addition of, Unity Day. In making such an assertion, I am not trying to undermine or oppose the very concept of Nations, Nationalities and People’s Day. But the current political crisis betrays that we also need to endorse programs that show Ethiopia could function as a united nation under a federal structure where regional states have a certain level of sovereignty.

Currently, the destructive unrests, mainly in the Oromia Regional State, where in some cases lives have been lost, are a good indicator that the ruling party’s approach is misguided. The focus to ensure that languages and cultures are protected has, nonetheless, created formidable cracks in the country’s unity. One such example is the incident in the towns along the borders of the Oromia and Somali regional states, which has resulted in the displacement and death of Ethiopians, according to media reports. This has shown that federalism is hitting the wrong notes in some regards, trespassing its purpose and creating alienation.

When particular regional states show signs of strife, when lives are lost, or there is any indication that goods and services cannot cross borders, it is utterly reasonable to assume that federalism has gone too far and that the nation’s sense of unity is in crisis. It would be naïve to assert that the federation is working in a pitch-perfect manner.

Federalism without its component’s drive to work together, for the common good, will be dysfunctional. In a highly diverse country like that of Ethiopia, democratic-federalism is the foundation and necessary condition, but not one that should be traded for the nation’s unity.

Due to a zero-sum game political culture, the state’s non-transparent approach to incidents and the lack of podiums for public discourse have, over the years, allowed the rule of law to deteriorate in the country. This has been a significant reason for the lack of unity.

The type of federalism that exists in Ethiopia at the moment is already too far reaching to ask for its overhaul, though. Therefore, it is more reasonable for the government and the groups that do not accept the system to resume nation-building from the perspective of uniting the country within the already existing geographical lines of each regional state. Hence, much like December 8, we deserve another day where we can celebrate our unity and collective history just as much as our diversity.

Apparently, the task will be complicated. Those that have worked hard to instate the current system should redirect their efforts to building a nation that is united under a single flag. Teaching and inculcating people away from extreme ethno-nationalist tendencies will be difficult. But it is also an indispensable task if the nation is to grow and prosper.

I, for my part, am optimistic, since we have begun to see leaders that could lead us down that road. One such example is the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation’s (OPDO) leaders, who are young, thoughtful and dynamic. Those gear-changers can be potential path-finders for the tattering federal government because they can see the nation in the state.

By Berhanu Tsegay
Berhanu Tsegay ( has a Masters of Arts in Development Studies.

Published on Nov 18,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 916]



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