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Sub-National Formal Conflict Resolution Institutions
in Ethiopia: The Case of South Nations,
Nationalities, and People’s Region
1
Yideg Munana Negash
Abstract
After the collapse of the dictatorial regime in 1991, Ethiopia developed its first Federal
Democratic Republic Constitution in 1995. Accordingly, the federation comprises ten regional
states and two city administrations. The SNNP region is one among the founding member states
of the federation. The region suffered from inter-ethnic disputes over various issues: identity,
border, resource and cultural miscommunication. In the constitution, adopted by the Nations,
Nationalities, and Peoples of the SNNPR, the Council of Nationalities was institutionalized with
a number of constitutional mandates of which dispute management and resolution is the
prominent one. Primary and secondary data had been collected for the accomplishment of the
objective of the article. Thus, efforts and mechanisms the region used to deal with conflicts
through formal conflict resolution institutions were analyzed. Hence, findings of this study
showed that formal conflict resolution institutions (mainly the Council of Nationalities) of the
region did not achieve what was expected from it. Conflict resolution responses of the region
largely were not dynamic and systematically designed: deploying security force has been taken
as a viable option to find out resort for conflicts emerged in the region. As a result, many conflict
cases in the region remain unsettled. In fact the CoN had made some remarkable achievements
that reinforce its future endeavor. As an institution which is found in a conflict prone region, the
CoN should strengthen its instructional frameworks, skilled human power, modern technology,
and desire to work with indigenous conflict resolution institutions to get things done.
Keywords: Conflict, peace-building, ethnicity, federalism, peace education, peace culture
______________________________________________________________________
1
Department of Applied Social Sciences, Bahir Dar Institute of Technology, Bahir Dar
University
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1. Introduction
Different people comprehend the political history of Ethiopia differently. For some people, it is
the oldest country which is a cradle of civilization and pride of Africa from which any freedom
fighter will take immense inspiration. Ethno-nationalist political forces, on the other hand, regard
it as a nation of ruthless colonial history. The 1960s and 70s dominant multinational movements
which crystallized from Ethiopian students’ movement redefined the country as multi-cultural
and multi-religious and the safest way to make peace prevail in the country is through
accommodating these diversities. Here the question is why people comprehend the history of the
country differently? Some scholars argued that the written history of the country sowed the seed
of diversified political ramification into political crisis (Fiseha, 2007). In terms of coverage,
Fiseha (2007) further noted that the dominant approach has portrayed it as “a story of succession
of rulers and dynasties and as it was equated with what the ferengis call the Abyssinian culture.”
On the other hand, historians and politicians of the new generation have brought different
approaches of writing Ethiopian history. Ethno-nationalists’ characterization focused on
undermining the shared values and reconstruction of the past history for the purpose of
mobilizing the people based on ethnic affinity. Political elites and activists (dominantly Eritrean
and Oromo), guided by primordial reasons, developed a perspective of colonization and
subjugation to intensify the struggle for self-determination (Záhořík, 2011). For example, the rise
of the Eritrean movement which was based on ethnic affinity served for other movements as a
signal to mobilize the people. In a similar fashion, the Oromos, Somalis and Tigrayans picked up
ethnicity as the hub of their political struggle (Zewde, 2010).
Ethnicity has been salient feature of Ethiopia’s political struggle from the mid-20
th
C. Since then
dominate opposition political forces (both nationalist and multi-nationalist) overtly criticize the
imperial regime of Haile Selassie over the alienation and marginalization of ethnic groups of
Ethiopia. The quest for self-determination and social justice which was raised during the events
of the 1960s 1970s were particularly crucial and still have repercussions on the present state
structure and the ideology behind it. But these political forces came onboard with different
positions in terms of the vision they wanted to realize.
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The discourse of ethnicity remains unanswered even after the Dergue controlled political power
as ethnic groups during the regime became gradually more suppressed and less empowered than
previous governments (Aalen, 2006). On the other hand, the Dergue regarded multi-nationalist
political forces (mainly EPRP) as a prime enemy and perpetrated and driven them out of the
country’s political landscape. The denial of political space for multinational forces opened a new
chapter for ethno nationalist struggle. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was formed
on 18 Feburary, 1975 (Berhe, 2009) with the intention of establishing democratic republic of
Tigray. After the downfall of the Dergue in 1991, TPLF leaders architected the political system
of Ethiopia and ethnicity had become the epicenter of their political ideology.
The other ethno-nationalist political, the Oromo Liberation Front, laid its foundation in 1973
with the quest to have self-administration up to and including secession of the Oromo people
(Merera, 2003). The OLF joined the EPRDF coalition as partner and participated in the EPRDF-
led transitional government in 1991(Bereketeab, 2013). The cumulative efforts and momentum
of different political forces (ethno-nationalist and non-ethnic political forces) deposed the
military regime and changed the political landscape of the country.
Following the collapse of the Dergue regime, the country established a federal system in the
form of granting regional autonomy, self-determination up to and including secession, which
started in 1991 and lasted for about four years of transition period, and it was fully formalized in
the 1995 FDRE Constitution. This is evident from the first article of the Constitution that
stipulates the establishment of a federal state. The preamble taken together with other provisions
of the Constitution may be considered as an indication to prove the considerable importance that
ethnicity and the accommodation of diversity have in contemporary Ethiopian politics. The
member states of the federation comprise the basis of the settlements pattern, language, identity
and consents of the people concerned
1
. EPRDF claimed that the rational for restructuring of
Ethiopia as federal is a way forward to address deep-rooted conflicts among ethnic groups of the
country.
