By Daniel Teferra (Ph.D.)*

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmad, on 27th November 2018, met with representatives of eighty-one political parties to discuss the upcoming election. But it is the Constitution that needs fixing first. Otherwise, the country may unravel. Conducting an election by itself may not prevent that from happening.

For example, in the north, the conflict between TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) and the two Amhara regions of Gondar and Wallo is far from over. In the east, unending hostilities between Oromos and Somalis continue to claim lives. Over one million people remain displaced and the problem of dislocation has continued unabated.

In the southwest, some zones (formerly awrajas) are breaking away from the southern regional state demanding their own kililis (ethnic reservations). Other Sub-zones (formerly waradas) are following suit. OLF (Oromo Liberation Front) factions are threatening to take Western Wallaga and have recently killed civilians and members of the local police.

The government has sent its troops to western Wallaga to pacify the situation, but this cannot be a remedy in the long-run. Mission fatigue will set in inviting a mutiny that could destabilize the country further. A couple of months ago, a commando contingent, returning from its assignment in Burayu, marched on the palace to harm the Prime Minister.

On top of all these, Ethiopia’s poor economy is unable to feed the rapidly growing population. The country lives under the threat of famine. Land is a government monopoly and Ethiopia’s age-old agricultural system is not yet transformed. The state-controlled economy has failed to create employment opportunities for the labor force that is predominantly young.

Less than a year ago, the leadership of EPRDF (the ruling coalition) shifted hands from the TPLF to ODP (formerly OPDO). The new leaders, to their credit, have taken several steps which have earned them the support and trust of the people.

The Prime Minister deserves praise for arranging a meeting with the political parties. But the arrangement should be all-inclusive. The door should be kept open for all that would like to contribute to the reform movement and thereby participate in building a stable, democratically united society for Ethiopia.

A lasting peace requires participation by all groups and interests to create a representative government and a professional, multiethnic army, that can, with national legitimacy, build a democracy for all. A government dominated by one group blocks such a democratic development. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s meeting did not include all groups and interests of the society.

It should be noted that moving forward, the Prime Minister needs to make his plan open for public debates. For example, people in Ethiopia never trusted the TPLF. Using its economic growth propaganda, the TPLF was notoriously secretive and good at diverting attention from the real issues facing the country.

At the last EPRDF Conference, the Prime Minister envisioned a multinational state for Ethiopia. Most of the groups that met with the Prime Minister last were ethno-nationalists and some others who share the Prime Minister’s vision of multinationalism.

The meeting reminds us of the July 1, 1991 rebel-dominated Conference in Addis Ababa. The July Conference excluded many parties and groups, favoring democracy and national unity. Consequently, it created obstacles to the democratization of post-Mengistu Ethiopia, making an eventual disintegration of the country more likely.

The Prime Minister’s concept of a multinational Ethiopian state is not new. It is the same idea of ethnic federalism (the kilil system) enshrined in the Constitution by the TPLF and OLF. But that has not produced a better outcome for the country.

Therefore, the first order of business should be constitutional reform to shift away from multinationalism or kililism and craft a democratic union dedicated to federal autonomy and representation for all. Only such a union can generate peace, capital, leadership for development and successful dealing with formidable world forces.

*Professor Emeritus of Economics, still active at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater;