By Paulos Milkias, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science
Concordia University Montreal, Canada
It is time that we stop bickering and forge a robust confederation in the Horn of Africa. For the sake of clarity, confederation is the process of regional union in which the emerging entity is the antithesis of a unitary state but is looser than a federal arrangement. In my keynote speech at the State University of Michigan [April 2019], I strongly argued against the TPLF spearheaded, and EPRDF endorsed ethnic federalism with a proviso of self-determination up to and including secession for its ultimately divisive nature and a possible balkanization of Ethiopia. I rooted for the Indian-like federation of Ethiopia, which was based not on ethnicity but regionalism. My position is still firm that it is only if we adopt the Indian system that balkanization can lead to fissure with the emergence of tiny weak states like those that gained independence from the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and are currently engaged in fighting against one another or the defunct Boer conceived Bantustans that became extinct together with the South African Apartheid system that underpinned it.
As things stand now, returning back to the Haile Selassie spawned provincial structure is impractical. Ethnic federalism, for whatever it is worth, has been in place for 30 years. For many nationalities such as the Oromos, it is so well entrenched that it is almost impossible to turn the clock back. Look at Qubé and the fact that a whole generation of Oromos has been raised without learning the basics of the Ethiopic syllabary. Many also do not speak Amharic, which happens to be the lingua franca of Ethiopia by default. I have already argued for following Canada’s example and adapting bilingualism (Amharic and Afan Oromo.) Even better, following the Swiss Confederation example, I propose the adaption of quadrilingualism (Amharic, Afan-Oromo, Tigrigna, and Somali.) In the long run, Somali Republic, Djibouti, and Sudan can join the union under a new name – North-East-African Confederation. If Sudan joins, it would be incumbent to adapt quintilingualism, which will also serve a good purpose for lowland Eritrea.
For a start, confederation (political association of sovereign states) rather than a federation (relatively independent states constituted of a strong central government with internal affairs being delegated to autonomous regions) has to be spawned following the example of Canada in 1867, which brought together Upper Canada (Ontario,) Lower Canada (Quebéc) as well as the Atlantic Provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island,) later joined by the Prairie Provinces (Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia. ) In time it slowly absorbed large swathe of aboriginal land in the North known as Rupert’s Land and North-West-Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador as a confederal entity and slowly morphed into the current federal structure by 1949 and achieved de jure recognition when Canada’s Constitution Act was promulgated in 1982.
The new regional subdivisions of the Horn will have to be reconstituted in such a way that they do not encourage the urge for independence or irredentism. One way of doing that is to add or subtract counties regardless of linguistic configurations such that large ethnic subdivisions like Oromia, Amhara, and Somali will gain some bordering counties with people who speak other languages as a result of which some ethnic subdivisions such as BenishangulGumuz, Gambella, Harari, and Afar may be reabsorbed into the larger entities as was the case during the Haile Selassie and Derg periods. To skirt the curse of ethnic fragmentation, names should also be changed. What is now designated on the basis of linguistic configurations such as Amhara, Oromia and Tigray should be changed to West-Central Province (for Amhara,) East-Central Province (for Oromia), and Northern Region (for Tigray and Eritrea.) Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region can stand by themselves. Considering global imperialist designs and Egypt’s intrigues, this proposal may not be easy to realize, but I wholeheartedly believe it is doable.
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Photo credit : Ethiopian Development Studies Association Flicker Page
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