Roadmap for Transition and Constitutional Making in Ethiopia; Reflection on the Third Vision Ethiopia Conference.

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vision-of-ethiopia-satenaw-news-1-1I, undersigned, am an Ethiopian citizen who has seen only the current regime and has no idea about the past except those written in history books.
As an Ethiopian who is concerned about the future of his country, I was able to participate on the third, October 22-23, 2016, conference organized by Vision Ethiopia, a non partisan and “neutral” institution working to set roadmap foundation for transition and constitutional making in Ethiopia. I am very happy that I got the opportunity to be part of this conference and privileged to personally meet some of Ethiopian renowned scholars.
The conference provided a forum for discussion and brought different ideas on the table. Different politicians, activists and religious leaders have mad speeches, and renowned scholars have presented their research papers concerning the political future of the country. The overall atmosphere of the event was very interesting and I am glad to be part of this once-in-a-life time opportunity.
Nevertheless, as an individual belonging to the new generation, I have the following concerns on the conference in general and the papers presented in particular.
I. Conference
1. Composition of the conference
The conference was composed only of the 1960-70 generations. It didn’t include the new generation especially the 1990s and nor did it even consider the societal changes and thoughts of this generation. In fact, I was the only participant who appear to be from the new generation. The new generation must be active in politics and committed to participate on such conferences with national importance.
TPLF/EPDRF has always been working on this generation as part of its divided and rule strategy. Instead of tolerance and celebrating diversity, the regime has taught this generation to magnify religious and ethnic differences and live in bigotry. As is obviously for those who use social media, most youngsters are fiercely dehumanizing one another which reveals the vernersblity of country for genocide and ethnic cleansing. So, in providing a roadmap for transition, and thereby prevent potential conflict, at most effort shall be exerted to include individuals from this generation.
In addition, the prospective of 1960s elites towards Ethiopia is pretty much different from the new generation. Obviously, the generation who used to live in one flag and think only of Ethiopianism will not think similar to current generation living under ten different flags. Almost all of the 1960s elites oppose ethnic based federalism, yet a considerable numbers of individuals from the new generation are pro- ethnic based federalism . In addition, the same view point difference exists on the principle of secularism and the role of religion in politics. So, in any forum addressing the potential problems in the post- TPLF/EPDRF Ethiopia, these view point differences should always be consider and put on the table for discussion.
2. Procedures of the conference
The conference did not give enough time for participants to question and challenge the very validity of the assertions made by the presenters. Nor did it allow us to add points that are missed by the presenters. Yet, the development of the roadmap requires active engagement and contribution of all the participants. Not only the few presenters, but also the participants of the conference should be given the opportunity to reflect on the ideas brought for discussion. Otherwise, the participants presence would be meaningless for they could watch the presentation of the scholars live from home.
The organizers did not give emphasis on this and no time even allotted for discussion in the schedule. Sometimes, when individuals, including me, insisted to ask questions, they just allow only one or two individuals to ask their questions in a minute. Given the significance of the conference and considering the complex nature of the ideas presented therein, the one question in a minute restriction is equal to prohibiting participants not to ask questions Accordingly, adequate time for question and discussion must be allotted for the future.
II. Papers Presented
1. Federalism and ownership of Land
Mr. Muluneh Eyole of patriotic Ginobot 7 was one of the presenters. In his presentation, he addressed the existing problems in Ethiopia. Anticipating the immediate downfall of TPLF/EPDRF, he forwarded recommendations for post- TPLF/EPDRF Ethiopia. He argued that post-TPLF / EPDRF must follow a federal form of overnment structure. Addressing the possibility of ethnic based federalism, he appeared to suggest the mixture of ethnic and geographic federalism for the post-TPLF/EPDRF Ethiopia. In particular, he said that deciding the base on which the regional states to be demarcated shall be left the consent of nation and nationalities of Ethiopia. I am a strong fan of public participation and value the consent of the people. My question is, however, related to the pragmatic applicability this mixed approach.
Currently, almost all of nation and nationalities of Ethiopia are demanding to have self-rule and exercise the right to self-determination. So also, all of the existing the Regional State except, probably, Amhara will need to maintain their regional autonomy. How will this be different from the existing federal structure except having 80+ regional states? Nothing! Like Mr. Muluneh’s proposal, EPDRF has demarcated the regional states of the country not only based on ethnicity but also geographic and other considerations. I believe federalism in general and ethnic based federalism in particular is very complex government structure. It is an experiment which needs much research and learning the experience of other country. Instead of looking for a middle ground to encompass the Oromos on his party, as he later confessed, I urge Mr. Muluneh to make more researches on the issue and look at the experience of other country or leave the matter for constitutional expertise.
Apart from this, he also forwarded a recommendation to vest the legislative power of the ownership on the states. He argued that land legislation shall be an exclusive power of the regional states. In this recommendation, I found Mr. Muluneh, an Economist in profession as he said, forgetting land is a national policy that divided the world into two major ideologies, i.e. socialism and capitalism political economy. Land is one of the most important means of production that requires a nation wide uniform land policy, recognizing either private or state ownership, the implementation of which is a sine qua non for creating one economic community. If so, how this will be achieve if we have different land policy in one country? In addition, remembering the significance of the moto “Land to the Tiller” in the 1960s Ethiopia students movement, and being cognizant to the absence tenure security the existing state ownership of land, I really wondered why Mr. Muluneh failed to propose a nation wide land policy which recognize private ownerships of land.
