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Ethnic federalism

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Ethnic federalism is a federal system of national government in which the federated units are defined and segregated by ethnicity using redlining policies, and in certain cases partitioning multi-ethnic regions causing internal displacement of people due to large-scale internal population transfers. Related terms are multi-ethnic federalism [1] and ethnofederalism, or multi-national federalism. [2]

Contents

This type of federation is identified above all with the governance of Meles Zenawi from the 1990s in Ethiopia, where it has sometimes been known as Zenawism. [3] [4] Meles Zenawi and his government adopted ethnic federalism with the aim of establishing the equality of all ethnic groups in Ethiopia. [5] Features of ethnic federalism have been displayed also in other countries, including Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan, Yugoslavia, and Apartheid-era South Africa (see Bantustans).

Ethnic federal systems have been created in attempts to accommodate demands for regional autonomy and manage inter-ethnic tensions within a state. They have not always succeeded in this: problems inherent in the construction and maintenance of an ethnic federation have led to some states either breaking up or resorting to repression.

General perspectives

Definition

In an ethnic federation some or all of the federated units are constructed as far as possible to follow ethnic boundaries, providing ethnic communities with a measure of autonomy. [6] Because the federation remains one state, this is distinguished from outright partition. Such a system may be considered in nations where ethnic groups are concentrated in geographical localities. [7] :15

In an ethnoterritorial federation—a "compromise model"—the largest ethnic group is divided among more than one subunit. Examples include Canada, India and Spain. [7] :164 This type of system may be appropriate for nations that contain one dominant group. [7] :275

Motivation

One of the main motivations for introducing ethnic federalism is to reduce conflict among the groups within the state, by granting each group local self-government and guaranteed representation at the centre. [8] Thus an ethnic federal system may have particular appeal where serious conflict is feared or has already occurred. This goal is "defensive" and accepts the permanence of different ethnic identities within the state. [7] :14–15

Federalism allows ethnically diverse groups a level of autonomy, protected by a constitution that prescribes the powers of the central government in relation to those of the federated units. As the units are delineated such that each ethnic group forms a local majority in one or more of them, it is hoped to reduce fears of unequal treatment or oppression by the state government, [9] :6 and enable each group to express and develop its own cultural identity within its homeland. [8]

The federal constitution will also provide for representation of all the regional ethnic units in the central government, enabling peaceful arbitration of the claims of different groups. [8] In this respect the success of the system relies upon the willingness of the elites of different ethnic groups to cooperate at state level to provide stable government. [7] :14–15

Criticism

Ethnic federalism as an institutional choice to alleviate ethnic tensions within a country has often been criticised, both on conceptual and empirical grounds. At the theoretical level the difficulties include: [7] :16

  • The problematic concept of "ethnicity" as an ordering principle. Consciousness of ethnic identity may develop or harden within a political system structured along ethnic lines, and may be mobilised for political advantage. [8]
  • Difficulties drawing the boundaries: complete ethnic homogeneity is rarely found within any territory in multi-ethnic states. As a result, new minorities are likely to be created within the subunits, who may be or feel in danger of being victimized, and may destabilise the federal system with ongoing demands for their own subunits. [8] [10]
  • The functioning of the system once established: "redefining politics along ethnic lines tends to transform everything into an ethnic issue". [7] :34 In some conditions the federal system may result in "ethnicizing group identities and giving rise to or exacerbating, instead of alleviating, ethnic conflict at the subnational level". [11] :120 The power-sharing arrangements at the centre tend to lead to paralysis, while politicians or parties representing the different groups may seek to enhance their political position by refusing compromise. In most cases, however, ethnic divisions within a state are pre-existing and are not initiated by the establishment of an ethnic federation. [7] :261
  • Tendency for secession. Instability and the pressure for secession are likely to increase once the groups within a country are provided with resources, legitimacy and an independent power base. The federal structures may enable the regional groups to build up economic, political and even military strength, leading to the ultimate collapse of these states under ethnic tension. [9] :6 People will increasingly identify with the regional subunit rather than the federation as a whole, thus threatening the unity of the state. [8]
  • In cases of severe hostility and conflict, ethnic federalism does not go far enough in separating rival groups, and partition may prove to be necessary.

