Conference name, dates, place

International Conference on Development Studies in Ethiopia, July 11-12, 2003, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Document Type


Presentation Date



In 1991 Ethiopia established an ethnic federal system that gave full recognition to ethnic autonomy, while maintaining the unity of the state. Its new constitution created a federal system largely consisting of ethnic-based territorial units. The constitution aspires to achieve ethnic autonomy and equality while maintaining the state. The federal system is significant in that its constitution provides for secession of any ethnic unit. It encourages political parties to organize along ethnic lines, and champions an ethnicized federal state with a secession option. As an exception to the general pattern in Africa, it is a worthy case study. The paper has four interrelated objectives. First, it situates the Ethiopian case in comparative perspective. Second, it provides an overview of ethnic diversity in Ethiopia. Third, it analyzes the evolution and structure of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia. Fourth, it attempts to provide a preliminary appraisal of its success and failure thus far and to speculate on its future prospects.


This research was supported by two consecutive grants (2000-2001 and 2001-2002) from the Research Foundation of the City University of New York. I wish to acknowledge the following persons for their helpful comments: Omayemi Agbeyegbe, Abdul Ahmed, Msmaku Asrat, Samuel Assefa, Mehdi Bozorgmehr, Andreas Eshete, Gebre Kiros Habtu, Hailu Habtu, Shiferaw Jamo, Tamrat Kebede, Irving L. Markovitz, Pyong Gap Min, Wodajo Mogues, Dessalegn Rahmato, Lauren Seiler, Barbara Webb, Kifle Wodajo, and Taye Zerihoun. But I am solely responsible for any errors in fact or interpretation.