A salient characteristic of most sub-Saharan African ("SSA ") states is ethnic heterogeneity. In most of these states, the constituent ethnic groups not only view themselves as being different from other ethnic groups but also identify themselves with particular regions of the country. Even now at the dawn of the new century and forty years after independence from colonial rule, ethnic differences continue to pose serious challenges for achieving national integration and political stability. In the past, the vast majority of African states have carefully avoided coming to terms with the heterogeneity of their ethnic make-up. In particular, they have avoided giving ethnic identity any institutional or official expression, preferring instead to pursue policies and practices aimed at supplanting their citizens' ethnic identities with overarching national identities. To that end, they have utilized unitary structures and political institutions, including single party systems and even military forms of government. These formulas for nation-building and political stability, however, have neither avoided ethnic conflict nor engendered feelings of belonging to a broader national community. Ethiopia 's new constitution purports to offer a sounder formula for accommodating ethnic differences. Much of its appeal and promise comes from the fact that it accords constitutional recognition to the claims of ethnic groups to constitute themselves as self-governing polities within their own regions, within a federal framework In theory, this arrangement would satisfy the desire of ethnic groups to be different, while at the same time remaining a part of the broader national community. This Article considers the normative and instrumental arguments that might be advanced to justify such a formula for ethnic accommodation. While there is some merit in these arguments, the Article ultimately concludes that the marriage of ethnicity with territorial sovereignty for ethnic groups is an unworkable and even perilous enterprise. The Article argues that such a system of government is more prone to exacerbate than to mitigate the difficulties that constitute the core of SSA states' predicament: lack of national unity, sluggish economic development, and violation of human rights. Accordingly, the Article suggests that while federalism should serve as a starting point in the search for a solution, a workable system will require a weighing of a number of factors, including the need to promote national unity and state integrity, economic interdependence, human rights, and the wishes of the people.
Alemante G. Selassie,
Ethnic Federalism: Its Promise and Pitfalls for Africa,
Yale J. Int'l L.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjil/vol28/iss1/4