Ethiopian Constitution and Nations, Nationalities, Peoples Day

26 Nov 2016
5372 times

(Solomon Dibaba, ENA)

Ethiopia is one of few African countries with a long history of constitutionalism. The country boasts 75 years of constitutional history. The 1931 and the revised constitution of 1954 were drafted and promulgated during the imperial regime while in 1987 the Derg drafted and instituted a constitution that seemed to reflect a socialist orientation. Both constitutions provided for a unitary state while in 1995, for the first time in the history of the country, a federal constitution was proclaimed during the Transition Period. (1991-1994)

The 1931 imperial constitution consisted of the decree proclaiming the constitution with seven chapters divided into 55 articles. The contents of the chapters included among others the definition of the Ethiopian Empire and provisions on the succession to the imperial throne, the power and prerogatives of the emperor  defined in a series of 12 articles while a bicameral parliament consisting of Hig memria  Mikerbet ( lower house) and Higmewesgenga Mikerbet (the upper chamber) which is appointed by the emperor.. The Constitution defines the role of the judiciary and gives  a special legal rights to foreigners  Article 54 establishes Special Courts, required by the Klobukowski agreement of 1906, which gave foreigners extraterritoriality in Ethiopia, exempting them from both Ethiopian law and her justice system  ( Margary Perham, The Government of Ethiopia, second edition, p. 151).

Although a bicameral parliament was established as provided in the constitution, it was only after 1944 that the constitution defined the powers and authority of the two chamber parliaments. The Constitution of 1931 was superseded at the time of Emperor Haile Selassie's Silver Jubilee in 1954, when a new constitution was promulgated. (Margary Perham)

Pressurized by the influence from a number of modern constitutions issued by the colonialists in Africa in November 1954, the emperor issued another revised constitution.

The newly revised constitution consisted of eight chapters and 131 articles. While clearly contained a number of ideas from constitution of other countries, such as a separation of powers between three branches of government, and careful attention given to detailing the "Rights and Duties of the People", to which 28 articles were devoted. However, the Crown Council forced the constitution's authors to stress the prerogatives of the crown, giving the emperor the right to rule by emergency decree, to appoint and dismiss ministers without input from the Ethiopian parliament, and to appoint members of the Senate, judges, and even the mayors of municipalities

Article 4 of the Constitution notes that "By virtue of His Imperial Blood, as well as by the anointing which he has received, the person of the Emperor is sacred, His dignity is inviolable and His power indisputable. This constitution only helped to further strengthen the power of the emperor and the absolute monarchy.

Although the Higmewesegna Mikir Bet remained appointive, in contrast to the legislature under the 1931 Constitution which could only discuss matters referred to it, it now had the authority to propose laws and veto laws proposed by the executive. It could also summon ministers for questioning, and in extraordinary circumstances it could initiate impeachment process. Parliament now had the responsibility of approving or rejecting all proposed budgets, including taxes and allocations. (The 1954 Revised Constitution).

Contrary to the provisions of the constitutions of many African countries, the 1954 revised constitution does not separate the church and the state, in fact, as provided support and recognition in article 126 of the constitution,

“The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, founded in the fourth century, on the doctrines of Saint Mark, is the Established Church of the Empire and is, as such, supported by the Senate. The Emperor shall always profess the Ethiopian Orthodox Faith. The name of the Emperor shall be mentioned in all religious services.”

Both constitutions of 1931 and 1954 were drafted by experts designated personally by the emperor. These constitutions referred to the peoples of Ethiopia as “the people” and as” citizens” with no reference to the diverse composition of the peoples of Ethiopia.  The concept of separation of power was not clearly stated in the formation of the imperial government as absolute power rested on the emperor.

The 1987 Constitution of Ethiopia was the third constitution of the country and went into effect on 22 February 1987 after a referendum on 1 February of that year. Its adoption inaugurated the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE).

The constitution consisted of seventeen chapters and 119 articles. The 835-member legislature, the National Shengo, was defined as the highest organ of state power. Its members were elected to five-year terms. Executive power was vested in a president, elected by the National Shengo for a five-year term, and a cabinet also appointed by the Shengo. The president was chairman of the Council of State, which acted for the legislature between sessions.

Actual power, however, rested in the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE), defined as the leading force of state and society. More specifically, the sole power rested on Mengistu who was not only president of the country but general secretary of the WPE. He and the other members of the Derg dominated the WPE's Politburo.