2
1
Article 39/5, 1994/5 FDRE constitution
2
See the EPRDF Political Program, 2005, p:1
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In Ethiopia, the long-established unitary political system that failed to recognize the very diverse
nature of the Ethiopian society led to the process of federalization of the Ethiopian political
structure (Regassa, 2009; Vaughan & Tronvoll, 2003). Regassa (2009) further noted that the
rationale behind the establishment of a federal form of state structure since 1991 was to address
the past questions of nationalities which have been causes for conflicts. As indicated earlier, in
an effort to manage and resolve conflicts, Article 52 (1) of the FDRE Constitution, granted the
constituent regional states to establish a state administration that best advances the rights of
ethnic communities to self-government, democratic order and peace building based on the rule of
law.
For the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State, which is composed of
diverse ethnic and linguistic groups, the issue of accommodating diversities is more crucial than
for the other member regional states of the federation. However, in the SNNPR, series of claims
for the recognition of separate status by ethnic groups and subgroups were either rejected or
deferred (Young, 1998). According to Dereje (2010), there were four dominant types of conflict
in post-1991 in the SNNPRS. These are unclear boundaries between ethnic groups and territorial
claim, failure to accommodate the new minorities in the regional state, the issue of ‘ownership’
of multi-ethnic regional states and instrumentalization of popular feelings of relative deprivation
in the pursuit of political power. Following the post-1991 political changes, in the SNNPRS,
hostilities between different communities have been transformed into conflicts between adjacent
ethnic groups (Fiseha, 2005).
The task of resolving and transforming conflicts is more demanding in the SNNPR than in other
member regional states of the federation. Hence, it is in light of this demand that the SNNP
region established a formal conflict resolution institution by virtue of the region’s constitution.
Thus, the Council of Nationalities, the executive body and the judiciary organs in all the
hierarchies of the regional government’s administration, according to their nature are supposed
to have a role in managing and resolving conflicts.
1.2. Theories of Ethnic Conflicts
Scholars in the field make a distinction between “ethnicity and nationalism”. For example, Aalen
(2006) identifies ethnicity as a sociological concept, whereas nationalism is associated with
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political science. He further argues that ethnicity is a foundation for the formation of
nationalism. On the other hand, the Transitional Charter, which was formulated in 1991,
characterizes ethnicity as race. Many academicians in the field still use terms such as clan, tribe
and nationality to describe ethnicity.
Political scientists and sociologists categorize the notion of ethnicity into three groups, namely
primordial approach, instrumental view and social construction. The primordialists view
ethnicity as something that is natural (biologically inherited) and eternal and confined by
common and consistent cultural elements. To the contrary, instrumentalists’ version of ethnicity
is a social entity which is manipulated by political elites whenever they want to claim political
power. Neither ethnicity nor ethnic identity has a natural existence. On the other hand, the social
construction perspective holds the view that ethnicity is something that neither exists naturally
nor is artificially formed. It would rather be created based on the consent of the members of the
ethnic group (Horowitz, 1985).
Most of the time political elites maneuver ethnicity as a way to claim political power. For
instance, early European colonialists’ image of African identities shows the primordial approach;
populations divided into clearly separated ‘tribes’ defined on the basis of objective cultural
markers (Aalen, 2020). In the meantime, their policy of indirect rule demonstrated official
definition of ethnicity based on compatibility to their political arrangement (Aalen, 2006). As a
result, the ethnic conflicts that emerged in Africa were stimulated by elites under the cover of
race, religion, language and identity (Gurr, 1994; Horowitz, 2000).
In Ethiopian, the1995 FDRE Constitution’s definition of ethnicity as a distinguishable cultural
group is a good example of primordial ideas of ethnicity.
Article 39/5 of the Constitution stipulates that:
Nation, Nationality or People is a group of people who have or share a large measure of
a common culture, similar custom, mutual intelligibility of language, common related or
related identity, a common psychological makeup, and who inhabit an identifiable,
predominantly contiguous territory.
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A rival explanation for the above argument contends that the theory hardly corresponds with the
specific characteristics and definitions of ethnicity and ethnic identity in Ethiopia. Despite the
fact that the Constitution’s definition of ethnic groups is akin to the primordial approach to
ethnicity, on the ground the political arrangement made in the country conceptualizes ethnicity
and ethnic groups as instrumental viewpoints. As a result, the federal experiment witnessed
many conflicts in the country underpinned by issues related to identity (Markakis, 1998). In a
similar vein, Beyene
3
argues that the main reason behind conflicts in federal Ethiopia since 1991
is that the artificial arrangements of ethnic groups created by the EPRDF. For instance, the
South Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region was created by pulling different ethnic groups
together
4
.
A number of explanations of ethnic conflicts and models are available. For example, Horowitz
forwards three major theories to explain ethnic conflicts, namely class theory, modernization
theory and cultural difference theories. Modernization theory predicts that mere sentimental
value to ‘outmoded traditionalism’ causes ethnic conflicts. The theory underlines that penetration
of modernization to the domain of ethnic existence is most viable option to mitigate ethnic based
conflicts. However, class theories of ethnic conflicts hold that belief in a particular ethnic
identity is part of an ideology that masks class interests and diverts the working class from
pursuing their interests. As such, most ethnic demands have emerged as part of the response and
resistance to different classes of oppression, namely exploitation, marginalization,
powerlessness, violence, and cultural imperialism (Tsegaye, 2009; Young, 1998). On the other
hand, the cultural difference theory underlines that conflicts among ethnic groups arise out of
incompatibilities among their cultures (Horowitz, 2000).
Some more theories, for example, the grievance and justice seeking model explains that ethnic
conflicts occur by relative deprivation defined as a gap between what the social group believes it
deserves and what it actually gets (Gurr, 1970; Mengisteab, 2013). As a result, an ethnic conflict
emerges when conflicting groups who want either to improve their historically claimed socio-
3
Voice of America: Amharic Service, Interview held with Prof, Beyene Petros(Opposition political leader) on
20/6/2017 edition.
