Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Federalism Recognizes Ethnic Diversity ETHNICITY IN AFRICAN POLITICS. ETHNIC Nationalism Has Emerged as a Powerful Factor in World Politics as Communist or Authoritarian Governments Have Collapsed in Places Such as the Former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Somalia. but It Remains Little Understood, Especially in the Afircan Context, Where the Tribalism Label Leads to Easy Misperceptions. Here, and on the Opinion Pages, the Monitor Explores the Relationship between Ethnicity and African Politics. ETHIOPIA

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Federalism Recognizes Ethnic Diversity ETHNICITY IN AFRICAN POLITICS. ETHNIC Nationalism Has Emerged as a Powerful Factor in World Politics as Communist or Authoritarian Governments Have Collapsed in Places Such as the Former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Somalia. but It Remains Little Understood, Especially in the Afircan Context, Where the Tribalism Label Leads to Easy Misperceptions. Here, and on the Opinion Pages, the Monitor Explores the Relationship between Ethnicity and African Politics. ETHIOPIA

Article excerpt

ETHIOPIA, in a bold experiment, is trying a different approach to avoiding tribal conflicts.

In May 1991, after 17 years of repressive rule, dictator Mengistu Haile-Mariam was forced from the capital, Addis Ababa, by rebels sweeping down from the north. But instead of trying to suppress tribal demands, as Colonel Mengistu had, the new leader, Meles Zenawi, recognized them.

President Meles formed a transitional council, or parliament, composed of 30 political parties with representatives from most of Ethiopia's 60-plus ethnic groups. The country was divided into 14 ethnic-based regions. Each region was given autonomy to choose its own language, set up a police force, and direct its own development.

"This was the demand of the people," says Teklu Negash, a government spokesman. He says the $1.2 billion of economic aid pledged to Ethiopia by Western donors in late November is recognition that the country's devastated economy must be bolstered while ethnic federalism takes root.

But experts say it is too early to know if Ethiopia's experiment will work.

"We can't give an answer for another 50 years," says Richard Pankhurst, a history professor at the University of Addis Ababa and an expert on Ethiopia.

Regional and local ethnic clashes over land and other issues since Meles came to power reflect the fact that the central government is now a weak one, Dr. Pankhurst says. People are feeling the impact of sustained conflict, he says. …

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