Comparative Analysis of Intergovernmental Relations in Ethiopia

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2015

13 Pages



Long struggle of nation, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia against the military junta of Derg regime brought the coming power of Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (here after EPRDF). The 1991 was a historic period in the history of the country that transferred from unitary system of government to Federal system of government. The introduction of defacto-federalism in the transitional charter provides the right to self­determination up to and including secession as well as led the foundation for vertical, horizontal and normative relationships besides cooperation.

The promulgation of 1995 constitution gives a ground base of dejure federalism by providing powers to nations, nationalities and peoples as ultimate power this constitution 9 regional states are identified with their own sovereignty and administrative arrangements and they shall establish their own smallest administrative units as enshrined in Article 50(4) of FDRE constitution. The other issue that we discussed in this constitution is that the absence of formal intergovernmental relations/cooperation among federal government and regional states vertically, between regional states and within local governments horizontally. The absence of formal vertical and horizontal relationships does not mean that no relation at all. Relations through sectorial base, party channels and through institutions are held informally. Intergovernmental relations are one of the pillars for most federal states and unitary governments to facilitate their socio-economic and political as well as cultural some federal states IGR has a constitutional base and formal way of interaction is ensured; other states made it informal and has no constitutional background to conduct their the following discussions, the Ethiopian intergovernmental relations are comparatively analysed based on the main points of forms of government, constitutional accommodation of diversity, the party systems that introduced after 1991 and party channels, roles of professionals in IGR, peoples involvement in IGR, institutional mechanisms of IGR, formalization and informalization of IGR in Ethiopian context and finally comparative lessons of conclusion are discussed.

Definition of Intergovernmental Relations

Different scholars define intergovernmental relations according to the structure of the state that the state followed and the type of government that ruled the people. Another basic base of definition given for IGR is the identification of tiers of government in the constitution. Most federal states identified tiers of government as two or three through formally and informally either in the constitution or in other legal documents. This identification of tiers of government in the constitution and other legal basis helps states to design IGR both vertically and horizontally to meet the desired objectives that their policy documents illustrate. Based on the above explanations IGR has the following definitions;

- Intergovernmental relations are the subjects of how our different governments deal with each other and what their relative roles, responsibilities, and levels of influence are and should be (R. Agranoff, 2001).
- Even though the supreme written constitution divided legislative, executive, judicial and financial powers between the tiers of governments in the form of exclusive, shared or residual powers, it is impossible to delineate clearly, because different powers needs to share something in common as a federation in promoting unity without neglecting the self-rule aspect of federalism (Ronald Watts (1996) as cited by Assefa Fisseha IGR (2009). A mere existence of constitutionally well-established division of power among the levels of governments does not signify that there are no overlaps, interdependency and interaction between spheres of governments(Dessalegn,2014:17)
- It also refers to the overall system that evolves over time, which is made up be a myriad of forces including, on the one hand, day-to-day informal, non-legally binding conventions and, on the other hand, a very complex web of purpose-specific or broad legal, financial and administrative agreements, planning and budgeting systems, legislation, periodic meetings of experts and policy or law makers, court decisions, etc. (Atos consulting, 2012:15).
- IGR focuses on how different orders of government in federal political systems communicate and collaborate with each other. It encompasses the entire complex and interdependent relations among various spheres of government in legal, financial and administrative matters and policy coordination (Nigussie, 2015:341-342).

From the above definitions and explanations given by different scholars, writers and institutions, IGR is about the relations of different tiers of government both vertically and horizontally on the basis of formal and informal interdependent in terms of legal, financial, administrative, political and other policy coordination to meet a prescribed set of objectives in a certain state.

IGR in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has gone through several regime changes. Those regimes were claimed by many as very authoritarian and centralized until the government has decided to adopt federal form of government based on nations, nationalities and peoples, in 1991 after the overthrow of the military junta (Fasil, 1997:9). Since then the new political restructured the state on federal systems with a considerable emphasis on the right of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples as the fundamental principle.