4
There was an attempt made by the government by merging four languages together: Wolayita, Gamo, Gofa, and
Dawro into a single language called Wogagoda.
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economic position or to preserve hegemonic positions. A research finding, for example, shows a
positive relation between inequalities and occurrence of ethnic conflicts (Cook-Huffman, 2008).
1.3. Ethnicity and Conflicts in Federal Ethiopia: An overview
Scholars in the field of federal studies state two strategies for mitigating ethnic conflicts in
federal states building democratic governments and developing common citizenship
(Horowitz, 2000). Coercion undermines basic principles of federalism (self-rule and shared rule
and division of power of member states). Likewise, the idea of federalism without common
citizenship and that grants the right to self-determination for ethnic groups are likely to lead to
secession and finally to disintegration of the federal state (Aalen, 2006). The development of
national identity could be a remedy to ethnically based self-rule from leading to parochialism and
fragmentation (Aalen, 2006). In doing so, in times of disagreement between ethnic groups, the
appeal to the idea of an overall citizenship may prevent the conflict from escalating into open
ethnic fighting.
Ensuring social justice and the quest for equal treatment of ethnic groups have been taking place
as primary agendas of Ethiopia political forces over decades. Some, including the ruling
political party, contend that the country has been on the brink of total collapse and disintegration
because of the social, political and economic policies adopted by the previous regimes
5
.
Principally, uneven ethnic relations in the country are considered as a foundation for problems as
the country has never known either a democratic political system or an administrative culture to
accommodate the ethnic groupss demands (Habtu, 2003; Merera, 2003). As a result, ethnicity is
taken seriously in the endeavor to reconstruct the state as a multi-national, multicultural federal
polity since 1991. The restructuring of the state since then was the response to build a suitable
system that could be used as an instrument of managing the complex ethno-linguistic diversity
and mitigate ethnic-based conflicts (Kefale, 2010).
Federal arrangements are widely believed to be a panacea for a nation with multi-ethnic society
if and only if the following conditions are fulfilled. First, in the endeavor to mitigate conflicts,
readiness in terms of putting in place a systematic set of policies, institutions, strategies, and
methods for handling conflicts should be carried out. Because the extent to which the policies,
5
See the EPRDF Political Program, 2005, p:1
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strategies and institutional framework address the quest rises from member states of a federation
indicates the functionality of a federal system (Aalen, 2006). To realize these benefits, the
EPRDF vowed to build democratic norms and institutions capable of reflecting the principles of
federalism.
The question is, therefore, did the federal experiment prove to be a panacea for the country’s
deep-rooted socio-political problems as it promised? Many scholars believe that it has fallen
short of expectations. For example, Aalen (2006) argued that the new political arrangement of
Ethiopia did not bring about durable peace as the EPRDF promised that it would. She further
noted that, firstly, the EPRDF regime is semi- authoritarian in nature; it did not build strong
democratic institutions. Given the fact that democratic institutions are instrumental to ensure
self-rule and shared rule, a federal system with democratic institutions is not better than
symbolic. In light of this, the question of political equality and self-administration were the
driving force that led the country to political crackdowns since 2015
6
. Subsequently, the new
federal experiment has emphasized the risk of undermining the concept of citizenship
7
.
Citizenship and values attached with it are overridden by ethnic issues (Habtu, 2003). As a result,
the process of seeking solutions to old problems has given birth to new conflicts: conflicts for
new power, new resources, the quest to have self-administrative status, identity, political
empowerment, and the demand to ensure local economic justice (Regassa, 2009).
Apparently, the federal system of Ethiopia established several institutions both at the federal and
regional levels to deal with conflicts. Some of them are explicitly established by the Constitution
and proclamations at federal and regional levels while others are mostly organized based on
formal and informal bilateral and/or multilateral agreements. The House of Federation and
Ministry of Federal Affairs at the federal level, and Council of Nationalities (SNNPR) and the
like have been created at regional levels to deal with conflicts
8
.
The House of Federation is established with mandates to keep balance within the federal
arrangement. It was explicitly granted the power to adjudicate disputes within the federation. In
6
For example the Oromo protest since 2015 and Amhara resistance since 2016
7
For example
,
Addis Ababa is a federal city. But official identification requires ethnic identification, although
ethnicity is irrelevant in a federal city
8
First National Conference on Federalism , conflict and peace building organized by Ministry of Federal affair and
German technical cooperation held on, May 5-6 , 2003 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
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addition, the Ministry of Federal Affairs has been established, by virtue of Proclamation No.
256/2001, with a special mandate to get involved in the affairs of the regional states when (1)
regions request the federal government’s involvement and (2) the issue(s) is/are violent that
endanger the Constitution. The engagements of such institutions in conflict management and
resolution have supported the country’s effort to ensure sustainable peace.
Owing to the benefit of formal conflict resolution institutions, member regional governments
cascaded the federal conflict resolution institutions' mandates and organizational structure to
realize their objectives in their respective regions. Given the fact that the South Nations,
Nationalities and Peoples’ Region is home to various ethnic groups (more than 56), establishing
conflict resolution institutions was more demanding than any other region. Hence, by the virtue
of the 1994 SNNPRS Constitution, Council of Nationalities were formed with the goal of
addressing matters of nationalities.
2. Nature of Conflicts in South Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region
Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional (SNNPR) State is located in the southern
part of Ethiopia bordering Kenya, Gambela regional state in the west and the Oromia regional
state in the north and east. The total area of the region is 113,539 square kilometres, i.e. 10% of
the country’s geographic area. It is also home to more than 56 different nations, nationalities and
peoples
9
.
