2nd and Final Call for Papers
Federalism in Ethiopia: Transition Challenges and Alternatives
March 24 and 25, 2018, Washington D.C.
By Vision Ethiopia
January 24, 2018

Vision Ethiopia, following its four successful conferences on critical issues and themes on Ethiopia, is pleased to announce its fifth conference which will be held on March 24 and 25, 2018, in Washington D.C. The Conference is organized in cooperation with the Consortium of Ethiopian Civic Society Organizations (TIBIBIR) and our long-standing partners, the Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio Station (ESAT). The theme of the conference is on the issues of federalism, decentralization, and alternative mechanisms of striking a balanced transition into an environment that promotes democracy, national unity, security, peace, and sustainable economic and political development.

The topic is important and timely and Ethiopians should carefully deliberate on these critical issues to build the foundation for peaceful, democratic, and stable political, economic, and social system in Ethiopia. The current situation is unsustainable and protecting the status quo involves considerable cost to our society. This has become apparent and even the ruling party’s recent assessment of security situation in the country recognizes the situation as deep and widespread of national crisis. While recognizing the problem is the first step, it is important for Ethiopians to engage in consultative and solution oriented deliberations to address the challenges.

Vision Ethiopia, consistent with its mission, attempts to create unhindered public forums for scholars, professionals, activists, political and civic organizations and concerned Ethiopians to present their carefully thought policy alternatives for the country. The need for independent forums for the analysis of the challenges of transition and finding a working formulae for the linkage between national and regional interests/powers is a challenge for all political parties. Though there is an overwhelming level of consensus about the need for transition, details are not worked out yet. It is time fellow Ethiopian experts address the issues in a systematic and well researched ways and inform the public the alternatives, mechanisms, and compromises that are needed to establish the institutional foundation for transition to a democratic system.

The debate about federalism in Ethiopia, similar to the experience of other countries, has been ideological. From neoliberal to neo Marxian (socialist) to messianistic and separatist ideologies are intensely debated and extreme position are upheld. Many actors hardly distinguish between regionalized unitary, devolved administration, federacy and federal systems. At least half of the over 100 political parties in the opposition are ethno nationalist movements of one kind or another. It is also interesting to note that ethno-nationalist parties are banned in many parts of Africa. The discussion on federalism has to take cognizance of the institutional realities on the ground and show ways to move forward.

There is a trend towards decentralization. Federal states, however, can take different forms from mono-national as in the United States and Germany or multiethnic as in Switzerland and contemporary Russia or somewhere in between as in Nigeria. However, the choice between unitary decentralization and ethnic decentralization remains complex and problematic. Federalism can be considered as a system of government in which regions or provinces share power with a national government. The practical experiences of countries with respect to adopting the system of federalism is not clear cut. Studies also indicate that federalism has been attempted in over 25 of the world’s 193 countries, and not all of them were successful in resolving conflicts and advancing peace, stability, democracy and prosperity. America, Canada, Switzerland, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cameron, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina are/were examples of federations. Some of these federalisms are integrationist or national federalist while others are specifically designed to address heterogeneity. There is no single blue print of federalism.

The system of federalism is considered to recognize regional interests and differences, prevent secession, check federal government’s power, manage a larger country, and promote healthy competition among regions. However, federalism has its discontents. Policies (economic, education, languages, social issues) are not uniform, protects powerful regional interests rather than democracy, lacks accountability, elevates minority parties to the level of deal makers, raises territorial disputes, and regional governments can be obstructive power blocks. Harmful spillover effects in one region can create instability in other regions, can lead to parochial regional parliaments and weaken national patriotism and identity, and allows the resurrection of historical wounds and opens space for revanchists. The persistence and severity these advantages/disadvantages may be revealed or concealed in context, and attenuated/accentuated by state and non-state actors. The task of prudent political leadership is to balance the merits and demerits of this form of decentralization, and find mitigation strategies for the shortfalls.

Scholars also classify federalisms by nationality (multinational federalisms, where devolution can be with territory or without territory), dual federalism (where the federal government and the State/province share power but the “union”holds more than the individual states), cooperative federalism (where the federal government and the state government share power equally) and fiscal federalism (where finance controls everything). In short, federalism is not something that political parties enter into for the purposes of power sharing or normative-mimetic pressure that is adopted to resolve political exigencies or form alliances against tyranny. Consistent with the late Eshetu Chole’s observation, as far back as in 1991 where the current ethno-federalism was imposed, a serious discourse on federalism opens “a Pandora box”. It also helps to explain conflicts, the programs of political parties, the competition for resource control and power, the relation between center and peripheries, hegemonic tendencies and proxy rules, risk of state collapse and state capture, separation of powers, the divide between richer and poorer regions, and equitable sharing of resources, and the building of trust and sustainable relations among population groups, and unity of purpose in defending the unity and territorial integrity of the country.

Vision Ethiopia invites Ethiopian scholars, activists, individuals and organized groups to look forward and engage in this important dialogue on federalism with a view to have successful transition. Papers may be written in either Amharic or English. Manuscripts will go through a review process. Position papers from political groups must focus on practical or applied works, use data, maps and nature of political parties/institutions across the breadth and depth of the country. Position papers must outline policy options and are not expected to argue at fringes and say “my way is the high way”. Papers and intentions to present position papers must reach Visionethiopia2016@gmail.com on or before February 15, 2018.


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