Vision Ethiopia Fifth Conference

Vision Ethiopia Fifth Conference

2nd and Final Call for Papers

Transition Challenges and Alternative Forms of Federalism

March 24 and 25, 2018, Washington D.C.

January 16, 2018

Vision Ethiopia, following its four successful conferences on critical issues and themes on Ethiopia, is pleased to announce its fifth conference which will be held on March 24 and 25, 2018, in Washington D.C. The Conference is organized in cooperation with the Consortium of Ethiopian Civic Society Organizations (TIBIBIR) and our long-standing partners,the Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio Station (ESAT). The theme of the conference is transition challenges and alternative forms of federalism. The conference aims to examine innovative and transformational policy alternatives for creating an environment that promotes democracy, national unity in diversity, security, peace, and sustainable economic, social and political development for all Ethiopians.

The topic is important and timely,and Ethiopians should carefully deliberate on these critical issues to build the foundation for peaceful, democratic, and stable political, economic, and social system in Ethiopia.  The current situation is unsustainable and protecting the status quo involves a considerable cost to our society. The geopolitics of the Greater Horn of Africa is showing significant and unexpected changes.The unsustainbility of the situation has become apparent,and even the ruling party’s recent assessment of security situationin the country recognizes the situation as deep and widespread national crisis. While recognizing the problem is the first step, it is important for Ethiopians to engage in consultative and solution oriented deliberations to address the challenges.

Vision Ethiopia,consistent with its mission, attempts to create unhindered public forums for scholars, professionals, activists,political and civic organizations and concerned Ethiopians to present their carefully thought policy alternatives for the country. The need for independent forums for the analysis of the challenges of transition and finding a working formula for the linkage between national and regional interests/powers is a challenge for all political parties and civic organizations. Though there is an overwhelming level of consensus about the need for transition, details are not worked out yet.It is time fellow Ethiopians address the issues in a systematic and well-researched ways and inform the public the alternatives, mechanisms, and compromises that are needed to establish the institutional foundation fora realistic transformational transitionpath to a post conflict political, social and economic order.

The debate about federalism in Ethiopia, similar to the experience of other countries, has been a sticky point of transition.  The debate is also ideological. From neoliberal to neo Marxian (socialist) to messianistic and separatist ideologies are intensely debated,and extreme position is upheld.We expect that the form of decentralization will be one of the key issues during and after the transition period. Many actors hardly distinguish between regionalized unitary, devolved administration, federacy and federal systems. At least half of the over 100 Ethiopian political parties are ethno nationalist movements of one kind or another. In contrast to the case of Ethiopia, ethno-nationalist parties are banned in many parts of Africa. The discussion on federalism has to take cognizance of the institutional realities of Ethiopia, and show innovative ways and means to move forward.

The trend in Africa is towards decentralization.Federal states,however, can take different forms, from mono-national as in the United States and Germany or multiethnic as in Switzerland and contemporary Russia or somewhere in between as in Nigeria. However, the choice between unitary decentralization and ethnic decentralization remains complex and requires balancing. Federalism can be considered as a system of government in which regions or provinces share power with a national government.The experiences of countries concerning adopting the system of federalism are not clear-cut. Studies also indicate that federalism has been attempted in over 25 of the world’s 193 countries,and not all of them were successful in resolving conflicts and advancing peace, stability, democracy,and prosperity. America, Canada, Switzerland, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cameron, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina are/were examples of federations. Some of these federalisms are integrationist or national federalist while others are specifically designed to address heterogeneity. There is no single blue print of federalism.

The system of federalism is considered to recognize regional interests and differences, prevent secession, check federal government’s power, manage a larger country, and promote healthy competition among regions. However, federalism has its discontents. Policies (economic, education, languages, and social issues) are not uniform, protects powerful regional interests rather than democracy, lacks accountability, elevates minority parties to the level of deal makers, raises territorial disputes, and regional governments can be obstructive power blocks. Harmful spillover effects in one region can create instability in other regions, can lead to parochial regional parliaments and weaken national patriotism and identity, and allows the resurrection of historical wounds and opens space for revanchists. The persistence and severity of these advantages/disadvantages may be revealed or concealed in context and attenuated /accentuated by state and non-state actors. The task of prudent political leadership is to balance the merits and demerits of this form of decentralization and find mitigation strategies for the shortfalls.

Scholars also classify federalisms by nationality (multinational federalisms, where devolution can be with territory or without territory), dual federalism (where the federal government and the State/province share power but the “union” holds more than the individual states), cooperative federalism (where the federal government and the state government share power equally) and fiscal federalism (where finance controls everything). In short, federalism is not something that political parties enter into for power-sharing or normative-mimetic pressure that is adopted to resolve political exigencies or form alliances against tyranny. Consistent with the late Eshetu Chole’s observation,as far back as in 1991 where the current ethno-federalism was imposed, serious discourse on federalism opens “a Pandora box.”It also helps to explain conflicts, the programs of political parties, tensions within ethnic coalition parties,the competition for resource control and power, the relation between center and peripheries, hegemonic tendencies and proxy rules, risk of state collapse and state capture, separation of powers, the divide between richer and poorer regions, and equitable sharing of resources, and the building of trust and sustainable relations among population groups, and unity of purpose in defending the unity and territorial integrity of the country.Federalism becomes more complex when contextualized with transition and conflict. These complexities open opportunities for gaining insights from various political, legal, economic and organization (for example systems, contingency, chaos, evolution) theories to find transformational solutions for the crisis in Ethiopia.

Vision Ethiopia invites Ethiopian scholars, activists, individuals and organized groups to look forward and engage in this important dialogue on federalism in order to have a successful transition into a post conflict political, social and economic order.Papers may be written in either Amharic or English. Manuscripts will go through a review process.Position papers from civic and political groups must focus on practical or applied works, use data, maps and nature/structure of political parties/ institutions across the breadth and depth of the country. Position papers must outline options and are not expected to argue at fringes and say “my way is the high way.”Papers and intentions to present position papers must reach on or before February 15, 2018.

Notice: Reports, rebuttals, analyses, press releases and/or recommendations offered by the author/s or organization/s do not necessarily reflect that of Goolgule: Amharic Internet Newspaper’s stand.

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