INTRODUCTION AND PROBLEM STATEMENT
The post-1991 period witnessed new political arrangement in the history of Ethiopia. The federal constitution which was adopted in December 1994 and came in to force in August 1995, introduced an ethnic federal political arrangement. In this regard, the Ethiopian federation comprises nine regional states (the state of Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somali, Benishangul Gumuz, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, Gambella and Harar) with two city administrations such as Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. Therefore, Benishangul Gumuz region is one of the multi ethnic regional states of Ethiopia. The regional state constitution explicitly acknowledges the presence of several ethnic groups to live together under the region. The constitution also recognizes the Bertha, Gumuz, Shinasha, Mao and Komo ethnic groups as indigenous nationalities of the region, while as per the regional state constitution, other ethnic groups residing in the region are considered as non-indigenous ones. But none of single ethnic groups and religious faiths constitute as a majority within the region. Hence, one can claim that the region is collection of minorities in terms of ethnic and religious configuration.
It is actual fact that, diversity is one of the most contested issues in domestic and international politics (Moreno and Colino, 2010: 3). Questions concerning how diversities should be recognized and accommodated in ethno-linguistically and culturally heterogeneous states are among the most important political agenda for democratic and democratizing societies today (Gutmann, 1994; Assefa, 2007). Currently, accommodation of diversity has been salient issues either in developed or developing states. Hence, diversities are accommodated in many ways at national, sub-national and local levels of government within federations. Accordingly, the overarching aim why ethnic federalism has been opted in Ethiopia since 1991 was primarily to respond to the past ethno-cultural injustice. Nevertheless, there are contesting views mushrooming in Ethiopia, whether ethnic based federalism should maintain unity in diversity in the country as whole and regional states in particular. The proponents of ethnic federalism claim that, it has maintained the unity of the Ethiopian people with full recognition of diversity. While the opponents argue that, in current Ethiopia the main cause of ethnic conflicts or tensions is the introduction of ethnic federalism. The assumption of this idea is that, ethnic federalism can institutionalize, perpetuate, freeze, entrench, and even exacerbate the very conflicts they are designed to alleviate.
Even though, significant change was made in terms of socio-political, cultural and economic aspects after 1991 in Ethiopia in general and Benishangul-Gumuz regional state in particular. Yet, managing and accommodating diversities has been challenging issues in the region’s political dynamics. In support of this argument, Beza (2014: 150) asserted that Benishangul Gumuz region is rich in ethnic diversity; however, its diversity has been more of a curse than a blessing. He also claimed that the electoral system was part of the problem regarding management of diversity at federal and regional councils in Ethiopian federation (ibid, 2013). From this point of view one can infer that ‘the first past the post’ electoral system exacerbates the problems in BGRS and other regional states.
In Ethiopia there are few literatures analyzing the subject of unity and diversity or ‘self-rule’ and ‘shared-rule’ matrix at sub-national levels of government in a comprehensive way. Yet, the existing few literatures primarily focus on the legal mechanisms how diversities have been accommodated or managed at sub-national level. There has been almost no research done specifically analyzing on the aspects of the management of diversity holistically in Benishangul-Gumuz regional state in detail. In this regard, this study is expected to fill this research gap prevailed on the subject mentioned before.
Therefore, this study devotes most of its attention on analyzing the praxis of unity in diversity in Benishangul-Gumuz regional state in the context of ethnic federal political arrangement. It also examines various mechanisms adopted to enhance the imperatives of unity in diversity, and alternative policies and institutions designed to maintain unity in diversity at Benishangul-Gumuz regional state. In addition to this, this study also explore how Benishangul-Gumuz regional state managed the existing ethnic diversity in the context of contemporary ethnic federalism.
1.2 Problem Statement
The term federalism has been defined in different ways. However, for this purpose a limited definition is sufficient. According to Elazar (1987), federalism refers to the advocacy of multi-tiered government combining elements of ‘shared-rule’ and ‘self-rule’. It is based on the presumed value of achieving both unity and diversity by accommodating, preserving and promoting distinct identities within a larger political union (ibid). Hence, federalism as a political idea has become increasingly important as a way of peacefully reconciling the principles of unity and diversity typically in multi-national federations. For instance, Ronald Watts claims that the actual operation of federations should be categorized not in terms of rigid structures for the division of powers, but as involving a process that enables reconciliation of internal diversity within their federal frameworks (Majeed, Watts, et al (eds.), 2006).
In a diversified society, federalism is one of the important instruments to reconcile conflicting ideologies, disparate groups and seemingly irreconcilable positions. Notwithstanding, the ability of a federal arrangement in managing diversity, it is fact that many scholars of federalism claim, federalism is not a panacea for all challenges of ethnic diversity or ethnic conflicts. Federalism as institutional device alone is not enough to respond to the challenges of ethnic conflicts or tensions at different areas diametrically. Particularly, federations that were designed to accommodate ethnic diversity must go beyond the traditional institutional features of a federation to maintain unity in diversity (Yonatan, 2008).