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The Rise and Fall of Ethnic-Based Federalism and its Predicament for Humanity in Ethiopia

May 9, 2021

By Chris Taylor, PhD1


The thinking and experimentation in social science can have huge, unrepairable and intergenerational human costs if not managed well. This is the case in Ethiopia, where political entrepreneurs and ethnocentric nationalists have experimented and imposed a uniquely entrenched ethnic-based federalism in the country over the past three decades. These activities have made a significant impact, resulting in the production and reproduction of social bankruptcy manifested in national disunity, lethargic development and human rights violations, including genocide in some parts of the country.

This article examines the rise and fall of ethnic-based federalism in the Ethiopian state which has over 83 ethnic groups with distinct languages, cultural practices and religious beliefs.2 It presents the opportunities and challenges behind the imposition of the government’s organizing practice of constitutionally backing ethnic-based governing entities, using insider-outsider views and taking into account testimonies and reports from several regions of the country.

The article first begins by outlining the political and social contexts of Ethiopia since the cold war and the imposition of the ethnic-federal government arrangement in 1991. This is followed by an examination of the country’s political journey and key milestones from the lens of national disunity, impoverishment, human rights violations and insecurity that the country has been trapped with since the implementation of the ethnic-based federalism project. Finally, the article suggests possible solutions towards addressing the predicaments.

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