Within the new federal structure, the different multicultural elements are reflected in the state members. Nine constituent states are organized under the federal constitution based on settlement patterns, language, identity, and consent (Dessalegn, 2014:61-62)

It is argued elsewhere that the motives and the initial mind set in setting up a federal arrangement in Ethiopia is to give sufficient politico-economic autonomy for the diverse nationalities through decentralized governance. As the constitution precisely pronounces, ‘... adequate power shall be granted to the lowest units of government to enable the people to participate directly in the administration of such units’ (Art 50(4) of FDRE con). The principle of ethnic self-determination including and up to secession adopted in Ethiopia by the EPRDF regime as the central aspect of the Ethiopian transition was a major departure from the established disposition of post-colonial African states thereby posing a threat to the cherished values and norms of the ‘nation-state’ that is, maintaining territorial integrity and undivided sovereignty.

The adoption of federalism in Ethiopia appears to have been motivated by the problem of finding an appropriate state structure that could be used as an instrument of managing the complex ethno-linguistic diversity for the country and reducing conflicts (Dessalegn, 2014:62).

Prior to 1991, the notion of intergovernmental relation and cooperation is minimal as well as the establishment of administrative units as a key actor for intergovernmental relation was insignificant rather established unconstitutionally for the purpose of administrative significance for the ruling class/elite. The promulgation of 1995 constitution laid down for the foundation of two tier of government formally and ambiguous formation of third tier of government for both ethnic based government (Article 39(3)) and regular local government (Article 50(4)) which are part of components for intergovernmental relations both horizontally and vertically.

The constitution and other subsidiary laws of Ethiopia are silent concerning intergovernmental relations especially when viewed on its horizontal standpoint. IGR is less treated subject in the federal arrangement of Ethiopia. Slightly addressed matters as regards of intergovernmental relations at least constitutionally, though strongly related to vertical IGR, are issues of fiscal intergovernmental relations and conflict resolution mechanisms (FDRE constitution art 94). That is why writers on Ethiopian federalism considered IGR as the least developed and the least understood dimension of federalism partly due to youngest nature of federal system and partly due to the existence of highly centralized political culture (Assefa, 2011). Still we can add the less attention given during constitutional making as to how the respective levels of governments can cooperate, coordinate and integrate in the discharge of their functions as another contributing factor it’s a lesser level of development. Interrelation is inevitable in federations, thus in the absence of such laws governing the issue, there are agreements between states within the federation especially among neighbouring states, to perform their constitutionally granted rights and responsibilities.

System/Form of government and IGR in Ethiopia

In federations with parliamentary systems where the predominant role of governmental executives in intergovernmental relations are visible, the institutions and processes for intergovernmental relations usually develop pragmatically rather than by constitutional requirement (Assefa, 2009:111). In Ethiopia too, the institutions and processes for intergovernmental relations have been more or less similar to federations with parliamentary systems (Assefa, 2009:111). They involve direct communications between the concerned functionaries of federal and regional governments. The various ministries of the federal government have direct and close contact with their corresponding bureaus in regional governments. This close link and interdependence is imperative to carry out their respective responsibilities effectively and in a coordinated manner. It also enhances the capacity of the regional governmental institutions, which compared to the federal government institutions; suffer from lack of adequate human and material resources.

Ad hoc mechanisms of intergovernmental relations among different levels of government are conducted in Ethiopia. These include conferences, advisory ad hoc bodies, exchange of personal and technical experts, or personal exchange of information between authorities of the levels of governments (Solomon, 2002: 104). These interactions reveal the inevitability of intergovernmental relations between the federal and regional governments so as to ensure smooth and efficient application of powers and responsibilities.

Diversity and IGR

The 1995 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (hereinafter FDRE Constitution) begins in its preamble with the recognition of the Ethiopian polity as a composition of Nation, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia. It is clearly discernible in its wording “we, the Nation, Nationality and Peoples of Ethiopia.” This expression hints to the recognition of Ethiopia as the land of Nation, Nationality and Peoples and with that implicitly as the land of minorities, in whatever criteria minority may be defined in the Ethiopian context. This normative framework is seen by some scholars to be a clear commitment to a plural-national polity and a clear departure from a single ethnic based domination of one cultural group over the others ( Asefa, 2007; Tronvoll, 2000).

