Strengthening federalism in Ethiopia

Participants exchange ideas at the workshop in Ethiopia.

The Forum of Federations and Ethiopia’s Ministry of Federal Affairs recently organized a three-day workshop, titled Exploring Intergovernmental Relations.

The event took place in the city of Adama, Ethiopia, more than 100 kilometres southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa. The workshop is the first of its kind on this subject in Ethiopia.

The workshop included the participation of senior political figures and officials from eight of Ethiopia’s nine Regional State governments; the House of Federation and House of Peoplese’ Representatives; as well as various central government institutions (such as the Ministries of Finance, Education and Agriculture, the Civil Service Commission), Addis Ababa’s new Institute of Federalism, among others.

The overall approach of the workshop was to lead a process that would help the Ministry of Federal Affairs further develop Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) as part of the deepening of federalism in Ethiopia.

Photo: Ethiopia’s Minister of Federal Affairs, H.E. Siraj Figessa, addresses workshop participants.The event, held March 28-30, 2007, was opened by H.E. Siraj Figessa, the Minister of Federal Affairs. Mr. Figessa said in his welcoming address that he was ‘particularly happy to see that my Government has put the on the agenda strengthening of intergovernmental relations and thereby deepening of federalism in Ethiopia.

‘Given (the) lack of professionals in the field, however, external and domestic technical support is of paramount significance.’

The Forum’s Director for Africa, Shawn Houlihan, and Senior Associate, Norman Moyer, participated in the workshop as well as the Forum’s international resource persons, Dr B.K. Joshi, of India; and Dr. Jaap De Visser, of South Africa.

In addition to the international expertise from India and South Africa – there were also several presentations by Ethiopian experts, including one on the constitutional context, by Assefa Fiseha (PhD), and case studies of current practice (or lack thereof) of IGR in Ethiopia. Case studies included IGR practices for dealing with sectoral issues in agriculture and education, as well as fiscal federalism, managing conflict (based on a case from within the Southern region), and managing conflict and enhancing bilateral cooperation between two of Ethiopia’s states, Amhara and Benishengul-Gumaz. There was also a presentation on the political context of IGR in Ethiopia by the State Minister of Justice, H.E. Dr Hashim Tewfiq.

In the working sessions participants expressed their views on the strengths and weaknesses of Ethiopia’s IGR-related practices and institutions; on the relevance of South Africa’s and India’s experience to Ethiopia; on priorities for further developing IGR in Ethiopia; and on each participant’s plans for addressing IGR in their respective positions. The participants suggested a number of priorities for future programs by Ministry of Federal Affairs (MoFA) and the Forum, and included suggestions related to training, consultation, applied research and policy development. One subject area that emerged as a high priority for several participants was the field of managing conflict. In this regard the key questions are how enhanced intergovernmental relations can help address inevitable conflicts within a federal system, and how federations need to cooperate to manage conflict, including the small-scale inter-group conflicts that are endemic in many parts of Ethiopia.

It was clear to all the participants that the practice of IGR and its relationship to the practice and evolution of federalism in Ethiopia is just at a starting point, and account must also be taken of the informal practices that take place within the channels of the ruling party. The need for more training and dialogue on federalism were issues that were also raised by several participants. In the year ahead, the Forum plans to work with the MoFA and other stakeholders to follow up on some of the detailed recommendations and requests that came from the workshop.

One workshop participant observed that, ‘when I was first asked to participate, I didn’t know, what is this thing, intergovernmental relations’, and slowly I came to realize that though I didn’t know what it was, I was already practicing it.’

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