Strengthening Mechanisms of Intergovernmental Relations of the Ethiopian Federation

Wednesday, 20 June 2018 15:13 Written by 
  • Location(s): Ethiopia, India
  • Type(s): Solution
  • Theme(s): Democratic Governance
  • SDG(s): 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • Locations in Africa: Ethiopia
  • Types in Africa: Solution
  • Themes in Africa: Decentralization
  • SDGs in Africa: 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • Locations of ComSec Solutions: India
  • Types of ComSec Solutions: Solution
  • Themes of ComSec Solutions: Democratic Governance
  • SDGs of ComSec Solutions: 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


The Ethiopian federal system is still in its infant stage. The systems and institutions are fragile. One of the key challenges is the absence or weakness of formal mechanisms and systems for intergovernmental relations (IGR), i.e., the horizontal and vertical relations among the different tiers of government. As a result there has been imbalance between the center and states. To further consolidate the federal system, the House of the Federation and the Ministry of Federal and Pastoralist Development Affairs have initiated the process of strengthening systems and mechanisms of a formal IGR system. As part of this initiative, senior experts and policy makers from federal and regional institutions took part in a 10-day experience sharing visit to India which allowed to capture experiences and lessons learnt as inputs to the policymaking process on intergovernmental relations.


Ethiopia (Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia - FDRE), a country with a rich history of diverse societies and cultures, introduced a federal form of government in 1994 following decades of prolonged war and highly centrist government traditions. The notion behind the federal system is to address the quest for self-rule by the country’s nations, nationalities and peoples and to attain sustainable peace and development. Nine regional states and two city administrations constitute the federal units. The Constitution grants legislative, executive and judicial powers to both levels [Art. 50(2)]. Powers are divided between the federal government on the one hand and nine regional states and two charter city administrations. These interdependent government arrangements, the division of powers and unique features of the federation are crucial to harmonize development policies, foster good governance and brotherly relations among the diverse communities. Although there has been significant progress over the years, Ethiopia’s federal system faces multifaceted challenges in particular through the weak Intergovernmental Relations (IGR), which are perhaps the least developed and least understood (or most misunderstood) dimension of federalism in Ethiopia. Critical for the evolution of federalism in the foreseeable future, key issues in relation to IGR in Ethiopia are: * The system of IGR in Ethiopia is poorly developed and mostly managed through informal relations including (ruling) party channels. Except for purposes of dispute resolution related to border changes between the regional states and the exercise of concurrent tax powers by both levels, neither the constitution nor a policy framework provides IGR’s overall vision, objectives, guiding principles, frameworks and procedures. * Since 2005 the Ministry of Federal Affairs is assigned to serve as a center of good federal-state relations (Proclamation No. 471/2005), but is limited to to the management of the executive branches of the federal government. The ministry has no full authority to facilitate and manage the overall relations (be it vertical or horizontal relations across government structures) that arise due to the extensive areas of interdependence. Reorganization of the executive organs and establishment of a formal institution that oversees the overall system remains difficult. More understanding on the benefits and structure and mandate of an IGR system is needed.. * The House of Federation, also responsible for building good relationships and vertical fiscal relations between federal government and states, has so far not developed effective mechanisms and systems of IGR. * Need for institutionalizing IGR is increasingly growing and is currently resolved through the establishment of sector-specific fora that have been formed through practice between senior officials and bureaucrats. These fora are not part of a harmonized policy framework, often work in silos and codify their own MoU. The regional states do not have structures that are exclusively concerned with intergovernmental relations.


Although in most federal systems the requirement of intergovernmental co-operation is rather implicit than explicit, general policy expressions of the mechanism and systems of intergovernmental relations have always proven useful. Inspired by the growing need to institutionalize and strengthen formal IGR, the House of the Federation and the Ministry of Federal and Pastoralist Development Affairs of the FDRE, with the financial and technical support from UNDP, have initiated the process of developing a formal IGR that would help further consolidate the federal system. The current efforts involve deliberations with stakeholders on the conceptual and practical issues related to federalism and IGR, in an attempt to document lessons and formulate policy and institutional frameworks for Ethiopia. This includes learning from the experiences of other federations on the theory of practice of federalism and intergovernmental relations. Accordingly, the Government of Ethiopia has organized an experience sharing mission to India in December 2016. The mission was organized with the objective to obtain relevant information and learn from India on policy and practices of federalism and management of intergovernmental relations in view of adapting and applying them to the Ethiopian context. Ethiopia's federal system shares many similarities with that of India. They are both multicutural federations with huge cultural and linguistic diversities. India being an established federation, it was particularly interesting for Ethiopia to learn how India managed the diversity and the interaction between the center and states.

Supported by: UNDP

Implemented by: House of Federation (Ethiopia)

Contact person: Dassa Bulcha; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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