2. The existing and Post TPLF/ EPDRF Constitution
As the title of the conference, “constitutional making”, implies, constitution is one of the fundamental theme of the conference. Hence, various constitutional related scholarly papers were presented by constitutional experts. Considering the 1995 FDRE constitution as TPLF constitution, all of the scholars denied legitimacy for the existing constitution. Moreover, emphasizing the complete destruction of the existing constitution, they – in common- recommended the adoption of a new, all inclusive, constitution for the post- TPLF/EPDRF Ethiopia.
Specifically, as recommended by professor Getachew Metaferia, the new constitution shall follow federal structure and clearly allocate the federal and state powers. It shall recognize and grant fundamental rights. It shall maintain separation of power between the three governmental organs, i.e. the legislative, executive and judiciary, and ensure accountability by installing check and balance. In addition, Prof. Getachew added that the new constitution shall establish neutral organs like election board, Human Rights Commission and Ombudsman along with non partisan and all inclusive national military force.
Looking these recommendations in light with the existing, as they call it, TPLF constitution, one may find most of the recommendations incorporated in the constitution. The FDRE constitution has recognized federal form of government and allocated the power of federal and state government. It vividly give an exclusive residual powers for states after enumerating the powers of the federal government. In addition, one chapter, chapter three, is devoted for human rights recognizing the so called three generation rights, i.e. 1. Civil and Political Rights, 2. Socio-economic and Cultural Rights, and 3. Development and environmental rights. The constitution has also mentioned horizontal separation of power between the three organs of government and recognized independent of judiciary. The same goes to the organs and national military force.
Indeed, the pragmatic applicability of these constitutional principles is far from the theory. It’s the usual practice of the federal government to usurp the power of the states. The power of TPLF/EPDRF regime is not limited, it arbitrary restrict and violate all the rights recognized in the constitution. While the constitution contemplates strict separation of power, the regime totally controls the three organs of the government which adversely affect the very essence of rule of law and independent of the judiciary. The organs like electoral board, Human rights commission and Ombudsman are neither neutral nor have adequate power. And, as we all know the military, being under the monopoly of TPLF generals, is a partisan military force accountable only to the TPLF/ EPDRF thugs. If that is the case, why did not Prof. Getachew and other scholars proposed the pragmatic applicability of the rules of the constitution instead of its the complete destruction?
Most constitutional scholars and students are of the opinion that the existing constitution is one the right track, but enduring from constitutional and extra-constitutional deficiencies. While Some Scholars consider the absence of pragmatic applicability of the rules of constitutional as the sole constitutional problem and recommend its strict applicability as solution, others like Dr. Assefa attributed the constitutional problems of Ethiopia both to the constitution itself and it’s application. Identifying the absence of judicial review, the composition of the HOF, the bases for the formation of regional states, absence of constitutionally recognized federal Institutions, constitutional absurdity on the devolution legislative, executive, judiciary and taxation power between the federal and states and so on as constitutional problems, he recommended the amendments of the constitution. In addition, others like Dr. Adem considering the constitution as the challenge for political diversity, he recommended comprehensive electoral reform with the amendment of the “first past the post” system recognized in constitution. Moreover, he also consider the constitution as a foundation for the prevalence of rule by law, as opposed to rule of law, in the country.
Accordingly, the problem of the papers presented on the conference is that they did not reflect on those agreements. In other words, neither they show why pragmatic applicability of the rules of the constitution and it’s amendment can not be the solutions, nor they indicate the reasons why they opt the complete destruction of the constitution as solution for post-TPLF/EPDRF regime. I believe the scholars have missed a big opportunity to convince the majority of constitutional students why their position is right and why the TPLF/EPDRF constitution should not be given any legitimacy.
In relation to this, one of the Professors has identified three possibilities of regime change in Ethiopia, i.e. coup d’é•tat, peaceful transition and armed struggle. In his presentation, he preferred the peaceful transition of power from TPLF/FDRE to the people where all, including the regime, political parties and oppositions in the country and living in exile would form a transitional government. If this the most plausible scenario, how would the complete destruction of the constitution be possible? Will it not be amendment of the constitution the more likely scenario?
3. Amhara Nationalism
Amhara nationalism was the other debatable issue on the conference. Most of the 1960s and 1970s participants were not happy about Amhara nationalism. Most individuals from the unity and Patriotic Ginobot 7 force were also concerned about the move to organize Amhara. The presenter explicitly made it clear that strong Amhara organization is necessary not for Amharas’ self-determination or secession but its survival ship.
One of the presenter, Mr. Gizaw Legese has said that Amhara nationalism is an implication of surrendering one self to the Melse Zenawi, confirming his ‘divided rule’ strategy as a winning ideology. In fact, Mr. Gizaw had not been asked about this question and nor was there any relevant point in his presentation which would gave him a reasonable ground to reflect on Amhara Nationalism. As I suspect, his reaction was intentionally meant to indicate his opposition to the very idea of Amhara nationalism. But, why did he and his generation consider the Amhara nationalism as a sin? Given the existing tribalism and the absence of any organ that will protect the interest of Amhara, isn’t it Amhara nationalism proper? Like other ethnic groups organized in their respective nations, isn’t it proper for Amharas to organize themselves?
If the fear is about undermining Ethiopian Unity, Amhara nationalism will not have any effect as clear indicated by the presenter. Moreover, if the expected change comes in either of the aforementioned three possibilities, the need for strong Amhara organization with the required bargaining power is indispensable for protecting the interests of Amhara on the post- TPLF/ EPDRF Ethiopia.
Mahemud E. Tekuya