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The Interest of Oromia – Article 49 Does Tell

The Interest of Oromia – Article 49 Does Tell (Paulos Kebede), Horn Affairs, July 3, 2017 Following the circulation on social media of a document said to be draft law for determining Oromia Regional State’s interest in Addis Ababa, there was a flurry of comments on what the meaning of Article 49(5) of FDRE constitution could be. Some […]


(Paulos Kebede), Horn Affairs,  July 3, 2017


Following the circulation on social media of a document said to be draft law for determining Oromia Regional State’s interest in Addis Ababa, there was a flurry of comments on what the meaning of Article 49(5) of FDRE constitution could be.

Some wanted to see Addis Ababa as a federal territory in which Oromia Regional State only has a special interest. Others chose to consider Addis Ababa as a City State accountable only to the federal government. Still others called for constitutional amendment in order to make Addis Ababa Administration accountable to Oromia Regional State.

In all sides, though, the discussion was narrowly focused on Article 49.

 It was as if everybody is trying to limit his/her engagement with the constitution to the barest minimum level possible. That may tell a story about the passion with which Ethiopians hold their constitution. And when one considers the political reality, not the constitutional rules per se, no wonder passion for the constitution lacks.

With regard to the tripartite relationship the constitution calls for in Addis Ababa, in the political practice over the last decades, the federal government prevailed. Addis Ababa barely survived. The interest of Oromia was completely relegated.

The thesis of this article is that FDRE constitution provides fair and balanced approach in addressing the diverse concerns represented by the Federal Government, Oromia Regional State and Addis Ababa Administration.

Because, the three constitutional propositions under Article 49: (1) Addis Ababa shall serve as the capital city of the federal government; (2) the residents of Addis Ababa shall have full right of self-government; and (3) Addis Ababa Administration shall be accountable to the federal government – can fully be given meaning without remotely suggesting that Addis Ababa is outside the territorial/functional jurisdiction of Oromia Regional State.

 Any interpretation otherwise would in fact make the constitution document for lessons in self contradictions. For somebody concerned in the determination of where the law stands, therefore, calling the Federal Government’s adventure into the territorial and functional jurisdictions of Oromia Regional state over the last decades unconstitutional is as easy as saying the emperor has no clothes. It only requires honesty.

One must wonder, how come so obvious a constitutional provision be misconstrued for so long? Especially when it relates to the largest and most populous member of the federation at the center of it all?

The answer would take us to the story of what became the fate some of the architects of the constitutional principles and how fast some of the other architects grew into power elites playing a wealth game even at the risk of the same constitutional order they fought to establish.

Now that the Council of Ministers has approved a draft proclamationwhich impinges even more into the jurisdictions of Oromia Regional State, the most interesting question is ‘could this trigger a shift?’

A shift from subserviently abiding the central government to assertion of their authority by regional states? And could this start in Oromia? Does Oromia Regional Administration have the gut to reclaim the authority it has long abdicated and end up becoming the major guarantor of the federal constitutional order?

If so and the issues involved are clear and simple. They only require FDRE Constitution 101 discussion on the following questions:

1/ Finfinne/Addis Ababa: does it fall out of the territorial jurisdictions of Oromia regional state?

The constitution clearly provides that territorially the Ethiopian State is structured into only nine regional states. The territory of Ethiopia comprises the territory of these member states.

Apart from the member states territory there is no piece of land belonging to the federal government or any other kind of administration. Any conception of Addis Ababa as an administration with its own separate territorial jurisdiction outside of Oromia or as a federal territory is ruled out from the beginning.

Anyone living in Addis is living in Oromia Regional State.

What this means is the territorial limit in which the residences of Addis Ababa are given full right of self-government lays within the territorial jurisdiction of Oromia‐ a regional government established to give effect to the self-determination right of the Oromo nation.

Addis Ababa/Finfinee is a place where the self-determination right of the Oromo nation and the self-governance right of Addis Ababa residents interplay.

In other words, Addis Ababa is a local government structure within the state of Oromia. But unlike the other local government structures in the regional state Addis Ababa is constitutionally named self-government structure.

The reason for that is quite understandable.

Oromia Regional State is a state administration which is established to give effect to the constitutional rights to self-determination of the Oromo nation. And as such among its primary responsibilities are the promotion of the linguistic and cultural rights of the Oromo nation and the preservation of their history. This is in addition to its role as a regional self-administrator.

One can, therefore, assume that in formulating administrative, economic and social policies of the regional states and in determining the regional state structure historical, cultural and linguistic considerations may be applied.

This may not always suit to the priori ties of the residents of Addis Ababa who as a matter of fact are culturally and linguistically distinct from the bigger Oromia.

