Secession in Ethiopia

This is probably the world’s most explicit Constitution regarding secession and plurinationality. The Ethiopian Constitution proclaims the “unrestricted” right of “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples” to “self-determination up to secession” (Article 39.1).

The African country —which from late 19th century until the end of the Cold War sought to build a highly centralized power— has been organized under a federal model since 1991, after the communist regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam was overthrown.

There are 11 federal regions/territories, most of them formed on an ethnolinguistic basis: the Oromo, the Somali and the Afar, for instance, each have their own region, with their own government and Parliament.

The Constitution also specifies the procedure to achieve independence: the seceding nation must do a formal request, a referendum in the region must then be held, and finally the transfer of powers to the council of the seceding nation and the partition of property must be organized.

In practice, however, Ethiopia is currently ruled by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which holds 500 of 547 seats in the federal Parliament —its allies control the remaining 47 seats.

The EPRDF is accused by worldwide human rights organizations and by Ethiopian opposition groups alike of ruling the country with an iron hand and of not allowing any real democratic system to take root.

Under those conditions, it is difficult to think that any territory would be now allowed to launch its own way towards independence. The 2016 crackdown against protests in Oromia —the country’s largest and most populated region— are an example of that.

However, the fact that the Constitution says what it says is no small deed, bearing in mind that any future regime change and transition to democracy could lead to a new scenario in which the right to secession could be effectively implemented.

From “Ten countries that grant the right to independence.”

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