September 24, 2020

The Constitutional and Political Representation of Addis Ababans or the lack thereof


Among the headaches of the Ethiopian constitution and all the bodies responsible for its…

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The Constitutional and Political Representation of Addis Ababans or the lack thereof

Among the headaches of the Ethiopian constitution and all the bodies responsible for its observance, the issue of the capitol is one of the most recurrent ones. Since the inception of Ethiopia’s problematic federation, the capital has been the subject of political discourse at the highest levels in Ethiopia. The political tension surrounding the city is also compounded by socio-economic issues arising out of the growing population of the city.

This fact is attested to by the recent Afrobarometer study that took the issue of constitutional reform and amendments head. In the study one of the country specific areas identified for the study was related to the political identity of Addis Ababa. The study interviewed 2,400 randomly and scientifically  selected candidates in nine regions (Sidama region had not become a Regional State yet at the time) and the two administrative cities of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. To the question, should Addis Ababa become a member of the federation, a majority of the respondents (54%) strongly opposed the idea while 35% supported the constitutional reform that would make Addis Ababa an equal member in the Ethiopian Federation.  

Addis Ababa, chosen by Empress Taytu Betul to become the capital of the nation and founded by Emperor Menilik II for the same purpose, is the heart of the country. The seat of the Federal government, the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and many more international and regional organizations, Addis Ababa plays an integral role in the economy of the country as well as its international influence at regional and global levels. 

As the most vibrant region of the country, many flock into and out of the city on a daily basis. Relocating to the capital from the different parts of the country is not only customary but considered as a step forward in life because of the increased opportunities to grow in the capital as compared to other parts of the country.

Following the DERG’s fall in 1991, the transitional government drafted the 1995 Constitution of the country proclaiming  it the supreme legislation of the country. It also identified Addis Ababa as the capital of the nation in Article 49. The provision also stipulates other legal and electoral rules that bring with them countless legal and political implications for the residents of the city. 

On the back of the recent housing dilemma caused following the report released by the Ethiopian Citizens Party for Social Justice (EZEMA) and in light the different political parties that claim to represent the needs of the people of Addis Ababa, it has come time for Addis Zeybe to say something on the matter. Legal, constitutional, political and demographic points will be raised to reflect on the extent of the political representation of Addis Ababa and its residents in the complex Ethiopian context. 

Going to the Source: the 1991 Constitution and Addis Ababa (Article 49)

Having defeated a brutal Derg regime with questionable policies and track records when it comes to minority rights and the observance of human rights principles, knowingly or in the heat of the moment, the TPLF dominated transitional government set out to draft a constitution to introduce an ethnic federalism that has since met its share of critics. In the process, however, Addis Ababa was neglected and its inhabitants left exposed to several disadvantages as they lacked the same level of entitlement and protection the constitution gives to the noble “Nations Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia”. How? Let's explore that.

The first problematic approach was the identification of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia as the owners of the constitution in Article 8 of the constitution. This is not problematic on its own. However, when read in conjunction with Article 49 which refers to the inhabitants of Addis Ababa as residents as opposed to NNPs, it brings with it several ramifications that require correction. 

Before going any further in explaining why this article is problematic, however, sympathising with the drafters and the political as well as demographic situation of the country is important. For instance, while Addis was a common center for people coming from different parts of the country, it has since changed into becoming both a center to all Ethiopians and home to millions of native Addis Ababans. 

Granted, with the lack of an official national census since 2007 - over a decade ago - it is difficult to make assertions about the demography of the city. However, Addis Zeybe believes that common sense and experiences from the staff’s years of living in the city allows one to make an assertion that a significant portion of the estimated 8 to 10 million residents of Addis Ababa are natives born in the ever expanding city. This must be understood and accepted by all concerned in the people and government of the country. Because it is the reality.

However, according to the above constitutional arrangement a person born in Addis Ababa to parents belonging to one of the eighty plus ethnicities in the country cannot claim the constitution or any rights and benefits of a citizen arising from it as a resident of Addis Ababa. Rather, such a person would have to use both or one of his parent’s ethnic identity as a route to Article 8 of the constitution. That is precisely why Addis Ababans were forced to have ethnic identity as part of their City Identification Card. Some even had to choose the ethnic identity of one of their parents in cases where parents were from different ethnic groups, which is very common in the capital and other parts of the country. 