What makes the Ethiopian federalism unique from other federal experiences is its express permission for every nation, nationality and people of Ethiopia to have an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession (Art 39(1) of the FDRE constitution) After recognizing Ethiopia as a multi-ethnic state, and affirms that the Ethiopian peoples, in full and free exercise of their right to self-determination, it also emphasizes their commitment and wish to build ‘‘one political community’’ and ‘‘one economic community’’ based on their ‘‘common interests, common outlook and common destiny (The preamble of FDRE constitution).

On the contrary, Merara views the normative framework as a political game based on ethnically divide and rule, to legitimatize the incumbent governing IGR party (Merara, 2007). But, the normative recognition of the Ethiopian polity as a multi-ethnic/national polity is a necessary first step towards the protection of minority rights.

The 1995 constitution recognized diversity and the ultimate power holders of the constitutions are the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia and these nations, nationalities and peoples form their own ethnic administrative units of governments at local, zonal and regional(oromia,Somali and Afar) level under Article 39(3) of FDRE constitution. These levels of government on one hand accommodate diversity and on the other hand contribute for intergovernmental relations. But it does not mean that the FDRE constitution alleviate the problem of diversity at all. Some of the problems associated with accommodating diversity of minorities in Ethiopia are (Assefa 2013:134-135):

- Some states didn’t recognize the existence of minorities in their constitution and these minorities did not enjoy their collective rights.
- Some regional states recognise the existence of group-based minorities within their boundaries, but do not grant minority’s local self- government.
- The establishment of Harari by the Harar indigenous minorities by political exclusion of majority oromo and other non-indigenous peoples are also the other threat of accommodation of diversity and affect IGR negatively.
- The inability practice of Federal government to reach an acceptable formula for power and resource sharing among the indigenous ethnic groups on one hand and among indigenous and highland residents on the other hand cause tension in Gambella and BG.

Therefore, to have effective IGR, accommodation of diversity for both territorially organized and non-territorially dispersed individuals are basic and important. From the above contesting ideas, there is no agreed standpoint on the basis of establishment of ethnic groups. But the recognition of diversity in the constitution and other legal documents is mandatory to reduce conflict and tension among diverse communities in relation to foster socio-economic development within a state.

Party System versus Intergovernmental Relations

In full-fledged democracies, political parties compete to assume state power. The structure of political parties, and their internal practices, policies and pattern of interaction can affect the workings of federations (Simon, 2004:99). These factors can have a profound impact upon the functioning of federations. For instance, centralized parties tend to centralize political power and decision-making and may create trends against the division of power in federations (Lucy R, 1985:56). By the same token, if splintered parties rule the regional states or if region-based parties are very strong, it poses a challenge in the management of a federation (Anderson, 2010:51)

The structure of the system of political parties is what encourages or discourages the maintenance of the federal bargaining (Riker, 1964:56). The implication of this argument is that different forms of intergovernmental interactions may be desirable depending on the political structure of the country. This is not without reason; the experience of intergovernmental relations in various federal systems points to the existence of a great variety of arrangements. Thus the argument is that, intergovernmental relations can be facilitated through different channels, structure and processes (Watts, 1996 :24). Party system and party channel among other things, are among the various mechanisms. For such a situation to exist there must be one effectively organized and highly disciplined party that controls all levels of government: both at federal and the regions (Assefa , 2006:369).

The nature of political parties and their internal working procedures has an impact on the working of a federation. If one homogeneous party controls both levels of government, there would be no occasion for intergovernmental conflicts (Assefa , 2006:369). But, in majority of the federations, it is usually unlikely that there would be one party dominating both levels of government for a long period of time. On the other hand, if diverse parties are in control of the different levels, we can expect high level of intergovernmental conflicts and competition.


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Comparative Analysis of Intergovernmental Relations in Ethiopia
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Introgovernmental relation, diversity, Ehopia, Derg regime, Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front
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Melese Chekol (Author), 2015, Comparative Analysis of Intergovernmental Relations in Ethiopia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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