Following the collapse of the Dergue regime in 1991, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia
formed fourteen regions. Five of them were found in the present day of the SNNPR. These were
Region Seven,
10
Region Eight
11
, Region Nine
12
, Region Ten
13
and Region Eleven
14
. Meanwhile,
in February 8, 1993
15
these regions merged to one and were established as ‘The Southern
Ethiopia Transitional Government’. The government justified the new political arrangement as a
response to the request of nations, nationalities and peoples presented to it. With regard to the
9
Strategy for conflict resolution in SNNPR (2011) prepared by the Council of Nationalities
10
Region 7 consisted Guraghe, Hadiya, Kambata, Halaba and Yem
11
Region 8 holds Sidama, Gedeokore, Borji, and Gidicho
12
Region includes Gamo Gofa, Dawro, Wolyta, Zayse, Ozyda, Konta, Ale, Mosiye, Derashe, Mashole and Konso
13
Region eight contains Male. Arsi, Hammer, Bana, Tesemay, Dasench, Gnaygatom
14
Incorporates Kafficho, Shakicho, Bench, Nao, Chara, Dizi, Surma, Meinet, Sheko and Zilmam).
14
1515
Strategy for conflict resolution in SNNPR (2011) prepared by the CoN
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127
local administration arrangement, initially the region established eleven zones and five special
woreda administrations. Meanwhile, as part of the efforts to create an effective administrative
system, two additional zonal administrations have been established
16
.
The government claimed that the new arrangement was intended to manage nations’ and
nationalities’ human and material resources, overcoming their common enemy, poverty,
democratization process, thereby establishing a single, strong political and economic community.
Opposed to the government’s claim, some scholars, for example, Vaughan (2003) argued that the
decision that has been made by EPRDF in the south was to manage conflicts provoked by
political and administrative organizations.
As stipulated in the 2001revised Constitution of SNNPR, the regional state has three organs,
namely the legislative (State Council & the Council of Nationalities), the executive and judiciary
body. The State Council, the executive and judiciary organs have organizational structure at
zones, special woreda and kebele levels. However, the Council of Nationalities has no
organizational structure at lower levels of government
17
.
Diversity by itself is not a problem, but it is lack of proper handling of the existing objective
reality that makes it worse (Fisher, 1993). In this regard, despite the fact that the SNNPR has
been trying to resolve some of the major conflicts, several intra- and inter-regional ethnic
conflicts have still occurred in different parts of the region (Feyissa, Hoehne, & Höhne, 2010).
Given the fact that it is wealthy in terms of natural resources coupled with its diversity makes the
region highly sensitive. Moreover, asymmetric relations among ethnic groups within and out of
the region driven by factors related with cultural and economic reasons feed into the crisis of the
region.
Therefore, the conflicts ravaging the region are underpinned by historical, socio-economic and
environmental issues that can be classified into the following categories: border issues, identity
and the quest for self-administrative status, cultural miscommunications and resource-based
16
The Revised Constitution of Southern Nations Nationalities Peoples Regional state(2001)
17
The Revised Constitution of Southern Nations Nationalities Peoples Regional state(2001)
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128
conflicts
18
. Furthermore, the conflicts have been compounded by the federal government and
inter-regional interventions. Ostensibly, such interventions have been motivated dominantly by
economic factors. This section offers an overview of conflicts in the SNNPR focusing on major
causes of conflicts.
2.1. Border Conflicts in the Region
Among the several triggering causes of conflict, conflicts over border issues are the most potent.
Predominantly, along with the boundary of two neighboring ethnic groups, disputes are apparent
in the demarcation of their respective territory. Border related conflicts that the region has
experienced so far have two dimensions, namely inter- and intra-regional state boundary
conflicts.
19
Many of inter-regional conflicts the region experienced at different times have been
along the borders of Oromia regional state
20
.
The region has also suffered from potent intra-state conflicts which occurred between different
ethnic groups over their boundaries. Since 1991, there had been violent conflicts between
Wolyta-Sidama around Blatte River, Zaise-Derashe, Konso-Derashe and Konso-Burji. There
were also border related conflicts in some parts of the region, for example, Konso-Amarro, Beta
-Durka kebele, Zellba-Zalla and Keddida-Baddiwochu. Furthermore, conflicts happening
between Mereko-Manskan and Ixie-Bemuhr over border issues are not resolved yet
21
. Scholars
argued that many of these simmering conflicts were provoked and lingered by the new
constitutional order as EPRDF urged them to draw boundaries based on ethnic and linguistic
criteria (Vaughan & Tronvoll, 2003). As a result, the new political arrangement since 1991
accorded legitimacy to pre-existing competitions and antagonisms.
In general, the issues of border in the SNNPR in particular have become the major causes of
violent conflicts following the restructuring of the Ethiopian state and the policy adopted by the
18
An interview held with Tekle Diedu: the former heads of conflict management and resolution division in Council
of Nationalities(2001-2008), November 11/04/2011, 4:37
19
Ibid
20
For exa,mple Guji-Sidama conflict, Guji-Gedeo conflict, Guji-Burji conflict, Arsi –Halaba conflict e.t.c
21
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh working in the Council of Nationalities; Nationality common values
promotion and dispute resolution core work process owner October, 24/2011
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129
regime. However, the federal government blamed local government leaders and the people
misinterpretation of federal system for border related issues more complex in the region.