Apart from this consideration, however, Addis Ababa residents’ rights to local self-government has the same meaning as the right to self-government of the residents of any of the other Oromia regional government’s local structures.

2/ Does the full right of self-government of Addis Ababa residents exclude accountability to Oromia regional state?

Local self-governance presupposes administering one’s own matter in one’s own locality and proportional participation in the regional and federal matter.

What are the self-matters for Addis Ababa Administration? What are the powers and responsibilities that will be required to undertake effectively such matters? What resources does Addis Ababa need to use or administer? Where does Addis Ababa Administration’s finance come from?

Pondering over these questions in light of the federal constitution makes the answer obvious and unequivocal.

Be it for Addis Ababa or any other local administration in any of the regional states, the federal constitution doesn’t provide list of powers and responsibilities. Nor does it gives them their own revenue sources.

Whatever authority local governments have comes from regional government laws. That makes accountability to the regional administration evident. Plus full measure of self-government does not suggest the absence of accountability.

If that was what it means, the constitution wouldn’t have made the Addis Ababa administration accountable to the federal government.

3/ What does accountability/responsibility of Addis Ababa Administration to the Federal government mean?

The Ethiopian constitution establishes governments at two tiers: federal and regional. Both tiers of governments do have legislative, executive and judiciary powers and separate revenue sources. The constitution clearly prohibits each level of governments from acting on the powers and responsibilities of the other.

Therefore, there is no way the federal government, without viola ting the constitution, could legislate or assume judicial or executive authority on matters reserved for regional governments.

The powers and functions reserved for the federal government relate to issues that affect the interest of the whole nation. The constitution has not given power to the federal government to engage in the day to day governmental activity of any locality in the country.

Whenever the federal government engages itself in any locality in any region it must demonstrate that it is ac ting on federal matter that concerns the country in its entirety.

If the task undertaken is a federal one, then the cost will be borne by the federal government and it will be covered out of the revenue sources reserved for the federal government. And all the revenues assigned to the federal government must be marked for expenditures that benefit the whole country.

But if the task falls under the responsibilities and functions given to regional states, the cost could be covered from regional government revenue sources. The federal government may delegate its powers and responsibilities to regional states. And whenever it does so, it could hold the regional state responsible/accountable.

But on matters of regional matter (maters falling under the powers and competencies of the regional state), there is no constitutional way of making a regional state or any local self-government structure within the state accountable to the federal government.

Therefore, the issue of a regional government structure’s accountability to the federal government could be raised only in relation to federal matters. The federal government could never hold a local government in a given state responsible/accountable to itself on issues of regional matters.

In the first place it could never delegate to any local self-governing structure powers and functions given to a regional state. That would be usurpation of power.

Article 49 (3) of the constitution says that the Administration of Addis Ababa shall be responsible to the Federal Government. That is precisely because as per sub article 1 of the same article the City has been selected to serve as the Capital City for the Federal government.

There will be a number of issues in Addis Ababa which could affect the effectiveness of the federal government in discharging its constitutional responsibilities. To such extent only, therefore, the federal government has a concern in Addis Ababa Administration and could hold the administration accountable.

A good test to identify on what issues Addis Ababa Administration shall be accountable to the federal government is to check as to how the project/activity is financed.

If Addis Ababa exercise powers and responsibilities delegated to it by the federal government, the expenditure would be covered by the federal government. Then the accountability to the federal government would be a proper and constitutional one.

But that is pretty rare. The functions and activities of Addis Ababa Administration are bread and butter issues. Tasks and activities which fall under jurisdictions left to regional states.

In terms of accountability, therefore, much of the talk should be between Addis and Oromia. Accountability to the Federal government is need based and is exceptional. That is why it is clearly stated in the constitution.

Accountability to the regional government is the principle. It is so because of the Administration being the integral structure of the regional state.

To just read the statement of the constitution that Addis Ababa Administration shall be accountable to the federal government and regard it as to mean that the federal government should take charge of all the legislative, executive and judiciary matters of Addis Ababa is misinterpretation of the federal constitution at its grandest level.

Therefore, as the issues discussed above indicate all roads seem to lead to the Oromia Regional State legislators. Caffee Oromia could start the deliberation on Addis/Finfinne Charter. The issue of course merits discussions by all the stake holders.

The Federal Legislators in the meantime should deliberate to repeal the Addis Ababa City Charter and replace it with a new proclamation which limits itself to the constitutional interests of the Federal Government.

Better also for them to look into the other laws, which as per the above discussed and other principles of the constitution, are glaringly in contradictions to the federal constitution.


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