Ethiopian federalism: Autonomy versus control in the Somali region

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This study examines the relationship between Ethiopia's federal and regional authorities since the Tigray led regime came to power in 1991. The redivision of Ethiopia into ethnic regions was aimed to effect two changes: to abolish certain ethnic domination of the state; and to enable various communities to govern their local affairs. Using material from the Somali Region, this article evaluates whether ethnic-based regional authorities have sufficient autonomy from the centre to be accountable to local populations. The ability of local people to elect their leaders is central to undoing past ethnic injustices. Although communities have gained from the new order, however, the federal ruling party tightly controls regional political authorities. Federal domination of regional governance is partly the result of the ineptness of local elite. This arrangement creates formal ethnic regions without significantly altering power relations in Ethiopia. Consequently, the spirit of the 1991 change is lost as local communities lack leeway while a new ethnic group reigns supreme at the federal level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1131-1154
Number of pages24
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

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The new party had little time or resources to prepare for the 1995 national and regional elections. It sent a delegation to the Djibouti Republic to solicit financial support from Somali Ethiopians and other Somalis. The group was well received and raised over $30 000 and several vehicles. The League confronted ONLF in the elections and won nearly two-thirds of the seats in the regional council and all of those in the federal chamber. This competition between these Somali parties— with contrasting political programmes—meant that the Somali Region had the most competitive and ‘democratic’ elections in the new ethnic federation.


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