22
2.2. Cultural Miscommunication and Conflicts in the SNNPRS
According to the theory of cultural miscommunication, culture does much to determine the way
we think about and perceive the events happening around us and the way we act and the manner
in which we relate to others. Many conflicts between and within nations are in one way or
another rooted in cultural differences, lack of respect for cultural diversity, and the resulting
misunderstandings and tensions between peoples. Some scholars contend that cultural miss-
communication contribute a lot to the occurrences of ethnic conflicts by sharpening ethnic
identity and by producing conditions of uncertainty (Matthews et al., 2005). In a similar vein,
(Harrison, 2009) in his piece entitled “Culture and Conflict Underscores”, stated the fact that
peoples honor their own culture, and often seek to maintain it in the face of outside influences; it
has been the root cause of some conflicts in multiethnic societies.
In the SNNPR, too, cultural miscommunication has been a cause of many conflicts. Most of such
conflicts appeared when one party considers itself as being traditionally betrayed by the other
party and it led to distrust among the parties
23
. Characterizing and labeling the others ethnic
group’s culture as inferior and uncivilized caused suspicious and hostile ethnic relations among
ethnic groups of the SNNP region. For example, ethnic groups of the southwest part of the
region regarded Mejenger and Menja as inferior, as a result, resentment and disappointment is
high.
2.3. Identity Conflicts in SNNPRS
Ethnicity or identity has been the driving force behind many of the demands for a measure of
self-rule in a well-defined territorial level of local government either with the status of a zone or
woreda (Weldemariam, 2009). Hence, identity deprivation or oppression is the motive behind
the demand to have their own defined territories and administrative status and in a situation
where such a demand is not met; identity becomes a triggering cause for conflicts.
22
Ibid
23
ibid
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130
Although the government claimed identity and the quest for having self-administrative status as
less frequent causes of conflicts, several conflicts, for example in Silte, Donga, Alle, Wolene,
Saykaree and Maneko
24
had occurred in the region. Merging of ethnic groups and the right to
self-determination stipulated in the Constitution encouraged various ethnic groups to assert their
own ethnic identities. On the other hand, the patterns of relationships between ethnic majorities
and settler communities experienced change as a result of the overall changes in the political
structures of the country and its underlying ideologies (Regassa, 2009).
2.4. Conflicts over Natural Resources in the Region
Resource conflicts increased because of dwindling resources, population pressure, and changes
in livelihood strategies of communities. Interviews held with key informants noted that natural
resource is the major triggering cause of conflicts in the region.
25
In a similar vein, an expert
26
working in the Council of Nationalities affirmed that conflicts occurring in the region owing to
natural resources are many in number. Changes in political structures and processes within the
country have been attributed to environmental conflicts (Tadesse, 2003). Dwindling of land
resources as a result of development interventions (large scale mechanized farms), and
continuous and cyclic droughts induce acute resource conflicts between users of natural
resources. There had been conflicts in South Omo and Bench-Maji Zones of the SNNP region
over grazing land and cattle raids (Weldemariam, 2009). Besides, changes in the livelihood
strategies and mode of production of pastoral communities (particularly transformation from
pastoralism to agriculture and agro-pastoralism) have intensified resource conflicts in the
region
27
.
3. The Council of Nationalities
3.1. Selection and Composition
South Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ regional states is home to diverse ethnic and linguistic
groups. Therefore, each nation and nationality has to be represented in a particular institution to
protect their interests. For this reason, the SNNPR Constitution has created an encouraging
atmosphere so as to enable all nationalities to actively participate in decision-making on public
24
An interview held with Anonymous informants October 27, 2011
25
Interview held with Birku Adugna, lecturer at Hawassa university
26
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh working in the Council of Nationalities; Nationality common values
promotion and dispute resolution core work process owner October, 24/2011
27
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh working in the Council of Nationalities; Nationality common values
promotion and dispute resolution core work process owner October, 24/2011
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131
affairs directly or indirectly, i.e. through their representatives in the two organs of government,
particularly in the legislative organ of the state, not only regarding issues relating to their special
interests but also all matters affecting the wellbeing of the regional state.
The SNNPR Constitution guarantees the right of each nation, nationality and people to equitable
representation in regional state governments. It stipulates:
In accordance with the provision the constitution, every Nation, Nationality and
People in the region has the right to a full measure of self-government which
includes the right to establish institutions of government in the territory that it
inhabits and to equitable representation in the regional state governments”
28
.
Peculiar to SNNPRS, in a unique provision which echoes the House of Federation at the national
level, the 2001 revised Constitution of the SNNPR state provides for the establishment of a
Council of Nationalities in 12 November 2001
29
. The demand to have one more legislative
organ was required to accommodate much-diversified characters of the SNNPR society. It is
with these objectives that the Constitution clearly provides for the representation of each nation,
nationality and peoples in the Council of Nationalities.
30
This constitutional provision does not put any minimum demographic requirement to the nations,
nationalities and peoples represented in the CoN. Thus, each nation and nationality is entitled to
have one representative in it. They are also constitutionally granted to have more representatives
as their population size reaches one million.
31
Hence, the Council of Nationalities, as one of the
institutions established to respect constitutional rights of the people, is responsible for and plays
an important role in enhancing the democratic unity of the regional state
32
.
3.2 Conflict Management and Resolution Strategies of the CoN
28
Article 39/4/ of the revised constitution of southern nations nationalities and peoples regional state(2001)
29
Strategy for conflict resolution in the SNNPR, prepared by the Council of Nationalities, 2011
30
It is hoped that the representation of all these nationalities, especially minorities, will create harmony and peaceful
relation among nationalities and strengthens the unity of the regional state, which they inhabit. In addition to
representation role, the House promotes their identity, culture, history, and so forth.