It is also noted that in practice ethnic federations have frequently failed: but it is rarely clear how far this is because ethnic federalism is a misconceived institutional form or because of the inherent difficulties in running a state with deep ethnic divisions ("overwhelmingly, those states that adopt ethnofederalism do so because alternatives have been tried already, and have failed"). [2] :4 [7] :252–4 [8] Anderson (2013) cites among the failures: Eastern Europe (the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia), Africa (the East African Federation and Ethiopia-Eritrea), the Caribbean region (the Federation of the West Indies), and Asia (Pakistan and Malaya-Singapore). As ethnic federations still in being he points to Belgium (not a pure case), Ethiopia (not democratic), and Bosnia-Herzegovina (whose future prospects are questionable). [7] :16

Ethnic federalism in specific countries

Ethiopia

A map of the regions and zones of Ethiopia Map of zones of Ethiopia.svg
A map of the regions and zones of Ethiopia

Ethiopia has over 80 ethno-linguistic groups and a long history of ethnic conflict. [12] After 17 years of armed struggle, in 1991 Meles Zenawi's party replaced the Derg (the Mengistu Haile Mariam-led military dictatorship in Ethiopia). Zenawi, up to then leader of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), wished to end what he saw as the dominance of the Shewan Amhara tribe. [13] A new Constitution was introduced in 1994, dividing Ethiopia on ethnic lines into nine regional states and two multiethnic "chartered administrations" (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa). [10] [14] :54–55 Ethnic groups received rights to self-government: [8] the states were given autonomy in legislative, executive and judicial functions, [15] :8 while there were provisions for ethnic groups to be represented in central institutions. Ethnic groups were granted the "unconditional right" to secession, [14] :55 although it is doubtful whether any group could in fact achieve this. [16] [15] :22 The government was aiming not only to reduce inter-ethnic conflict but to equalise living standards in different areas and improve the working of public institutions locally. [17]

There are different views on the success of the system. The country was described by a visitor in 2011 as "at peace, progressing towards prosperity". [12] The federal system produced stability relative to the previous situation of conflict between a centralised state and ethnically based "liberation fronts", [18] :1 and the government has claimed that previously marginalised groups have benefited from the arrangement. [19]

In practice the autonomy of the regional states has been limited by the centralised and authoritarian nature of the ruling political party, the EPRDF, [16] [18] :5 which has encroached on regional affairs and thus lost its legitimacy as a "neutral broker". [8] The system, while aiming to establish the equality of ethnic groups in Ethiopia, [5] has been found to harden ethnic identities ("The distinction between affective and political communities disappears ... when ethnic group identity serves not just as a source of affectivity but also as a source of political identification") [14] :59 and to promote inter-ethnic conflicts, especially in ethnically mixed areas. [19] [20] Inter-ethnic conflict has dramatically increased since the accession to power of Abiy Ahmed in 2018. [10] The system has given rise to demands for further separate ethnic territories. [18] :3[ verification needed ]

According to political analyst Teshome Borago, "Zenawism" contradicts the political philosophy behind the African Union, in that every African nation agreed to keep the colonial boundaries after independence despite multiple tribes being placed together within national borders. In contrast, Zenawism is accused of promoting separatism and irredentism and may encourage African tribes to aim for their own independent states. [4] [ verification needed ]

Nepal

The ethnic aspect of a new federal structure in Nepal has been a source of contention through the constitution-building process of recent[ when? ] years. Multiparty democracy was introduced in Nepal in 1990 after a popular uprising led by the Congress party and the United Left Front, a coalition of communist parties. Ethnic issues did not emerge prominently in the drafting of the new constitution. [8] Campaigns for more recognition of ethnic issues were led by Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) representing the ethnic groups of the hills, the regional Sadbhawana party of the Terai, and the UCPN (Maoists) [8] under pressure from the Madhesi people of the south. [9] :10 [21]

