A Path for Creating an Inclusive Society

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      By Abdulfetah Mohammed Farah*

      It is widely uttered that Ethiopia is a nation of minorities, in the sense that at the federal level there is no particular ethnic group that forms a majority. However, there are some majority and minority ethnic groups at the regional state level.

      The Ethiopian federal system is designed for empowering territorially concentrated ethnic minorities. As a result, the major ethnonational groups have established their own regional states with their own constitutions and mandates. Some regional states are designed to the titular ethnic groups including Oromia, Amhara, Tigray, Afar, Somali, Harari, and recently Sidama. On the other hand, based on the consideration of politics, economic factors, settlement pattern, culture, and language, regional states with non-dominant groups such as Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Gambela National Regional States were established. However, after the introduction of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia, two types of minorities came into being: endogenous and exogenous minorities. In these regional states, endogenous and exogenous minorities exist with different manifestations.

      Meanwhile, Tsegaye’s article, entitled “Minority groups and the quest for socio-political inclusion in Ethiopia”, has pointed out some of the socio-political exclusion that endogenous, exogenous, and marginalized minorities face in Ethiopia. While acknowledging how well the article by Tsegaye explained the socio-political exclusion of minority groups, there are things overlooked in the article. Thus, this response intends not to argue but expand on the issue of minority groups in Ethiopia and to see it from another side.

      Promoting social inclusion of minorities in Ethiopia

      While still conforming to the categorization of minorities in Ethiopia given in the article I’m responding to, I like to expand and give emphasis on the greater need for an inclusive society in Ethiopia, particularly with endogenous and exogenous minorities in Ethiopia. To promote social inclusion initiative needs to take place on various fronts including social, economic, cultural, and political fronts at multiple levels with social inclusion strategies.

      In the case of the endogenous minorities, in the Ethiopian federal system, endogenous communities are allowed to establish self-government at regional or sub-regional levels, including at nationality zone and special woreda levels. Ethnic groups that have their own region exercise their right to participate in the regional government through the regional institutions and mostly the regional council and administration which are mostly dominated by the majority ethnic groups in the region.  Due to these, endogenous minorities most of the time face set back on the inclusion in the socio-economic and political participation in the wider decision-making processes at the regional level.

      At the national level, the Ethiopian federal system attempted to promote the inclusion of endogenous minorities to a broader extent in which opportunities of representation to all minorities at the federal level in the two Houses of Parliament have been provided in different ways. The representation of all nations, nationalities, and peoples in the House of Federation (the Upper House) is provided in which they can participate in the legislation and the policy formulation and implementation processes of the federal government. Under the FDRE Constitution, the second mechanism for minority representation at the federal level is the representation of minority nationalities in the House of Peoples Representatives (HPR); the Constitution states that minority nationalities and peoples shall have at least 20 seats in the HPR.

      While these are steps in the right direction, for promoting inclusion of endogenous minorities, more accommodation of their economic, social, cultural, religious, and political concerns is needed from policy-makers in both at the regional and national level. Political inclusion of all members of society, in the form of popular participation in decision-making processes and policy formulation, is a central aspect of promoting social inclusion and should be sought for in all aspects of endogenous minorities in the country.

      On the other hand, the issue of the exogenous minority groups is further complicated with ethnic federalism and its institutionalization of self-determination of endogenous groups within their territory as many exogenous minorities inhabit those territories along with the endogenous groups. Many exogenous communities live in each regional state as a result of historical phenomena of multi-directional population movements. However, some states exclude the existence and recognition of these communities, others recognize without representation. Yet, the exogenous minorities are often victims of discrimination, injustice, and social exclusion at the wider social platforms while having little or no participation, influence, or communication with the processes of decision-making in their society.

      In recent times we have observed the emergence of tension in our federal system in which tensions arose between the balance of self-rule for various endogenous ethnic groups and the need to promote free movement of labor and capital to the exogenous ethnic groups. Eviction and exclusion of exogenous ethnic groups are prevalent in Oromia, SNNPRS, Gambela, Benishangul-Gumuz, Amhara, Somali, etc., which threaten the statehood of the country.

      For promoting social inclusion, the opportunity for everyone to participate and engage in decision-making processes is vital. Political inclusion entails that each social group has a say in decisions that affect its life. Regional state governments can do a lot to promote a vision of political, social, and economic inclusion through their own functioning. For example, having representatives in government from all segments of the population may provide one way of creating a diverse and representative government. Other conduits for increased political participation may include diverse members of society’s access to and participation in policy formation.

      A potential path forward for social inclusion

      Creating an inclusive society is a multi-dimensional process that can be realized only with the efforts of the state and its people in ensuring equal opportunities for every member of the society in all aspects of life including civic, social, economic, and political activities, as well as participation in decision-making processes.

      For a long time, many works had highlighted different measures for promoting social inclusion of minorities and in my writing, I have stressed and given the emphasis on three paths forward. These are preserving the human rights of minority groups, political safeguarding of minority rights, and promoting complementary measures of power-sharing and/or non-territorial autonomy.

      To promote social inclusion of exogenous and endogenous minorities, it is important to preserve the minorities’ rights and rights of individual citizens in the federal constitution, in state constitutions and then enforce it through institutional mechanisms including strong courts.

      With this regard, there are some signs of progress and steps in the right direction particularly indicated in Chapter Two (Articles 8-12) and Three of the Ethiopian Federal constitution. Yet, they are least enforced and there is a little political will to enforce civil and political freedoms. Therefore, to promote social inclusion of minorities, it is crucial to have impartial and independent institutions as well as strong institutional protection and enforcement of human rights of all citizens particularly minority groups in the country.

      The second measure is to empower the federal government to serve as a guardian for endogenous and exogenous minorities against possible repression and discrimination by the titular ethnonational majority. While the federal and constituent-unit constitutions may ensure the rights of endogenous and exogenous minorities, the challenge is that the titular ethnonational group that dominates the political institutions often lacks the political will and the incentive to enforce such rights.

      Finally, the other way out is power-sharing and/or non-territorial autonomy. Where there are issues of severe exclusion of minorities, power-sharing and/or non-territorial autonomy can be a way out for the exclusion of minorities. In power-sharing arrangement can ensure social inclusion of minorities in which sharing power and territorial space with titular ethnonational groups can be seen as a shared, common good, whereas, in non-territorial autonomy minorities also can have political and cultural space while the titular ethnonational group continues to enjoy self-rule.

      * Abdulfetah Mohammed Farah is Lecturer at Jigjiga University. 

      Publisher’s Note: This contribution is part of a series of stories CARD publishes to encourage intellectual discourse among the youth in Ethiopia. If you want to make contributions or respond to this particular piece, please email your draft to us via info@cardeth.org.

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