31
The essence of representation of Nations, and Nationalities representation necessitated to not be become Council
of Nationalities as a means of restraining ‘the large Nationalities from having improper advantage over the small
ones’ interview held with Lema Gezu, November, 2011
32
Ibid
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
132
As it has been clearly pronounced in this article, the gravity of the above mentioned conflict
cases necessitate the need to establish conflict resolution institutions at sub-national level like
Council of Nationalities. Accordingly, it is extremely important to have a clear policy and
strategies to discharge duties effectively. Hence, CoN has designed strategies of conflict
management and resolution as per the mandate given by the region’s constitution. In this section,
the article examines the list and nature of the strategies of conflict management and resolution
formulated by the CoN, and discusses the way it executes those strategies to manage and resolve
conflict cases appearing in the region.
The Council of Nationalities has designed the following strategies to address conflict cases and
ensure peace and stability in the region. Making all-round participation in conflict resolving
tasks, performing capacity building activities, identifying and strengthening social organizations,
extending peace education and working on the youth continuously are some of the startegies.
The CoN claims that much has been done to empower women and to make them participant in
conflict resolution processes, and integrate development plans with conflict resolving tasks.
33
3.1.1. Encouraging all-round participation in conflict resolving tasks
The CoN characterizes the involvement of various societal organizations as a corner stone for
conflict management and resolution
34
. Sustainable conflict resolution could be attainable, if and
only if, various social institutions are encouraged to participate in the process
35
. Community
elders, religious leaders and clan leaders have big potential to use their widespread recognition
and respect in several social issues
36
. Nonetheless, informants approached for this study claimed
that though the elders have potential to manage and resolve conflicts, those who served as elders
and worked with the CoN were not ones accepted as such by the community
37
. The informant
further noted that in many conflict resolution processes, the government manipulates elders to
ultimately obtain results that it desires.
33
See Council of Nationalities, Conflict Mapping document, 2011, P 42-46
34
Strategy of conflict resolution of the SNNPR, 2011 prepared by the Council of Nationalities
35
Ibid
36
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute core work process on October 21, 2011
37
An interview held with anonymous informants on October 27, 2011
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
133
Moreover, some elders whom were elected to work as partners with the Council of Nationalities
were highly emotional and partial towards their respective communities. They were accused of
playing destructive roles in the efforts to mitigate conflicts. For instance, during conflict
settlement process of Sidama-Wolyta, local elders exacerbate the conflict and led it to violence
38
.
Undeniably, the effectiveness of a dispute settlement system depends upon the selection and
training of credible participants and their impartiality or the perception of impartiality. Therefore,
conflict management and resolution could be creative, when institutions working with conflicts
are critical in recruiting key personalities who are respected by a particular community so that
the process of conflict management and resolution could be more participatory.
3.1.2. Extending peace education
Culture of peace has to be identified in the socio-political and economic dynamics of the society
that could either sustain the culture of violence thereby hindering the achievement of a culture of
peace or create a condition for the entrenchment of a culture of peace (LeBaron, 2003). There
may also be a tendency that the socio-economic and political dynamics may sustain the culture
of violence and the culture of peace in different context of life or even in the same areas in
different contexts.
The process of entrenching the culture of peace in the SNNPR via the Council of Nationalities in
collaboration with NGOs and bilateral cooperation has accomplished core tasks such as
organizing peace conferences for the public through mass media and preparing a training manual
in collaboration with partner organizations working in the area of peace and conflict resolution
39
.
In this regard, it is GiZ which takes the lion’s share by facilitating the peace conference. In a
similar vein, an interview held with the coordinators of GiZ
40
in the south district corroborated
that they had been busy preparing forums to create awareness in different areas of the region. He
further shed light on the effort being made by the GiZ in south district that peace culture, peace
education, and conflict management and resolution techniques were priority areas in which the
organization operated. In general, in the processes used to entrench the culture of peace, the CoN
in collaboration with GiZ has been trying to put forth efforts. However, the absence of skilled
38
Ibid
39
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute resolution core work process owner on October 21, 2011
40
An interview held with David Fuechtjohann November, 27, 2011
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
134
manpower and lack of commitment from the local government side led the project to struggle
and fell somehow short of expectations.
41
3.1.3. Reducing damage and creating suitable information networks for conflict resolution
tasks
Conflict assessment is the process of systematic collection of information about the dynamics of
a conflict and open-ended, participant-based data as the path to specifying conflict processes
42
.
Well-designed information system is particularly useful for third parties such as intervention
agents and institutions which are mandated to investigate a particular conflict.
Some key informants, for example Zeleke
43
, stated that the CoN has used systematic ways of
collecting and obtaining necessary information. He further claimed that it has strong network
with zonal, woreda and kebele leaders who collect information which shall be used as input
44
. As
opposed to what has been said above, an anonymous informant approached the interviewers and
noted that the CoN did not establish channels of communication to exchange information with
stakeholders. As a result, there is no trained expert in the CoN to process information
systematically. Undeniably, well trained human resource and smooth line of communication are
necessary to be able to work cooperatively with stakeholders, and transform conflicts. The
researcher had the opportunity to see the CoN filing and information management systems and
found it poor and disorganized. However, effective conflict settlement requires sufficient filing
system, i.e. availability of information to be used as input for the purpose of case investigation.
Moreover, interview held with the anonymous informant portrayed the “Council of
Nationalities” as less effective in discharging its responsibilities due to the following reasons.
First and foremost, the CoN does not have early warning systems. Secondly, there is nobody
assigned to collect information on behalf of it about the day to day activities that go on in the
41
Ibid
42
Conflict Resolution and Negotiation Skills manual, prepared byInternational Network for Capacity Building in
Integrated Water Resources Management, 2008llj M2000anagement
43
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute resolution core work process owner on October 21, 2011
44
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute resolution core work process on October 21, 2011
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
135
region. What it has been doing so far is forming committee(s) when cases presented to it. Most
cases were submitted to it after the conflicts escalated to violence
45
.