Following the 2006 democracy movement in Nepal and the overthrow of the monarchy, an Interim Constitution was promulgated in 2007. [22] Years of debate in two consecutive Constituent Assemblies centred on whether to base federalism upon ethnicity or a common identity, as well as over the number and locations of provinces. [23] An opposition front led by the UCPN called for a federal system based on 13 ethnically defined provinces. [24] The ruling Nepali Congress and CPN-UML parties rejected the idea, arguing that ethnicity-based federalism would create tension among ethnic castes and communities. [25] Resistance also came from the upper-caste Brahmin and Chhetris, who feared that their long-standing political dominance would be threatened by ethnic federalism. [9] :14

The three parties later agreed on nine founding principles for establishing provinces; five of these were identity-oriented, referring to ethnic and cultural ties. This led to the adoption of the term "ethnic federalism" to describe the structure proposed for Nepal, although some of the principles in fact referred to the wider notion of identity rather than ethnicity. The drawing of borders was complicated by the demographic distribution in many regions; there are over 100 officially recognised ethnic groups in Nepal, and many of them are geographically dispersed and do not form a majority in any territory. [9] :11–12 [24]

The present federal Constitution was finally adopted in September 2015. [26] It established a federal structure to replace the existing unitary structure. The country was divided into seven federal provinces formed by grouping existing Districts. [27] The promulgation of the new constitution was immediately followed by protests on the part of the Madhesi and indigenous population, mainly over the boundaries of the new provinces, fearing a diminution of their political representation. [28]

Pakistan

Following the secession in 1971 of East Pakistan to become Bangladesh, the Pakistani government sought ways to accommodate the ethno-nationalist demands of the different groups within what had been West Pakistan. The 1973 Constitution imposed a federal structure giving autonomy to the four main provinces, each historically identified with an ethno-linguistic group: the Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis, and Pakhtuns. The political identity of these groups was legally recognised in the Constitution, giving them a status distinct from that of other groups. The provisions for autonomy were, however, fully implemented only in the province of Sindh. [11] Through the subsequent period of military regimes and conflicts in different parts of Pakistan, the federal system did not appear to confer stability comparable to that of India. [29]

The Constitution was re-introduced, with amendments, in 2010. This time all four provinces received "formidable autonomy in terms of both legislative and financial powers". [11] :126 In general the changes were marked by increased "ethnicization", encapsulated in the renaming of North West Frontier Province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ("land of Pakhtuns"). The changes were seen as "an important step forward" in strengthening the provinces, but there seemed to be little willingness to go further towards a fully multi-ethnic structure catering for all groups. [30] The system has been described as "highly counter-productive" [11] :124 in respect of reigniting violent ethnic conflict between Sindhis and Muhajirs in Sindh. It has also evoked demands for separate provinces on the part of Hazaras and Saraikis. [11]

Indeed, it has been asserted that “Pakistan is seldom acknowledged as an ethnic federation”. [11] :91

South Sudan

The 28 States of South Sudan since 2015 28 States of South Sudan.png
The 28 States of South Sudan since 2015

South Sudan became independent of Sudan in July 2011, and initially the transitional constitution established 10 federal states and 79 counties, mostly based on ethnicity. Inter-communal conflict mounted, and there were calls from various groups for creation of further ethnocentric states and counties. Stephen Par Kuol, then minister of education in Jonglei state, opined in 2013 that "ethnic federalism" in his country had proved "divisive" and "expensive to run" and did not make for real democracy, and called for multi-ethnic states and counties to be created at least around the main cities. [31]

In October 2015, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir issued a decree establishing 28 states, again largely along ethnic lines, to replace the former 10 states. [32] The measure was approved in parliament in November. [33]

Yugoslavia

Ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, by majority in municipalities, according to the 1981 census (in Serbo-Croatian and English). EtnickaKartaSFRJMZ.jpg
Ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, by majority in municipalities, according to the 1981 census (in Serbo-Croatian and English).

