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Ethiopian Federalism

From All Ethiopians Discussion List
Selam Anatoly and all,

Sorry for being late to respond to your questions. I think that you have raised a number of interesting questions. I will try to answer some of them as I understand. You wrote, "Do the Ethnic States (Republics?) have their own constitutions and do their laws supersede the Federal laws and when?". The regional states have their own constitution. I have seen myself one and I have read that all of them have their respective constitution. As to your second question, I have not yet made a study whether the laws of the regional states supersede the federal law. What I have come to understand is that the Constitution gives much power to the regional states, as I will try to explain below.

1. Power given to Regional States Collectively The regional states are granted the status of a nation. They are given self-determination up to secession. Self-determination is broadly understood to mean as the use and development of one's language, culture, history and administrative structure. Beyond the "unrestricted right to administer itself", self-determination also includes proportional representation at federal organs as is stipulated in Article 39(3) of the constitution". In order to resolve conflicting claims over representation, territory and resource, the constitution has created a kind of an upper chamber called the House of Federation whose members are elected by State Councils. The ethnic groups are represented at this institute. This House is composed of "representatives of nations, nationalities and people" at least one for each of them, plus an additional member for nation or nationality for each one million of its population". Ethnical conflicts and boarder disputes are referred to the House of Federation. This body has the role of supreme interpretation of the constitution and resolving key question of the nationalities/ethnic groups.

2. Legislative and Executive Powers Given to the Regional States Individually

The regional states have their respective autonomous governments set up under proclamation No. 7/1992. Each regional government includes a State Council (the highest organ of state authority) and a State Administration (highest organ of executive power). The State Council is the highest political authority: it defines the region's policy and has all legislative, executive and judiciary powers regarding the region, except for those under the responsibility of the central government, such as defence, foreign affairs, economic policy etc. The State Council plans, approves, heads and controls economic and social development programmes. It drafts, approves and manages the regional budget. The State Administration is the highest executive authority of regional government. It is elected by the State Council and includes 15 Executive Committee members. The State Administration enforces as appropriate the policies, proclamations, regulations, plans, guidelines and decisions of the central government and of the State Council. It manages co-ordinates and supervises the activities of regional offices, zone administration offices and Weredas (district) offices. It drafts and submits economic and social projects to the State Council for approval, and manages the projects once they have been approved. It drafts the region's budget, submits it for approval to the State Council and manages the budget once approved.

At the broadest level, the general principle underlying the allocation of authority and legislative responsibility in federal systems has been that matters of common interest and concern to the country as a whole should be assigned to the federal government, and matters of a decidedly regional or local character should be assigned to the regional governments. In actual fact, however, there is a weak federal executive power whose relationship with the regional governments is not yet clearly co-ordinated. Constitutionally, the federal government is not effectively centralized through presidentialism. The president has a symbolic role. The federal executive power is vested in the Prime Minister and in the Council of Ministers which are politically accountable to the House of Peoples' Representatives in all the decisions it adopts (Art. 76). As enshrined in Article 77 of the Constitution, the Council of Ministers among others, ensures implementation of laws, and decisions adopted by the Federal Parliament, decided organizational structure of Ministries and other Federal Parliament, decided on organizational structures of Ministries and other organs of government responsible to it, co-ordinates the activities of organs of government, discusses and refers draft proclamations to the Lower House, and decides on the general socio-economic and political strategies the country should pursue.

State Councils of the regions are also responsible for appointment of the highest executives in charge of the various organs of State. The respective constitution of the various regional states stipulates that the State Councils are entrusted with the power of forming the Executive Committee, which is the highest state-level executive organ. Given the Federal Constitution's lucid statement of the powers and functions of States in Article 52, state executive bodies are responsible for the execution of laws, policies and strategies falling within their jurisdiction. These include administering land and other natural resources in keeping with Federal laws, formulating and execution economic, social and development policies, strategies and plans of the state in question.

Consequently, health, security, and agricultural development and similar other matters seriously demand that the pertinent Federal and State executive organs work in close collaboration. There could be contexts where the common decisions of the two become vital to ensure maximum benefits in a particular area. But there is a weak exchange of information between the two levels. Under such circumstances, it is possible that the regional states can only issue and enforce their own laws not that of the federal government.

3. Residual Power Given to the States Most important factor which underlines the further autonomy of the regional states is the assigning of residual power. The Federal Constitution as stipulating in Article 52(1) that "All powers not given expressly to the Federal Government alone, or concurrently to the Federal Government and States are reserved to the States". Accordingly, any residual power unspecified in the constitution is left for the States. It thus allocates residual authority to the constituent units. The significance of the residual power is that the regional states can exercise legislative power over matters not specified in the constitution.

The above three points suggest to me that the relationship between the federal government and the regional states is asymmetrical, even though they are in principle considered to be equal. Nonetheless, the financial and manpower resources of the regions are very limited. The revenue base of the regions is not that productive and expansive. Currently, they are dependent on federal fund, particularly for capital budget. They are not yet economically strong to claim their laws supersede that of the federal law. According to the constitution, they are given all the power to develop their region.

May I conclude my discussion by asking a question. How can the States develop their region considering the power given to them?


Fekremariam Abebe

Any and all quotations of, or references to, these articles must cite Fekremariam Abebe.