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Ethiopians open to constitutional amendments but public opinion divided when it should be done, a study says

Avatar: Bruck Negash
Bruck NegashAugust 27, 2020
PoliticsInterviewCurrent Affairs
Ethiopians open to constitutional amendments but public opinion divided when it should be done, a study says
According to a study done by Afrobarometer - a pan-African, nonpartisan survey research network operating in Africa - shows that constitutional amendments are favored by most Ethiopians, especially on certain matters among others. According to the study, Ethiopians favor decisions to amend the constitution when it comes to limiting the term of the Prime Minister and increasing the number of federal languages while other amendments while the public opinion is divided on matters such as the removal of the controversial Article 39 and the removal of the emblem from the national flag.  BackgroundThe current and fourth constitution of Ethiopia is marred with lack of clarity, controversial drafting procedures, radical provisions and other threats that make it a truly unique constitution. Introduced in 1994, the drafting process of the constitution is criticized for not being inclusive of public opinion and opposition parties at the time. Many political parties boycotted the 1995 elections because of this very reason. With the lack of a constitutional court, it has been difficult to increase the jurisprudence of the constitution because of the historical lack of political and institutional independence Council of Constitutional Inquiry. A political commentator who wished to stay anonymous told Addis Zeybe had the following to say regarding the Ethiopian constitution and challenging questions it has been forced into answering in the past few months.The Ethiopian constitution has always been unclear and full of areas that require improvement. But I think the country saw just how many gaps the constitution has during the past few months. We had to postpone an election following recommendations from a Council of Constitutional Inquiry that lacks independence. We could also see a Regional State independently in a few weeks time. The constitution is truly being tested at the moment.”Afrobarometer’s recent study that set out to estimate public opinion over the amendment of the constitution generally and identified provisions within the constitution specifically. The study was published on Tuesday August 25, 2020. Addis Zeybe talked to Afrobarometer’s national investigator, Mulu Teka and other stakeholders about the survey study that makes strong conclusions following interviews conducted in all regions and city councils of the country. About the Study:Afrobarometer - established in 1999 by co-founders Dr Michael Bratton, Dr Robert Mattes, and Dr E Gyimah-Boadi - started its operation by only covering 12 counties. These countries were Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The organization quickly grew and by the time the fourth round surveys were being done in 2011, Ethiopia was part of the list of countries surveyed by the organization. Currently, the company covers at least 35 countries in the African continent. The selection of issues by the survey research company in each country is done through Afrombarometer’s internal selection requirements according to the National investigator of Afrobarometer for Ethiopia, Mulu Teka. “Each round of surveys consist of one hundered questions. Ninety Five of these are general questions asked in all 38 countries. The remaining five are selected contextually after considering the political and socio-economic challenges of the country.” said Mulu explaining the procedures used while selecting the country specific questions in the survey. According to Mulu issues that lack clarity and are engaging the elite in discourse and conversation are chosen. The national investigator also said “In the Ethiopian case, issues related to the constitution, federalism, Addis Ababa can be good examples.”  In addition, Mulu also told Addis Zeybe that conducting such research and surveys is of paramount importance because of many reasons. “Not only do such studies allow politicians, government officials, civil societies and other stakeholders design policies more suited to the general public, they also give the public a chance to interject in the decision making process as well.” “That is why such polls are important” said Mulu when describing the importance of such studies. MethodologyMulu Teka - the National partner and investigator of Afrobarometer for Ethiopia - told Addis Zeybe that the study was conducted between December 27, 2019 and January 26, 2020. Mulu said that “2,400 adult Ethiopians above the age of 18 were interviewed for this poll. The interviews were conducted in person in the language that the respondents spoke. Respondents were randomly selected from the nine regional states as well as Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.”According to the national investigator the research employed the clustered, stratified, multi-stage probability sample design to collect the data for the study. “Because the data at the Central Statistics Authority is not disaggregated by address and contact number we could not employ the lottery draw system to select our interviewees. So we had to resort to a three stage selection system to guarantee every Ethiopian had an equal chance of being selected.” said Mulu explaining the challenges Afrobarometer faced in the process of conducting the study. Random selection was applied at every stage of the selection. The first stage of the selection - according to Mulu was the selection of rural and urban clusters. By using the complete list of the different population clusters prepared for the upcoming census by the Central Statistics Authority, 300 clusters enumeration areas were identified by Afrobarometer on the first stage of the study. “Eight interviews were conducted in each cluster. This means we conducted 2,400 interviews in order to reach the intended sample accuracy.” Mulu said, explaining the first stage of the survey.The second stage was the selection of the household. Mulu told Addis Zeybe that by making use of the digital map provided by the Central Statistics Authority. “Again random selection was a key part of the second stage as well. We walked the path of the digital map, selecting households randomly.” said Mulu, explaining the second stage of selecting the respondents. The final stage of the study was the selection of interviewees from the selected households. Mulu explained the last stage of the study as follows.
