By Abb. Abiy A Ashenafi
Before going to the PM’s statement and my remarks, let me briefly sketch the general context of the matter.
The Federal Constitution of Ethiopia establishes 9 regional states. Ethnic groups which do not have their own states are economically and politically marginalized. In the present dispensation, power and resources are allocated along ethnic lines. Given that most members of the Federation are determined to maintain this, any attempt to reverse it does not seem possible in the foreseeable future.
The Constitution recognizes ethnic groups’ right to set-up their own states. However, although establishing their own states gives them more rights, any move to initiate this demand had been systematically suppressed until the coming to power of Abiy Ahmed. After Abiy’s appointment as Prime Minister a year ago, he put an end to the longstanding repression of human rights in the Country. Following the liberalization, activists mounted pressures on Zonal Councils to invoke the constitutional right of self-determination and to demand statehood. About a dozen of Zonal Councils in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) unanimously decided to establish their own states. However, the SNNPR has not taken concrete steps to respond to their demands. Peaceful rallies were made in Hawasa and Wolaita Sodo, urging SNNPR to facilitate referendums timousely. Similar rallies are planned in Hadiya.
The Prime Minister’s response
While responding to a question posed by a member of the House of Peoples’ Representatives, he said:
- that peoples which demanded to establish their own states must be patient until the SNNPR, after examining the issues, notifies the final result; and until the National Election Board (The Board) notifies that it is ready [to conduct the referendum].
- these peoples shouldn’t only demand their rights, but they must also convince the SNNPR; and
He warned that if they do not abide by this, they will face the same thing that happened in Somali region. By that, he meant the intervention of the federal government, removal of leaders and appointment of individuals more loyal to the Federal government. Furthermore, he hinted about amending article 46 of the Constitution, which deals with the delimitation of states.
I now turn to responding to his statement.
Time and patience:
According to article 47(2) of the Federal Constitution, ethnic groups have ‘the right to establish, at any time, their own states’.The procedure for statehood requires the State Council to organize referendum within ONE YEAR since receiving the demand for statehood.
We have made it clear that we want to establish our state no latter than one year since this demand was received by the SNNP State Council. Yet, no clear action has been taken by the Council to hold referendum within the prescribed time.
The reason is nothing but a lack of political will to enforce the provisions of the Constitution. So, I ask, why and until when should we be patient while the Council is dragging its heels?
Convincing the SNNP State Council:
There is simply no such requirement in the Constitution. The role of the State Council is limited to facilitating the establishment of the new states by organizing referendum. It has no power to dictate how we are supposed to establish our state. Being the holders of an unconditional right to self-determination, we have no duty to convince the SNNPR.
Until the Election Board is ready:
As the PM said, the Board now has a new Chairwoman, a deputy and all members. It is staffed with professionals, and it has been allocated more budget than ever. So there is no excuse for delay.
The threat etc:
The people have waited patiently. Even at times of crisis, they have proved that they are law abiding. Therefore, there is no legal ground for the Federal Government’s intervention etc. The threatening and disparaging manner in which the PM spoke are offending, and must not be repeated.
Abb. Abiy A Ashenafi is a LLD candidate at the University of Pretoria