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Federalism as the Cause of Conflicts in Ethiopia

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Ethiopia is renowned as Africa’s earliest independent nation that being the case Ethiopia is still amongst the poorest nations in the continent. In history Emperor Tewodros was the forerunner in bringing modernization and politics by uniting the Ethiopian people under ordered governance. Soon after Emperor Menelik also continued in the path set out for him in consolidating the imperial rule, sustaining the process that directed to the growth of modernization along with fighting for the independence of Ethiopia (Bahru, 2002). The present day, Ethiopia is said to have been the fruit of Emperor Menelik’s struggle for larger territory and power in which during the 19th century where those who chose to surrender and not fight Emperor Menelik, they were allowed to rule themselves but pay tax to the central government. This continued even in the times of the imperial as the initial issue in Ethiopia politics was a struggle of power between regional and central forces, as battles between the central forces and local rulers continued (Bahru, 2002).

Soon after the downfall of the Derg regime in 1991, the ruling party had implemented ethnic federalism and dividing the country among ethnical boundaries. In this chapter, the prevalence of ethnic conflicts in this country is discussed with the keen evaluation of the potential structural causes of conflicts in this country, which have lasted for over twenty-five years. There are varying claims that support federalism as the cause of conflicts in Ethiopia (Abbink, 2006).

Federalism has been described as an ideological system like socialism, liberalism, and communism, where sharing of power among superior leadership groups and is mostly considered as the way that advocates for the rights values of the shared rule and self-rule (Ronald, 2008) which granted some regions powers to rule themselves. The federal form of government is convenient in facilitating the divergence of the local interests that cannot be endured in a form of a centralized government (Alemenate, 2003). Ethiopia’s administration is considered the most ethnocentric in comparison to other African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria in its federal structures. Ethiopia bases on ethno-nationalism are said to probable cause for triggering conflicts and worsening the already tensioned filled atmosphere. Federalism that is ethnic based is said to bring clashes between communities and ethnicities (Alemenate, 2003). Despite the various advantages that the federal system of government is expected to bring about, there are also acceptable dangers that this form of governance could bring about especially in the context of Ethiopia (Alemenate, 2003).

Apart from the historic basis of conflicts in Ethiopia, information was provided by the Human Rights Watch (2014), the Amnesty International (2014), the Human Rights Council (1992-2025) indicated that there were various cases of ethnic tension and cleansing in Ethiopia. One from the many instances of ethnic tensions that have been backed up by the federal structure is when the regional officials in Oromia are said to have evicted a number close to one hundred thousand Amhara residents from their homes. The common initial causes of ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia are mostly really about land and boundaries (Abbink, 2006). This is to say that the federal structure of the government, which is based on ethnicity, is the one that contributed to the tension and conflicts in the country, thus widening the differences among the existing ethnic groups. As a result, the ethnic groups are competing among themselves, leading to inter-ethnic conflicts along the ethnic boundaries (Abbink, 2006).

Ethnic tensions and conflict cannot be fully blamed on ethnicity in full as the politicization of ethnic identity has been playing a vital part in escalating the tensions between the different ethnic groups. In a country like Ethiopia where ethnicity has been diverged, some actions such as voting for leaders or political parties can be done on the basis of ethnicity (Turton, 2006). Instead of resolving the ethnic tension, ethnic grievance escalates and creates the fear for high scale ethnic conflict. It is, therefore, evident that ethnic politics are more likely to divide than unite the society within a nation as Ethiopia which would quickly lead to mistrust among the ethnic groups causing them to easily making them turn against each other. It is for this same reason that David Turton claims that the federal remapping of Ethiopia’s boundaries among ethnic lines has played an important role in increasing rather than decreasing ethnic clashes (Turton, 2006). To end the notion of ethnicity, countries should exclude any form of ethnic based discrimination provide the citizens of the nations with basic fundamental rights despite whatever their ethnicity is (Alemenate, 2003).