The 1946 constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia created a federation of six republics. To the three nationalities identified in the former name of the country - Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes - were added the Macedonians, Montenegrins and Bosnian Muslims (now Bosniaks). Alongside the recognition as nations of these republics, a strong central government was established under the control of the Communist Party.

From the 1970s a division developed within the Communist government, between Croatian and Slovenian supporters of greater autonomy for those republics, and Serbian advocates of a centralized federation to preserve the leading position of Serbs as the largest nationality within the country. [34] Opposition to Communism was expressed in the form of a growing nationalism. [35]

After the central authority waned in the 1980s, the leaderships of the republics increasingly pursued the interests of their own territories and inter-ethnic tensions mounted. Between 1991 and 2006 the six constituent republics all became independent nations; the earlier years of this process were marked by a series of wars. The lesson drawn was:

"Ethnic federalism seems to be a good solution only if it is applied moderately, ... in an atmosphere of democratic political culture, mutual tolerance, and the sincere wish to live together in peace with other ethnic groups". [36]

See also

Related Research Articles

Federalism is a mixed or compound mode of government that combines a general government with regional governments in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, first embodied in the Constitution of the United States of 1789, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established. It can thus be defined as a form of government in which powers are divided between two levels of government of equal status.

Ethnic conflict Conflict between ethnic groups

An ethnic conflict is a conflict between two or more contending ethnic groups. While the source of the conflict may be political, social, economic or religious, the individuals in conflict must expressly fight for their ethnic group's position within society. This final criterion differentiates ethnic conflict from other forms of struggle.

Secession is the withdrawal of a group from a larger entity, especially a political entity, but also from any organization, union or military alliance. Some of the most famous and significant secessions have been: the former Soviet republics leaving the Soviet Union, Ireland leaving the United Kingdom, and Algeria leaving France. Threats of secession can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals. It is, therefore, a process, which commences once a group proclaims the act of secession. A secession attempt might be violent or peaceful, but the goal is the creation of a new state or entity independent from the group or territory it seceded from.

Federation Political union of partially self-governing territories under a central government

A federation is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal government (federalism). In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states, as well as the division of power between them and the central government, is typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of either party, the states or the federal political body. Alternatively, a federation is a form of government in which sovereign power is formally divided between a central authority and a number of constituent regions so that each region retains some degree of control over its internal affairs.

A confederation is a union of sovereign groups or states united for purposes of common action. Usually created by a treaty, confederations of states tend to be established for dealing with critical issues, such as defense, foreign relations, internal trade or currency, with the central government being required to provide support for all its members. Confederalism represents a main form of intergovernmentalism, which is defined as any form of interaction around states which takes place on the basis of sovereign independence or government.

Separatism is the advocacy of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental or gender separation from the larger group. As with secession, separatism conventionally refers to full political separation. Groups simply seeking greater autonomy are not separatist as such. Some critics equate separatism with religious segregation, racial segregation, or sex segregation, but most separatists argue that separation by choice may serve useful purposes and is not the same as government-enforced segregation. There is some academic debate about this definition, and in particular how it relates to secessionism, as has been discussed online.

The Constitutional debate of Canada is an ongoing debate covering various political issues regarding the fundamental law of the country. The debate can be traced back to the Royal Proclamation, issued on October 7, 1763, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) wherein France ceded most of New France to Great Britain in favour of keeping Guadeloupe.

Regionalism is a political ideology which seeks to increase the political power, influence and/or self-determination of the people of one or more subnational regions. It focuses on the "development of a political or social system based on one or more" regions and/or the national, normative or economic interests of a specific region, group of regions or another subnational entity, gaining strength from or aiming to strengthen the "consciousness of and loyalty to a distinct region with a homogeneous population", similarly to nationalism. More specifically, "regionalism refers to three distinct elements: movements demanding territorial autonomy within unitary states; the organization of the central state on a regional basis for the delivery of its policies including regional development policies; political decentralization and regional autonomy".

A multinational state is a sovereign state that comprises two or more nations or states. This contrasts a nation state, where a single nation accounts for the bulk of the population. Depending on the definition of "nation", a multinational state might also be multicultural or multilingual.

