Back to Front Page

Changing the FDRE Constitution: Whose interest is to be served?

Changing the FDRE Constitution: Whose interest is to be served?


Yohannes Aberra, PhD 7-22-19


The Constitution of the most powerful and the most surefooted democracy in the world was written by a handful of self-appointed individuals adoringly known as “The Founding Fathers”. The US Constitution had addressed the most fundamental of human and civil rights; but it also left several holes open that were taken care of for the last 200 years as amendments and annulments. In spite of such near perfect legislative atmosphere one witnesses glaring violations of rights of minorities and people of color. Gun violence and the death of innocent civilians and some cases of police brutality are surprisingly common.

The point of argument that the more people participate in writing the constitution the better it becomes does not hold water. Writing a constitution is not for any layman/woman; it is a sphere for the knowledgeable. Whoever wrote a constitution the question that has to be asked is whether or not it is the best possible solution to social, political, economic problems or not!? A constitution does not become invalid because some group of people, however significant in number they are, did not participate in drafting it. Most of the content of constitutions is based on jurisprudence and the fundamental principles of the rights and duties of any citizen in any country.

Videos From Around The World

In Ethiopia the bulk of the content of the current FDRE constitution constitutes the universal principles of rights and duties of citizens. So dumping the Constitution as worthless is meaningless. No doubt there are articles that pertain to the administrative setup of the Country which are debatable. Everyone is entitled to their opinions on the articles; but claiming that one’s own opinion is more valid than those of others is typically tyrannical. The spatial administrative component of the FDRE Constitution is based on the conviction that in Ethiopia the primary contradiction is ethnic not class. In the last half a century Ethiopia has seen more conflicts based on Ethnic rather than class differences. There were a few peasant rebellions here and there that were opposed to the Monarchial government. However, they were not meant to end the Monarchy but to get taxes reduced and bad local administrators removed.

With the advance of education and the emergence of educated elite from among the people with distinct identities, but buried by violence and assimilation, political consciousness and awareness about identities and the right to defend them came out into the open.  That was for good! This is a historical process that cannot be reversed. Trying to belittle it as ‘tribal ‘and using other derogatory remarks does not help; it only hurts feelings and narrows down the chance for peaceful solutions to the “problem”.  Mocking the federated states as self-aggrandizing coins and unitary Ethiopia as the powerful one hundred birr bill (Aster Bedane) is sheer ignorance of the politics of Ethiopia. Worse than the artist was the cheering crowed noisily applauding this insensitive none-sense. It is noble to accept realities and live harmoniously with them. This is much like living with the reality of the death of a loved one. Crying and cursing for years doesn’t help ones’ own health. It simply pushes further away into irrationality and desperate actions.

As far as human and civil right are concerned who is harmed by an ethnic group having its primary education in its local language; appear in court and defend in its own local language; have administrators at all levels who know and respect the cultural values; utilize local resources for local and regional development in its own unique way; and develop and promote its own cultural treasures or heritages?  Why should all people regardless of their significant differences be molded into a single earthenware? Who benefits from this? The answer is those who benefit from this are not democratic minded individuals or groups. Those who benefit from the change of the Constitution are those who live their sweet dreams of the past ages where diversity of people was put together as a chorus group. In a chorus group you don’t hear the voice of a single member separately. The peculiarity of each singer is swallowed by the uniformity imposed by the rigorous training to eliminate nature’s beautiful uniqueness.

The problem with the Constitution may be in how it is put into practice. It is a solution to the main contradiction in the Country; but it is far from being perfect. You don’t throw your car away every time there is something wrong with it. You simply have to repair it. As long as there are vested interests among political and economic groups there will always be something wrong. The best approach is not to use the most abusive words in the dictionary but to come together and engage in a constructive debate. Throwing missiles of ugly words at each other’s camp will result in mutual destruction. Who in a sane mind could hope that the Oromo’s, Tigray’s, Afars, Somalis, Sidamas, would go for the reversal of the right of self rule enshrined in the Constitution? If you ask me what I wish to see inside me; I wish all Ethiopians were single people on their own free will! I would wish the same if all human beings be one! What kind of a dreamer would I be divorced from reality?

A frequently raised raison d’être for the rejection of the Constitution, considering it as unrepresentative of Amhara interest, divisive and dangerous to Ethiopia, is that the Amhara were not represented in the drafting. In addition, the Constitution is alleged to have taken away some chunks of territory from the Amhara. Unfortunately for the history of Ethiopia in a thousand years the oppressors of several ethnic groups of Ethiopia were ruling elite largely drawn from the Amhara people. Was this done with a yes vote from the Amahra people? Not at all; but the ruling Amhara based elite were using the ordinary Amahra farmers in their campaigns of subjugation and plunder of the so many Ethnic groups in Ethiopia. In the minds of the ordinary people in the subjugated societies there were no way that they could distinguish between the Amhara-based ruling elite and the poor ordinary Amahara people whose lives were no different from them. Neither the Amhara based ruling elite nor did leaders of the ethnic liberations tell ordinary people on both sides the reality.

It was meaningless for the Amhara people to form nationalist (ethnic) political groups while it was the political elite from their own ranks that were being fought against as oppressors. Any rebellion by the ordinary Amahara people against the Amhara-based ruling elite would only take the form of class struggle not national liberstion. That is why most participants of the transitional council in 1991 were national (ethnic) liberation movements. The Amhara were not represented for this obvios reason and also because it did not exist as a political unit. Amhara was created as a political geographic entity, from four former separate dukedoms, based on the Constitution. It is hard to understand why the Amhara political elite is fighting against a Constitution that was the reason for its creation. How could the Amhara remain as a single regional state if the very foundation (constitution) is destroyed? This is a conundrum! It is amusing to hear that Tigray, which is not the result of the Constitution, because it is a centuries old administrative entity although with shrinking and expanding limits, has become the advocate the Constitution while the Amahara is totally against it. It is unfair to accuse the Constitution for ‘gifting’ Wolqait and Raya to Tigray based on linguistic federalism while the Amhara region was created on the same basis. Honesty is the best policy. If everything we struggle is for the interest of the people we have to stop listening to our own noise but attentively listen to the peoples’ voice from all over Ethiopia!


Back to Front Page