Ethiopia and the Running Sores of Ethnic Federalism: The Antithetical Forces of Statehood and Nationhood


  • Petros B. Ogbazghi



Ethnic federalism in Ethiopia proved non-viable in practice because it came to be widely seen as a political tool used by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)-dominated Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), whose ideological foundation was inspired by Soviet system of ‘democratic centralism’: a benign façade that veneered an authoritarian vanguard party operating under a token parliament. This article examines the dynamics of statehood and nationhood: antithetical forces of integration and differentiation, which play out around the commonly shared albeit highly contested polity of the nation-state. The need to dialectically resolve these antagonistic though mutualistic stakes lies at the epicentre of political debate in contemporary Ethiopia, ultimately pointing to the constitutional reform dilemmas it now faces. By drawing on literature on political theory, the article argues that the federal constitution proved antagonistic to the inherited politico-cultural orientations that posited the nation-state as the principal supranational identity. By redefining narrow forms of collective identity that were anchored precisely on ethnic sentiments that grew largely in reaction to perceived injustices, the federal constitution appeared neither to embrace, as a system of legitimation, the characteristic and authoritative dimensions of ‘Ethiopian’ identity as a supra-national universal habitus of loyalty and identification. Nor did it provide integrative cohesion to an otherwise essentially differentiated primordial ethnic and linguistic identity features that now came to be diffused and indeed accentuated at sub-national regions as rigid and hermetic sites of conflict and strife, rather than discursive, reflexive, and interactive domains of cultural and social life.