Posted June 8, 2021 9:17 am by

By Ogoti Bokombe.

Federalism in Africa is mirrored in negative images around micro-nationalisms manifested in ethnicity and religious fundamentalism. The ‘divide and rule’ colonial legacy has taken center stage in modern-day political decentralization in Africa, stocking both carrots and sticks for the central governments against starved peripheral regional states.

In Africa Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa are some of the established federal states, Somalia is also building a nation of a ‘fragile’ federal system.

The Horn of Africa has a fragile political, economic, social and security system in which central governments seek to assert authority, consolidate power by centralizing it through abstract federalization of the states.

The fragile federalism that exists in the Horn of Africa is due to the existence of multiple micro-nationalisms that persistently compete with national sovereignty and the rise in authoritarianism seeking to counter rise in opposition in federal autonomies. Federalism is increasingly been used as the tool to distort democratic ideals by suffocating efforts of consensus-building between central and periphery governments.

The onset of COVID-19, has uncovered the fragile enterprise that is federalism in the authoritarian horn of Africa region. Arbitral election postponements, political reforms and targeted force have brought to fore the persistent commitment of weakening federal autonomies.

In 2018 Prime Minister Abiy reign in Ethiopia promised reforms to the political and economic spheres, seeking to entrench liberalization, democracy and an Ethiopian nationalism ideology. In his tracks, he sought to underplay the ethnic federalism that has existed in the Horn of Africa’s most populous nation with over 90 ethnic groups. Ethiopia is divided into nine ethnic federal states; Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, Somali, Sidama, Afar, Gambela, Harari, and the Southern Nations or Peoples and the Benishagul – Gumuz regions. Though meant to achieve ‘peace in parts’ it has bred divisions, ethnic mobilization and competition for the seat in Addis.  

In 2019, Abiy’s administration had to deal with call for greater representation in the national government and autonomy in Oromo, an attempted coup in Amhara and Sidama zone’s quest for a regional state out of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). These challenged Abiy’s reform agenda of building an Ethiopian nation. He responded by deploying forces to crackdown on dissidents and protestors, leading to arbitral arrests of key leaders such as Jawar Mohammed of the Oromo Federalist Congress and loss of lives and property.

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