Ethnic-Based Federalism– A solution or a problem?

Barii Ayano*

There is no federation, and by extension, there is no ethnic federalism in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s political system more resembles colonial divide and rule. And it is much worse (more savage) than the era of European colonization of Africa. This does not mean TPLF thugs have not capitalized on the existence of diversity and diversity-related problems in Ethiopia. They did; big time! Equally, most of the diversity-related problems in Ethiopia are manufactured by the TPLF thugs.
Let me explain myself why I don’t believe Ethiopia’s current political arrangement is either federalism or ethnic-based federalism. For clarity and simplified flow, I tried to highlight my points under subtitles.
No Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia: It has a Colonial Model of Divide and Rule
There is no federation, and by extension, there is no ethnic federalism in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s political system more resembles colonial divide and rule. And it is much worse (more savage) than the era of European colonization of Africa. This does not mean TPLF thugs have not capitalized on the existence of diversity and diversity-related problems in Ethiopia. They did; big time! Equally, most of the diversity-related problems in Ethiopia are manufactured by the TPLF thugs.
We are trained to read and memorize; we are trained to listen and repeat. We are not trained to read and listen in order to empower our thinking and nurture our critical mindset. Political arguments are presented to us as quasi-religious dogmas, and we are supposed to follow the preachers (opinion makers who are addicted to waving some academic titles) without thinking and without counter-checking their points with realities on the ground. The ongoing “ethnic federalism” opposing rhetoric, which persisted for some 25 years, is one of them. We accepted it without evaluation and countering it with reality of Ethiopia. 
Ethnic Federalism Rhetoric Outlived Its Time and Initial Purpose
After the demise of Dergue in May 1991, it sounded like the diverse nations, nationalities, and peoples in Ethiopia were empowered, and the talk about self-determination and self-governance were high on the agenda. Particularly, the Oromo nation was inching to become self-assertive and powerful due to OLF’s rule in the political game of 1991-1992. There were also budding representatives of other nations and nationalities in Ethiopia. It was period of hopefulness and optimism for the marginalized people of Ethiopia. However, it was a period of horror for the masters of the yesteryear politics of Ethiopia.
The unrelenting rhetoric against the so-called ethnic federalism in Ethiopia was manufactured by the conservative “one nation, one language” proponent Ethiopianists in early 1990s to counter this movement of empowerment and a new political landscape in Ethiopia. The core culprit of attack was OLF since the major fear was directed against the potential impact of the empowered Oromo people. It’s more of a political propaganda than real politics.
Short Lived Empowerment of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples
The excitement of early 1990s was very short lived. OLF was forced to withdraw from the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) in 1992. The representatives of other nations, nationalities and peoples were not far behind. The fad of Oromos’ self-determination and self-governance died with OLF’s withdrawal from the TGE. Yet, the “ethnic politics” attackers have not left Oromos and branded Oromos as major players of “ethnic” federalism.Politics in Ethiopia completely changed since early 1990s but the rhetoric against the so-called “ethnic” federalism is still the same! We refused to think outside the box of brainwashing!
The Structure of Ethiopia’s Political Arrangement: Is it really Ethnic Federalism?
We are mentally conditioned to believe that Ethiopia is divided into some 9 ethnic regions, which is very absurd, given the reality of the structures in Ethiopia. Weirdly, one of the so-called ethnic regions is the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, where some 50 ethnic groups are living in one state. Yet, we don’t even ask, how does SNNP region pass for an ethnic federation? Most of the people in the SNNP don’t even have separate zones that resemble any form of ethnic-based self-governance. Truth be told, SNNP itself can easily disqualify Ethiopia from currently being an ethnic federation. Add others to the list!  
Correlation between “Ethnic” Federalism and “Ethnic” Empowerment
There is a correlation between identity-based political divisions such as “ethnic” federalism, linguistic federalism, etc. and identity-based empowerment in a number of areas: politics, economy, culture, language, etc. One needs to study the linguistic-based federation of India, which effectively experimented with linguistic-based federation, with modification to multiculturalism, since late 1940s. Each ethnic enclave in India became too powerful in its domain. And the larger the linguistic group, the stronger they became although the smaller linguistic groups were also assertive in their respective localities. From the experience of India’s linguistic-federalism, with little federal interference, too much local power became the problem, and the source of growing apart was local assertiveness.
