Last week, Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was visiting the Ethio-Somali state. The President flew to Jigjiga's Garad Wilwal Airport, Jigjiga, and visited regional institutions and development projects accompanied by the Chief Administrator of the Somali Regional State, Abdi Mohamud Umer.
After observing the federal experience and successes the Ethiopian Somali Regional State has witnessed in the areas of peace, development, and good governance, the president attested that Ethiopia's federalism and governance structure is a model to other countries.
Indeed, the president of Somalia was not the first person to attest the vibrancy of Ethiopia's federalism. Not long ago, Rupak Chattopadhyay, President of the Forum of Federations, observed:
"Ethiopian federalism is one of the exciting innovations in federal governance in recent decades - one that is proving to be a major success on many fronts, not least of which have been the sustained high levels of economic growth and the unprecedented levels of peace and stability since starting the process of decentralization in 1991 and becoming federal in 1995".
Indeed, Ethiopia's democratic federal system delivered not only peace and development but also guaranteed the national identity of the people of the Ethiopian Somali. His Excellency Abdi Mohamed, Ethiopian Somali State President, expounded the benefits of Ethiopia's multinational federal system for the peoples of Somali a few years ago, as following.
In general, the federal system provides the peoples of Ethiopia with equal rights. At first, many with skepticism saw the introduction of the federal system in Ethiopia. If we want to see what the Ethiopian Somali people benefited from the federal system, it is through the federal system that they are recognized as a people. Somali becomes Somali at the day when the federal system has been put in place. It was in the day when the Somalis are guaranteed to be Ethiopians and that the right to self-governance was assured. And it is the day Somalis exercised the right to self-govern.
It had been difficult to think among the Somalis that those who are elected by the people would govern their own State. In fact, it was difficult to think that as those who govern Jigjiga used to be appointed directly from Addis Ababa. Indeed, it was unlikely for people to choose their own administrators from Kebele to woreda levels in previous times.
Federalism for the Somali people is a matter of survival. It once again enabled Ethiopia to be united. The reality on the ground shows federalism has ensured the interest of the Somali State more than anywhere else. Yesterday, Ethiopian Somalis had been suppressed be-cause of their culture, identity, language and religion. The situations in Somali State and other States in Ethiopia were different. Mostly the Somali State shares borders with the governments of the Somalia. The people see what is going on in the neighbouring States and vice versa. This means, it is clear to see that they are practicing self governance. It is also clear to see they have State government. This means those who make the decision regarding the affairs of the Somali are Somalis.
Thus, the benefit of the federalism system to the peoples of the Somali is that the Somalis have their own share in the unity of Ethiopia on the basis of the people’s consent. For instance, the Ethiopian Somali has its own share on the decision to make Amharic the working language of the country. By this, the federal system is the expression of the decision of the Ethiopian Somali.
This means federalism is a decision made from the bottom to the top. This is an expression of the fact that the federal government is formed by the States. Those who are forming the federal government are elected in our States. It is not those who are elected by the federal government who are forming the States. Thus, this means that we are the owners of the Federal system and government.
Indeed, the Constitution sets up a federal system granting all ethnic groups the right to self-determination. Regional governments decide on the matters concerning their territory and people whom they are representing. All regions have democratically elected parliaments and governments being accountable to the parliaments and therefore the people. The decentralization down to district level further strengthened this trend.
Today, development programs are locally decided and make citizens not only to beneficiaries of services, infrastructure and improved living conditions, but also to decision-makers. The citizens actively participate through local councils and again in the implementation process.
Almost half of the adult population is represented in the locally established councils which are elected in free and fair elections for five-year terms. This high level of ownership is manifested in high satisfaction levels regarding services.
However, this does not mean Ethiopia's federalism is perfect. There are challenges. One of there is that due to various historical factors, the regions are not on the same footing. While all are given the full constitutional right to develop, there are visible differences in their executive capacity to fully utilize their potentials.
Therefore, to make sure all benefit from the opportunity for development, the federal government, with its central leadership role, supports the regions in various ways in building their capacities.
As constitution states, the federal government supports the regions that suffer from lack of executive capacity. There are also efforts underway that are aimed at ensuring equitable and fair growth in all areas.
With effective implementation of these principles, all regions will get the opportunity to grow equally. However, regions that do not have the capacity to grow like others receive support from the federal government. This, in due course; will create the condition for all to grow equally.
Indeed, the Ethiopian federal experiment is growing stronger every day. Ethio-Somali region is a showcase for that.