The formation of the federal states has been said to be among the causes of conflicts in Ethiopia. As observed by Lovise Aalen (2002), the delimitation of national boundaries in Ethiopia did not only come up with unequal central systems and different integral parts but also led to a country with ethnic groups that have given way to the destabilization of the nation and the constant weakening of the regional governments (Aalen, 2002). The ethnic federalism in Ethiopia does not reconsider the existing social and cultural realities of life that similar to the extent that one cannot tell between ethnic groups. In the Ethiopian scenario, many ethical groups could not occupy territorial defined geographical areas. While pinpointing the political limitations in Ethiopia, Assefa Fiseha claims that a reasonable number of the Ethiopian people do not stay in the first areas where a majority of their ethnic groups are settled (Assefa, 2006). They are most likely have been moved by the resettlement government procedures, or willing went to look for better living conditions elsewhere.

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Another critical issue that needs to be pointed out is how finance is distributed from the federal government to various regional states, how the central governments distribute funds to sub-national governments is of importance (Lancaster, 2012). There needs to be a working system that distributes the finances and revenues of the nation from federal to regional governments in order to ensure effectiveness of the federal system. In distributing funds to sub-national governments, the central government could use a variety of national criteria such as population size, poverty level, and revenue generation capacity (Lancaster, 2012). In Ethiopia, the powers of sub-national states are constitutionally protected, but in reality, the form of regionalization is entirely limited by political and administrative centralism (Dickovick, 2014). Due to the subjectivity of the constraints of the federal government’s autocratic nature, the central monetary funds are not distributed to the sub-regional governments in the right fairway. In Ethiopia, regional states have alleged that the EPRDF to be biased in budget distribution as it favors one region over the other (Lancaster, 2012). The wise management of the national resources does serve the national objectives of realizing positive development, reducing poverty, and increasing the standard of living. In the absence of a competent, transparent, and accountable system however the federal government assumes control of the commercial distribution process, which results in dissatisfaction among regional states and across ethnic (Lancaster, 2012).

For the structures of federalism to function correctly, there needs to be a fair and equitable distribution of financial resources between the central government and the states (regions). Where this does not happen, there will be a strong potential for conflict. In the Ethiopian context, regional states have weak autonomy (Abbasi, 2010). As a result, regions have had to depend on the federal government’s allocation of funds. The Ethiopian federal structure appears to be one-party state governance, which is characterized by highly concentrated and centralized powers maintained by oppressive institutions such as the military, other security organs, and state-controlled mass media (Dickovick, 2014).

Even though the EPRDF has adopted a federal-like system, as a concept the centralized power combined with authoritarianism and the undemocratic nature of the regime compares to that of the government and communist party of the USSR (Abbasi, 2010). The collapse of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia created a condition in which the effectiveness of federal constitutional structures was under question. Some scholars have argued that democratic discrepancies in communist countries and central systems organized around national groups, promoted nationalist movements to their eventual fall as federations (Abbasi, 2010).

An attempt has been made here above to give an overview of federalism, mainly focusing on its forms and types. In a nutshell, in a multi-national and multi-cultural country, federalism might be an effective method of bringing about political stability and order. However, inappropriate application of the principle in a specific context, such as that of an undemocratic government, may bring about just the opposite results, this may contribute to the ethnic clashes and conflicts that will result in a disintegration of national unity and consensus (Lancaster, 2012).

In the same notion a single dominant party control system could very well be another factor that weighs in creating and aggravating conflict among ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian federal structure appears to be that of one-party state governance, which is categorized as a highly concentrated that the centralized powers is maintained by totalitarian institutions such as the military, other security organs, and having a mass media that is state-controlled (Dickovick, 2014).

To remedy this serious structural disorder, the ‘government’ has to stop politicizing human diversity, and the federal ethnic arrangement in Ethiopia needs urgent reconsideration. A non-ethnic, multi-party democracy has to be established, other measures that are capable of addressing and dealing with structural causes of conflict should be formulated and employed to be able to effectively guarantee stability, equity and economic development and national consensus in Ethiopia.

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Federalism as the Cause of Conflicts in Ethiopia. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
“Federalism as the Cause of Conflicts in Ethiopia.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
Federalism as the Cause of Conflicts in Ethiopia. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Sept. 2023].
Federalism as the Cause of Conflicts in Ethiopia [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Sept 24]. Available from:
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