The Constitution guaranteed civil rights and personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, the press, religion, movement, assembly, and association. Although press freedom was promulgated the Derg maintained censorship law that was issued by the imperial regime. Citizens also had the right to a fair trial and a free education but these rights were time and again abused by the government.

In practice these constitutional rights were only on paper and have never been implemented as they were deliberately hijacked by the totalitarian regime. A generation of youth was wiped out in the most unprecedented genocide in the country under the guise of Red Terror while arbitrary arrests and conscriptions to the army were conducted under the slogan of Revolutionary Motherland or death!

 After the fall of the Derge, A Peace Conference was convened in July 1991 and deliberated on several important issues. The following were the main resolutions of the conference: a) adoption of a Transitional Charter, b) Establishment of a Transitional Government on the bases of the Transitional Charter, c) The Charter provided that the Right to Self-Determination of the different Nations, Nationalities in Ethiopia including g and up establishing independent states of their own is guaranteed d)  a referendum to ask the Eritrean people if they want independence or want to remain n united with Ethiopia e) the Ethiopian state should be decentralized and power should devolve, and for this the state should be restructured  into new administrative regions depicting  the ethnic territories f)  guarantee for the respect of human and democratic rights g) guarantee for equitable resource sharing ) guarantee that the languages and cultures of the different ethnic groups are respected and I) that the transitional government establishes a Constitution Drafting Commission to draft a constitution which should be adopted as quickly as possible and that a provides for the establishment of a democratic and united Ethiopia but which respects the right to self-determination.(  Negasso Gidada( PHD), Ethiopian Federalism and its Challenges and Prospects, November 13,2015)

Following the convocation of the Transitional Charter, The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia came into force on 21 August 1995. The constitution was drawn up by A Constitution Drafting Commission that was elected in June 1994. It was adopted by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia in December 1994 and came into force following the general election held in May–June 1995.

The constitution consists of 106 articles in 11 chapters. It provides for a federal government of nine  regions governed by a parliament divided into the House of Peoples' Representatives and the House of Federation. It provides for a parliamentary system, with a President as head of state, and executive power vested in a Council of Ministers headed by a Prime Minister.

The proclamation of a new democratic and federal constitution in 1995 refers to nations, nationalities and peoples in exactly the first line of the preamble of the constitution in a historical recognition of the diversity and unity of the peoples of Ethiopia and owners of the constitution itself. (See preamble of the constitution). The Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Day to be observed this year at the State of Harari on the 8th of December is another vivid testimony of demonstration of unity in diversity among the peoples of Ethiopia.

As opposed to the 1931 and 1954 imperial constitutions, which attribute sovereignty to the emperor as “elect of God” article 8, sub articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution of the FDRE attribute that “All sovereign power resides in the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia; the constitution is the expression of their sovereignty. In this sense, marking the nations, nationalities and peoples day is explained from three interconnected perspectives including the sovereignty of the peoples of Ethiopia, their diversity and unity.

The FDRE constitution created a two-tiered federal structure. The Executive Branch consists of the President, Council of State, and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister maintains the executive power. The Constitution created a bicameral parliamentary system consisting of the House of People's Representatives and the House of Federation. Electoral districts elect representatives for the House of People's Representatives every five years. The House of Federation consists of at least one representative from each “Nation, Nationality and People.” The House of People's Representatives decides issues related national infrastructure, nationality, war, and federal statutes. The House of Federation maintains control of issues related to states' rights, including “the right to secession.”

There are nine states within Ethiopia (article 47). Each state maintains its own legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The State Council is the highest authority in each state, and it has the authority to amend the state constitution. Each state is subdivided into smaller local governments. The Constitution calls for each State Council to decentralize the administration to the local authorities.

The constitution devotes 30 articles to human and democratic rights (articles 14 to 44) in which article 39 are also included for the first time in the constitutional history of the country. The nations, nationalities and peoples day is a national constitution day of the country the cornerstone of which is set by all the 106 articles provided in the constitution.

It is only natural for Ethiopia to have a federal constitution and government as it exactly fits into the historical, cultural and linguistic profile of the peoples of the country. This is not a matter of mere choice but expediency. The nations, nationalities and peoples day is therefore a day devoted to all Ethiopians here and abroad.

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