By Mulugeta B Teferi
The complexity of the Wolkait Amhara Identity Question emerges from multiple of sources. I tried to point out only three for the time being, and suggest solutions under the current legal framework.
The first source for the problem is the creation history of current Federal Structure. The current Federal Constitution allows the structuring of self-governing regional states based of ethnic, language, geographic criterion; of course will of the people is included as a point of consideration while drawing administrative boundaries. Coming to the drawing of boundary between Amhara Regional Sate and Tigray Regional State the boundary is drawn without representation of Amhara People or Party which has got legitimate support in Amhara Region(as it’s called after Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia/FDRE establishment) like TPLF had in Tirgray. While the constitution provides four criterions to consider when drawing administrative boundaries the Transitional Government used only one criterion/language which disfavours the Amhara People (needless to say that Tigrian People’s Liberation Front/TPLF through the Support of Ethiopian People Democratic Movement/EPDM latter Amhara National Democratic Movement/ANDM has controlled Wolkait and manipulated things for its favour).
The second problem emerges from the nature of solutions provided in the constitution for identity questions. As we have seen above a federation is created without legitimate representation of Amhara People(the problem is created), and the problem solving mechanisms highly depend on the same ill-structured federation. How can one look for redress of its grievance from the same internal structure that created the grievance. At first instance, the FDRE constitution gives the power of hearing and answering identity question to the same Regional Administration which is likely to be dominated by the majority ethic group. In this case Wolkait Amhara is a minority in ethnic Tigraway dominated Tigray Regional State. When they present their complaints starting from denying the submission of an application letter to harassment of individual representatives is conceivable. As we know from recent events, this has happened and there is no guaranty with in regional systems for minority ethnic groups’ right protection under ethnic majority dominated Regional Administrations like Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, Somali, Afar (SNNP is exception, Harari is the Opposite). The state structures specially the law enforcement are dominated by the majority ethnic group in the region (there is no Nationalities Council or House of Federation in these regions to protect rights of ethnic groups, if such structure has real power). The constitution gives the Power of answering such questions for House of Federation at secondary level, given that the request is summited to the regional administration and the region is unable to answer the question. In the case of Wolkiat the ‘messengers’ say they have submitted but Tigray Regional State repeatedly denied it, while the Federal structure cooperate with the denial and again it acknowledge the recipient of application at the House of Federation level; such bureaucracy in the form of procedure will not solve the problem, but add to the grievance.
The third problem emerges from forty years of governance of Wolkait by TPLF. This is out of the constitution but it has created a problem and blocked the final solution of the constitution referendum not to work, if it is applied. I do think that most people would see referendum as a last resort under current federation of Self-governing ethnic regional states. Referendum would have worked during the formation of the federation if there were legitimate representation from all nationalities or ethnic groups, but not now. Now as a local territory which has been government by Tigray Regional State for long enough to create a 27 year old 1st language Tigrigna Speaker if not 40 years old, there is politically motivated demographic change in the past 40 years. This is not unique to Wolkait but it happened in Parts of Afar, Metekel, Pawi, Addis Ababa, and other urban centres and surroundings.
Solution to the problem
Dismantling the boundaries created in the minds of the people of Ethiopia and convinces them believe ALL PARTS OF ETHIOPIA BELONGS TO ALL ETHIOPIANS is a utopian solution which will not work under this constitution. Why not? Because, this constitution has guaranteed a way out of the federation for any ethnic group, if demanded by the group. Out of the 76 recognized nationalities, few are better stationed than the others to the way out. For those who has got the regional structure, anthem, flag, and boundary it seems logical to maintain it, if not expand. Therefore in any case they will not be voluntarily giving away any of the above including piece of land in the name of identity question. If they stay in the federation they prefer to be strong part of the federation having huge population, and vast territory. If they go out they will still be better off being larger than smaller.
Will referendum work?
Under the current constitution the third alternative (referendum) will work only with prudent pre-referendum preparations. Non-patrician and Independent Commission needs to establish and start to administer Wolkait for transition period. In the meantime an Expert Group must be established with the participation of international experts to study history of Wolkait People, ethnography, Culture, Psychology, Economic Base, and motives of two regional state administrations (Amhara and Tigray, and their respective ethnic based parties in EPRDF) on the area. The outcome of such study by the group will be publicized during the period of the transitional administration and this will facilitate fact based discussions and political decisions for any referendum under FDRE. Killing the massager and pretending that no message has been sent will not work anymore.
This article is first published on “Addis Fortune“. The writer can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org