This dilemma also has political ramifications. To date Addis Ababa does not belong to the residents of the city. Even though Article 49(2) grants the right to self rule subject to determination by law, it is quite vague and absent on the ground. According to the next sub article the city is Administration is clearly placed under the supervision of the Federal Government which frankly negates any right or entitlement to self rule in the absence of a transparent and democratic administration. As things stand, it is difficult to imagine the federal government supervising the City Administration while at the same time respecting the right to self rule of the residents of the city.

Another demonstration of the lack of representation of Addis Ababans in the constitution is the intentional use of words such as “self-rule” in Article 49(2) as opposed to “self-determination” in Article 39(1) of the constitution when referring to the NNPs of Ethiopia. This also needs revision and correction so as to reflect the current situation of the country. The justification is that it is discriminatory and against the principle of equality - both enshrined in the constitution - to limit the rights of native residents of Addis Ababa. 

The rebuttal to this may be that anyone in Addis Ababa can trace ethnic identities and access self determination through such identity. However, this is far from the same thing. Take a person born to Harari parents. For this individual, even though the culture of Harar might hold a special place in his life, in most cases he is likely to identify as an Addis Ababan. Therefore, a right to self determination as a Harari which is limited to the territory of the Harari Regional State is not the same right guaranteed under the constitution for this individual.

There are practical indicators of the above legal disadvantages of Addis Ababans currently rampant in the city’s administration

Most of the above points may cascade as too theoretical and existent only in the legal realm. Granted, some of them are. But, they do the job of clearly showing the problematic nature of the status of Addis Ababa in the constitution. However, it is not valid to assume that there are no practical demonstrations of the many disadvantages Addis Ababans knowingly and unknowingly are at the end of the administration of the city. 

From Takele Uma to Adanech Abiebie, Neither a member of the City Council

This is not necessarily illegal. But it's definitely wrong. There is probably no better example than the two deputy mayors appointmented during Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s time in office to show the disproportional power the Federal government possesses over the city council. When one considers the fact that neither Takele nor Adanech are members of the City Council (which in other words means they are unelected officials), the legal structure’s problematic set up becomes clearer. Does this not negate the constitutionally guaranteed right to self rule? It clearly does. 

Throughout its post EPRDF history, the city has been administered by politicians from different parts of the country, who at times do not understand the complex demography and cultural context of the city. This leads to mistakes. Takele’s recent housing scandal is a good example. But it's far from being the only example. Granted, Takele Uma’s administration has done plenty for the city. But his decisions have also contributed to the decline in popularity of the current administration among the inhabitants of the city. Was Adanech a better replacement. From the point of view of the right to self rule, the answer is no. This needs correction. 

Special Interest: What does it mean?

Rarely is confusion used to explain something. It can be here. The special interest of the Oromia region is still not clearly defined by the constitution or any other legal document intended to stipulate what the term means. In the interest of avoiding a literary black hole, let us skip the discussion around the legitimacy of such a special interest. 

The issue Addis Zeybe seeks to discuss is not a rebuttal to the special interest of the Oromia region. Rather, Addis Zeybe holds that the special interest of native Addis Ababans - which is honestly more proximate - must also be incorporated into the constitution and other legislations. It is because of the lack of such legal protection of native Addis Ababans, that the recent house allocation and land grab scandal arose. 

While the special interest of Oromia in Addis Ababa is usually defined vis a vis the other NNPs of the country, it is now time to start defining it vis a vis the primary interest of native Addis Ababans as well. This is because there has been a significant change in the demography of the country since the adoption of the constitution in 1995. This and other unclear legislations, policies and practices must be corrected due to their direct ramifications on the rights of the residents of Addis Ababa.  


Issuing an editorial on such a sensitive and complex issue is not an easy task to undertake. However, Addis Zeybe has chosen to speak out on the matter and shade light on the constitutional gaps, structural disadvantages and other important issues related to the political representation of Addis Ababans. As outlined in the above article Addis Ababans must be given similar avenues towards the rights guaranteed by the constitution. 

In addition to legal disadvantages, the government must also work to correct practical challenges like the ones raised above. The right to self rule must be observed. The appointment of city mayors and other officials must not override the votes of the city’s inhabitants. Consultations must be done with the community when deciding on matters that affect the rights and entitlements of city residents. The justified rhetoric of the special interest of the residents of the city must be explored in consultation with the NNPs. 

In conclusion, the political representation of the residents of Addis Ababa requires due attention by the current and coming administrations because it is still an unanswered question continuing to have ramifications. These ramifications have had adverse effects on the lives of the Addis Ababans as well as their interaction with members of several NNPs. This needs attention and the necessary correction.