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Regional state

A regional state or a regionalised unitary state, is a term used to denote a type of state that is formally unitary but where a high degree of political power has been highly decentralised to regional governments. This contrasts with a state organized on principles of federalism where the powers of the regions are enshrined in constitutional law. In many cases, the regions are based on long standing cultural or regional divisions.

Asymmetric federalism or asymmetrical federalism is found in a federation in which different constituent states possess different powers: one or more of the substates has considerably more autonomy than the other substates, although they have the same constitutional status. This is in contrast to symmetric federalism, where no distinction is made between constituent states. As a result, it is frequently proposed as a solution to the dissatisfactions that arise when one or two constituent units feel significantly different needs from the others, as the result of an ethnic, linguistic or cultural difference.

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The Forum of Federations is an international organization based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Forum and its partners comprise a global network on federalism. It brings together elected officials, civil servants and experts in federalism from about 20 countries to learn from each other. The Forum's learning and technical assistance programs have covered the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Italy, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, South Sudan, Switzerland, Tunisia and Yemen.

Transitional Government of Ethiopia Period of Ethiopia between 1991–1995

The Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) was an era established immediately after the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) seized power from the Marxist-Leninist People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) in 1991. During the transitional period, Meles Zenawi served as the president of the TGE while Tamrat Layne was prime minister. Among other major shifts in the country's political institutions, it was under the authority of the TGE that the realignment of provincial boundaries on the basis of ethnolinguistic identity occurred. The TGE was in power until 1995, when it transitioned into the reconstituted Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia that remains today.

Ethiopian nationalism Political ideology centered on a unified Ethiopian identity

Ethiopian nationalism, also referred to as Ethiopianism or Ethiopianness, is a political principle centered at unification of Ethiopian identity. The ideology was promulgated throughout ancient history, from Ethiopian Empire and the Derg rule. For more than a century, Amhara ruling elite used this ideology to pursue an assimilation policy and consolidate power. The conflict started between Abyssinia, ruled by Amhara ethnic groups, and various subjugated ethnic groups such as Oromo, Sidama, and Tigray. In 1991 Eritrea achieved independence as the Derg collapsed and the TPLF assumed power and created an ethnic-federal state. The Amhara culture dominated throughout the eras of military and monarchic rule. Both the Haile Selassie and Derg governments relocated numerous Amharas into southern Ethiopia including the present-day Oromia Region, where they served in government administration, courts, church and even in schools, where Oromo texts were eliminated and replaced by Amharic. As a result of these steps, ethnic tensions surged against the Neftenya system where the Oromo, Somali, and Tigray peoples, each of whom had formed separatist movements such as the OLF, TPLF, ELF and ONLF struggled to leave the Ethiopian Empire, which led to the Ethiopian Civil War. Oromo and Amhara nationalists continue to have conflicting narratives over the status of Addis Ababa. The Abyssinian elites perceived the Oromo identity and languages as hindrances to Ethiopian national identity expansion. Until 1991, the Amhara dominated politics in Ethiopia.

Premiership of Meles Zenawi

The premiership of Meles Zenawi began in August 1995 following the 1995 Ethiopian general election and ended upon his death on 20 August 2012. Whilst serving as Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi concurrently served as the Leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Ethnic discrimination in Ethiopia during and since the Haile Selassie epoch has been described using terms including "racism", "ethnification", "ethnic identification, ethnic hatred, ethnicization", and "ethnic profiling". During the Haile Selassie period, Amhara elites perceived the southern minority languages as an obstacle to the development of an Ethiopian national identity. Ethnic discrimination occurred during the Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam epochs against Afars, Tigrayans, Eritreans, Somalis and Oromos. Ethnic federalism was implemented by Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) leader Meles Zenawi and discrimination against Amharas, Oromos and other ethnic groups continued during TPLF rule. Liberalisation of the media after Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in 2018 led to strengthening of media diversity and strengthening of ethnically focussed hate speech. Ethnic profiling targeting Tigrayans occurred during the Tigray War that started in November 2020.

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