Ethiopia hints at reconsidering its controversial ethnic federalism

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Ethiopia’s council of ministers has drafted a document to establish a study commission to fix the country’s deadly ethnic federalism. According to the prime minister’s office, the draft is sent to the house for approval.

Observers say Ethiopia is the only country on the planet that has an absolute ethnic federalism in which nine regions are formed only based on ethnicity. Even worse these regions have their own paramilitary forces and border. The idea is believed to be adopted by the long-time dictator Meles Zenawi whose rebel fighters toppled the military dictatorship in 1991. It has some similarities with countries like Nepal, Pakistan and war-torn South Sudan.

Since he took office in April, Ethiopia’s reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmad has implemented a wave of reforms and created a dream-like environment in the east African country. The sweeping reforms have not yet gone down to the institutions so far, but many expect the young leader will take his bold reform projects to the institutions. The formation of this commission is reportedly the first major step towards a major institutional reform in the country.

According to the documents released by the prime minister’s office, one of the duties of this commission is to find scientific solutions to the increasingly dangerous ethnic strife that has been engulfing the country for long. It says the commission will be run by independent, high level experts. It emphasizes on peaceful approach to identity and ethnic border issues  The united nations and other international organizations have put Ethiopia ahead of war-torn Syria on the list of internally displaced people. There are more than 1.2 million Ethiopians internally displaced due to ethnic border conflicts.

Some backlash is expected from organized groups if the prime minister moves on with this bold reform. Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism is probably the biggest debate in the country’s political landscape. Established groups from the last 27 years want to maintain the system while reformist groups demand a reconsideration on the arrangement. Dr. Abiy Ahmad has not disclosed his stand on the issue but it doesn’t look like he’s a big fan of it. Many Horn of Africa experts believe if Ethiopia is in reform, then it needs to reform the grand problem, the country’s apartheid like absolute ethnic federalism.