Ethnic Federalism and Internal Minorities: The Legal Protection of Internal Minorities in Ethiopia

Published: 1/Jan/2013
Source: African Journal of International and Comparative Law

By Yonatan Tesfaye Fessha and Christophe van der Beken

African Journal of International and Comparative Law 21.1 (2013): 32–49

Not a single federal arrangement has been successful in demarcating the territorial matrix of the federation into separate ethnically defined territorial units. The decade-old federal experiment in Ethiopia is no exception to the impractical reality of creating ethnically pure sub-national units. Although the internal structure of the federation, by and large, follows an ethnic line, ethnic minorities are found in the midst of most, if not all, regionally empowered ethnic groups. This has brought to the fore issues about the majority–minority tension at the level of the sub-national units or, as they are called in Ethiopia, regions. The status and treatment of those who do not belong to the empowered regional majority has emerged as a thorny issue that has bedevilled the federal experiment.

The aim of this contribution is to examine whether the federal system adopted in Ethiopia responds adequately to the challenges of internal minorities. It, in particular, examines whether the federal arrangement provides for appropriate institutional solutions to the tensions that exist between regionally empowered groups and their internal minorities. Before discussing the Ethiopian case, however, the article, in the following section, casts the issue in the context of multi-ethnic federations. By doing so, it seeks to show that the problem of internal minorities is not unique to the federal arrangement in Ethiopia.


Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious
Regions: Ethiopia
Year: 2013