“At this stage, we asked for the names of all male and female members of the household over the age of 18. At which point we will select the respondents based on a Kish-grid type rouster on a tablet. If we select a male respondent in one house we will select a female respondent in the next selected household.”
When asked about the likelihood of the opinion of 2,400 people reflecting the public opinion of over 100 million people living in Ethiopia, Mulu said “I understand the concern. But we employed scientific principles to guarantee the accuracy of the survey. The sample selected by Afrobarometer is intended to guarantee a 95% accuracy with a +-2% rate of accuracy. For instance if the survey says 40% of Ethiopians believe in Federalism, then it is likely that a population survey would yield a result between 38% and 42%” maintaining that the surveyed population represents the general public’s opinion with a 95% accuracy.The respondents of the survey were 50% male and 50% female. A majority of the respondents lived in rural areas (79%) while the rest (21%) lived in urban settings. 59% of the respondents were between ages 18 and 25 while 20% were between 36 and 45 and persons between ages 45 and 54 represented 11% of the respondents. The remaining (10%) were over the age of 55. A majority of the respondents (42%) did not have formal education. 38% of the respondents had primary education, 12% completed secondary education and only 8% had post-secondary education. FindingsThe study was conducted on a wide range of issues. These included several political opinions regarding the federalism system, and amendments to several provisions of the constitution. The Constitution Questions designed to answer both the timing of the amendment and articles subject to the amendment were given to the respondents. According to the findings by Afrobarometer, almost seven out of ten Ethiopians which is a 69% representation support the revising the constitution while 18% believe it should remain the same. The findings of the survey also show that 11% of the respondents want the constitution to be discarded and replaced while the remaining two percent did not comment on the matter.Even though there is majority opinion supporting amendments to the constitution, when it comes to the timing of the such amendments, Afrobarometer says that Ethiopians are divided. Nearly one third of the respondents believe the constitution amendments should take place before the next election. Others (33%) say it should be done at some time following the election while 29% of the respondents prefer amendments to come a year after the next elections.Specific Articles:During the study, Afrobarometer selected a number of controversial provisions from the Ethiopian constitution and sought the opinion of the randomly selected sample. One was the designation of additional federal languages to the constitution. A majority of the respondents (73%) supported the idea while 24% strongly opposed the preposition. The remaining 3% neither supported nor opposed the designation of additional federal languages. Amendment on the term of the prime minister was another thematic area identified by Afrobarometer. Even though the Ethiopian Constitution limits the term of the president of Ethiopia, it does not limit the term of the prime minister. Roughly 68% of the respondents (that would mean 66% to 70% of Ethiopians according to the plus or minus 2% margin of error in the findings of the survey) believe this should change and that the term of the prime minister should be limited to two. 23% do not believe this is necessary while 9% did not respond positively or negatively to this question. Ethiopians were divided on other proposed amendments such as self determination (Article 39), private land ownership, making Addis Ababa a member state of the federation and removing the emblem on the national flag according to Afrobarometer. 43% of the respondents believe Article 39 should be removed from the constitution while 50% do not support this amendment. Amendments to the rules regarding private land ownership are not necessary according to 49% of the respondents. However, 46% support amendments allowing private ownership of land. 37% and 35% of the respondents believed in the removal of the emblem from the national flag and in making Addis Ababa a member state of the federation respectively. The emblem should be kept according to 52% of the respondents while 54% of the same believes Addis Ababa should not be made part of the federation. Finally the study by Afrobarometer also considered the public regarding the inclusiveness of any consultations to amend the constitutions. According to the study, 92 percent - an overwhelming majority - believes individual citizens should be consulted before and during efforts to amend the constitution. Seven percent of the respondents think this is not necessary, while only two percent did not agree or disagree with this question. “In order to guarantee the outcomes of the study and inform policy decisions, dissemination is as important as carrying out a scientifically accurate survey. As such, Afrobarometer will work to get the study and its findings to stakeholders” Mulu concluded by telling Addis Zeybe about the next stage of Afrobarometer’s work. The identification of stakeholders to be engaged in dialogue has been completed according to Mulu. These stakeholders include the three branches of government, policy advocates, civil society organizations, donors, development partners, investors and the media. 
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A PIECE BYBruck Negash

Bruck Negash is a human rights researcher currently working at Addis Zeybe as a Research Editor.