In the context of Ethiopia, since the withdrawal of OLF and other representative from the TGE, empowering the ethnic groups became a criminalized taboo. Politics-of-surrender to TPLF became the guiding principle. Talking about empowering people and people’s power are still crimes, as per TPLF thugs.
The TPLF/EPRDF Regime Never Practiced/Implemented Federalism or Ethnic Federalism
TPLF leaders with the support of the PDOs like OPDO never worked towards empowering ethnic groups as federated players. They worked for some 27 years against the realization of any form of federalism. OPDO, by the very admission of its former leaders and members, never worked to empower the Oromo nation. Rather, they worked 24/7 to disempower Oromos to surrender to the dictatorship of the TPLF. There is no practice and implementation of “ethnic” federalism. Actually, the TPLF/EPRDF regime weakened and disempowered Oromos more than ever before, which anti-thesis to “ethnic” federalism. In other words, the major problem is too much powerlessness and politics of divide-and-rule designed to effectively paralyze “ethnic” groups in Ethiopia. It’s not politics of “ethnic” federalism that is normally designed to empower “ethnic” groups via self-governance. The dominant victims of the crisis in Ethiopia are supposedly ethnically self-governing people of “ethnic” federal states. The abusers come from other “ethnic” federal state, which is totally an unimaginable in true federal states.    
Ethiopia Cannot be a Model to Evaluate Pros and Cons of “Ethnic” or Linguistic Federalism
“Ethnic” federalism has never been practiced and implemented in Ethiopia. The TPLF-led regime worked for the last 27 years against the implementation of any form of self-determination and self-governance. Thus it’s absurd to talk about the pros and cons of “ethnic” federal political system of Ethiopia, which has never been implemented in practice. Evaluating the pros and cons of something without its practical implementation is very unscientific opinion; it is accepting TPLF’s propaganda. We cannot make conclusions about the pros and cons of “ethnic” federalism without observing its practical implementation-none of it, yet.
Then, What’s the Driving Force Ethnic Federalism Opposing Rhetoric?
There is absolute dominance of TPLF under the current political system of Ethiopia-al beit, the minor challenges put-up by nationalist elements of OPDO/ANDM now. It’s a matter of fact. There is no federalism. There is no ethnic group empowering ethnic federalism either. Of course, TPLF thugs capitalize on divide-and-rule. Yet, it never allowed ethnic groups to involve into some “ethnic” power, let alone self-empowering and self-administering entity without TPLF control. There is no power decentralization. Power is TPLF; TPLF is power! We all know it, including the non-existing “ethnic” federalism opposing rhetoric promoters.   
The so-called “ethnic” federalism has not prevented resources and people’s movements as some claim either. Even the known preachers of the ills of “ethnic” federalism are buying their retirement condos, houses, not in Bahir Dar and Gonder. They buy them in Finfinne, Bishoftu, Mojo, Adama, Awassa, etc. Oromos’ resources, including land, have been exploited by non-Oromos more than ever before under the current system. Most of the business owners in Oromia are not Oromos. Actually, the prominent Oromo business men/women have been chased away and left the country. Oromos have been evicted from their ancestral lands more than ever before, and the stolen lands have been mainly given to non-Oromos. And the internal colonization of Oromia by non-Oromos, particularly TPLF members and supporters, has reached areas other Ethiopian rulers have never reached in history. Crying wolf about the ills of the current political arrangement of “ethnic” federalism as curtailing resource and labor movement across different regions of Ethiopia is outright lie. Simply put, the criticism about “ethnic” federalism in Ethiopia only make sense if we look at it from the perspective of fear of empowered ethnic groups and fear of genuine linguistic or other identity-based political arrangement in the future. The ongoing rhetoric is purposely designed political expedience to score points. It’s not based on facts in Ethiopia.
We can also discuss the pros and cons of identity-based political arrangements (such as linguistic-based federalism) based on the experiences of countries that practiced and implemented identity-based federations. Surely, Ethiopia is not one of them yet. The center controls Ethiopia; Ethiopia is the center! 
*The writer can be reached at