3.2. The Council of Nationalities Intervention Systems
The intervention mechanisms that the Council of Nationalities takes to settle conflicts has been
conducted by carefully considering the context of the political, social and economic situation of
the conflicting parties
46
. According to the key informant approached for the study, the first phase
was conceptualization and diagnosis of the nature and characteristics of conflicts, actors, history
of the conflicts and efforts being made to resolve conflicts so far. Following the mapping of
conflicts, discussions with local government officials and security institutions decided on the
intervention mechanisms
47
. However, the key informant
48
was critical of the above mentioned
claim of the CoN’. He
49
further argued that the CoN’s effort to map conflicts in the region led to
politicization of issues and overlooked vital scientific methodologies.
Military Interventions in the Region
Interventions the CoN made so far have two dimensions
50
, i.e. peaceful reconciliation (for cases
that are not violent in a particular context) and fire brigade approach (military intervention).
Given the fact that it has not a command to deploy security forces, it carried out military
intervention in collaboration with the executive council of the region to contain violent
conflicts.
51
But military interventions made so far were not successful as some members of the
security forces sided with their respective ethnic groups
52
. There was such experience during the
2008 clashes between peoples of Konso and Derashe, in which some members of the South
Police Special Force took sides and intensified the conflict to the worst level
53
. The 1995
45
An interview held with anonymous informants on October, 27, 2011
46
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute resolution core work process on October 21, 2011
47
Ibid
48
Interview held with Birku Adugna, lecturer at Hawassa university
49
Ibid
50
Interview held with Lema Gezu, November, 2011
51
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute core work process owner on October 21, 2011
52
An interview held with Tekle Deidu whom worked in CoN conflict management and resolution division (2001-
2009) November 20, 2011
53
An interview held with Anonymous informant on November, 16, 2011
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
136
Sidama-Wolyta conflict was contained through deploying security forces. However, it still
remains tense and has likelihood to erupt again when there are triggering issues
54
.
3.3. Challenges of the Council of Nationalities (SNNPRS)
Challenges the CoN has been facing are multifaceted. Most of them emanated from shortage of
budget, lack of skilled manpower, lack of good governance and absence of systematic strategies
to deal with conflicts. Furthermore, weak horizontal and vertical interaction, absence of clear
structure that that can involve the population, confusion in clearly setting the role of the Council
and delay in handling have been the shortcomings of the CoN so far
55
.
3.3.1. Lack of good governance in the SNNPR
Tekle Deidu states that “issues like structural instability, low level of recognition of the
traditional conflict resolution system, misunderstanding between political parties and their
role in conflict resolution and aggravation, and lack of political will and commitment are
some of the visible features of mal-administration in the region”
56
. Undoubtedly, mal-
administrations induce conflicts and instabilities. Such issues are not unique to the CoN as
many conflict cases in the region are driven by bad governance related problems,
marginalization, deep-rooted discrimination and domination of ethnic groups over
minorities.
57
On the other hand, Zelleke
58
claimed that absence of good governance has not been the main
cause of conflicts in the region. The people and local government officials’ misinterpretations
of the new political arrangement (ethnic-based federal system) would rather be a driving force
to degenerate ethnic groups to conflicts.
54
An interview held with anonymous informant on ,October , 29, 2011
55
An interview held with Tekle Deidu who worked in CoN conflict management and resolution division (2001-
2009) November 20, 2011
56
An interview held with Tekle Deidu whom worked in CoN conflict management and resolution division (2001-
2009) November 20, 2011
57
Ibid
58
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute core work process on October 21, 2011
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
137
3.3.2. Financial constraints and shortage of skilled manpower
Financial constraint is a big quandary the Council of Nationalities encountered. Government
support, it could be both from federal and regional level, is not sufficient. As a result, it faced
serious problems in dealing with registered cases and resulted in delays. At the moment,
however, CoN budgetary problems were not solved, but partners like GiZ supported it both
financially and materially
59
.
As it has been said earlier, well-trained human resource is the most important issue for
institutions working in conflict management and resolution. Hiring staff members who are
relevant to the field highly determine success and failure of the institutions. In this regard, the
CoN has no sufficient staff members who are trained in the field of conflict studies and
communication. For that reason, staff who are working as expert in the CoN are few (only
two) in number. For the institution which was established supposedly to manage the ethnic
relations of various ethnic (more than fifty six) groups, having only two experts is not more
than showing the existence of nominal institutions. However, the regional government
claimed that the staff is highly qualified and pretty enough to coordinate the activities of the
CoN
60
.
3.3.3. Absence of a systematic strategy to handle cases
Conflict handling is an expensive and demanding task. As a result, it requires institutions
working in the areas of peace and conflict to be patient, creative and methodical (Fisher, 1993).
In the study areas, stakeholders’ (government agencies, practitioners and religious groups)
conceptualization of conflicts, their nature, dynamics and intervention mechanisms and the art to
approach conflicting parities are not systematically designed
61
. Participants of the resolution
processes were involved without having proper knowledge because they had neither the science
nor the art of conflict resolution. As a result, there is no integrated and comprehensive approach
59
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute core work process on October 21, 2011
60
Ibid
61
An interview held with Birku Adugna Damte, lecturer at Department of governance, Hawassa University,
November 2011
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
138
to dealing with conflict cases scientifically. As different scholars noted, the art and science of
conflict resolution is not something that end overnight.
62
Well studied plan of action and strategies in each step of the resolution process are required.
Successful conflict resolution strategies and practices need integration of both external and local
knowledge, transparent procedures, an accessible judicial system, and the like (Regassa, 2009).
With this regard, cases whose resolution processes were carried out by the CoN showed, once
involved in the resolution process, it did not chec to transform it to the next level. As conflict is a
never ending social process, then things we learned from our experience are very useful to
handle other conflicts
63
. Moreover, most of conflict resolution trends in the region witnessed that
the processes are under the sphere of influence of the ruling party. Most of the conflict resolution
processes were concluded neither in ways that involved empirical data, nor were they based on
rationales presented.
Instead top leaders of the regional state decided on resolving conflicting issues and the way they
were resolved as per the command given by top leaders and middle and lower level leaders
enforced rules to convince conflicting parties to accept the resolution. If both or one of the
conflicting parties refused not to accept the resolution, intimidation and torture would follow.
Religious leaders and clan leaders played major roles in giving the resolution processes
legitimacy
64
.
3.3.4. Unlawful horizontal and vertical intervention
Interdependence between the federal government and regional states has been a fact and both
levels of government need to respect the powers each level exercises (Fisher, 2001). However,
for any reason, sometimes disputes may arise between the federal and regional governments. For
instance, the two levels of government may experience disputes over divisions of powers and so
forth. For such circumstances, there has to be a constitutional mechanism to deal with vertical
conflicts.
62
bid
63
An interview held with Anonymous informants on October, 27,2011
64
Ibid
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
139
In Ethiopia, the FDRE Constitution states nothing about how to deal with vertical conflicts, i.e.
conflicts between the federal government versus regional states (Abbink, 2011). In a similar
vien, Tekele
65
noted that despite segregation of authorities between the CoN and HoF in their
vertical relationship, practically in some cases HoF meddled in cases being entertained by the
CoN unconstitutionally. The conflict between Gamo Gofa and Debub Omo over their border
side, Arasaki, shows that the resolution process can be taken as a best case to show the
unconstitutional intervention of the HoF in the CoN authority
66
.
3.4. Prospects of the Council of Nationalities
The CoN adopted some remarkable trends working with different stakeholders, designed a
strategy of conflict resolution, researching the history, cultural practices and core values of
nations and nationalities and peoples of the region and preparing conflict analysis reader which
includes the situation of each nation, nationality and people of the region.
67
.
3.4.1. Preparing strategies for resolving conflicts and conflict analysis reader
The CoN has carried out assessment that shows the prevailing situation starting from its
establishment to 2007 so as to prepare a strategy for resolving and managing conflicts. In the
process to prepare a reader, government bodies, civil society organizations and resource persons
participated. Moreover, discussions were held at different levels to enrich and develop the
document
68
. In a similar vein, an interview held with Zeleke
69
, the regional Council of
Nationalities has also delved into the community behavior, i.e. the community beliefs and the
perceptions and cultural systems. Accordingly, behaviors of different nations and nationalities
have been recorded in a file form so that the tasks of conflict management and dispute resolution
will not be longer difficult
70
.
65
An interview held with Tekle Deidu whom worked in CoN conflict management and resolution division (2001-
2009) November 20, 2011
66
Ibid
67
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute resolution core work process owner on October 21, 2011
68
Strategy for conflict resolution prepared by council of nationalities(SNNPR),may 2011
69
An interview held with Zelleke Belayneh , whom working in Council of Nationalities, as Nationality common
values promotion and dispute resolution core work process owner on October 21, 2011
70
Strategy for conflict resolution prepared by Council of Nationalities(SNNPR),may 2011
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
140
4. Conclusion
The Ethiopian federal system has been working to devise mechanisms to prevent inter- and intra-
regional controversies. Because of the serious dangers that ethnic conflicts pose to multiethnic
states, and the seemingly inevitable periodic disputes arising among ethnically defined
communities and so forth, it is imperative that the federation develops methods of conflict
resolution. In a federation, an organ or institution is needed to resolve both vertical and
horizontal disputes. Accordingly, the 1995 FDRE Constitution established permanent
institutions, i.e. the House of Federation and Ministry of Federal Affairs, for this purpose.
Recognizing the inevitability of disputes among the various nationalities, the SNNPR
Constitution also realized the establishment of the Council of Nationalities. The drivers of
ravaging conflicts in the region are underpinned mainly by the political strategy of EPRDF used
to create subnational governments. Some of the commonly cited causes are merging of diverse
ethnic groups together, the struggle of ethnic groups to reserve their identity and their right to
self-administrative, border issues and natural resource utilizations coupled with
maladministration.
In an endeavor to fulfill its mandate, the CoN has designed the following strategies of conflict
resolution. Accordingly, extending peace education, making all-round participation in conflict
resolution tasks, creating a suitable information network and reducing damages were
included. The CoN has also endorsed mechanisms of intervention whenever violent conflicts
appear within its authority. As a result, peaceful reconciliation and military interventions have
been used to settle conflicts. Quite understandably any conflict resolution institution faces
challenges in the effort to make peace. The absence of early warning systems, financial
constraints, the absence of skilled manpower, poor information management systems, failure
to utilize social agents and indigenous conflict resolution techniques are among the challenges
the CoN has faced so far.
On the other hand, there are a couple of things that are accomplished by CoN that are
promising. Some of the strategies employed by CoN are working with institutions like GiZ,
preparing training in conflict prone areas, peace education using mass media and mapping
actual and potential conflict areas in the region. It has also been working to reshape the
societies’ understanding of conflicts. Given the fact that conflict is a social phenomenon, it
The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 7, Number 1, May 2021
141
would have positive synergy if conflicting parties worked out their problems collaboratively
by understanding each other’s concerns and interests.
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