Does the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Foster or Circumvent Ethnic Federalism?

Unitarianism prefers nation building which basically urges to create one nation without due consideration of diversity in the country. Acknowledging its contribution during state formations and/or consolidations; however, it has caused inherent problems (like denial of people-hood, overlapping citizenship and, nationality and cultural homogeneity) in states with diverse societies. However, federalism on the contrary favors state-building to address the unfolded contextual and historical problems through institutional, policy and politico-psychological. Hence, federalism has the potential to accommodate diversity and bring about good governance by combining elements of shared-rule and regional self-rule.

The Ethiopian experience shows plausible centralist-unitary pursued by successive regimes through cultural assimilation. As a result of failed/confused nation-building project there have been rough vertical and horizontal relations. Understanding the historical trajectory, the incumbent regime has come up with, at least constitutionally and institutionally though not in its structural terms, state building project through ethno-territorial model of federal democracy. Later on, the regime has lavishly added two strategies: developmental state and dominant party democracy. Centrally, the country’s socio-economic and political developments have been shaped by the the above strategies.

Accordingly, Ethiopia under EPDRF has experienced two state building phases: from 1991–2001 and from 2001-to present. The first phase of Ethiopia’s state building approach has been responsive whereby historical injustices were addressed both in the constitution and institutional arrangements. The post 2001, however, has implied a retreat to unresponsive state and nation building approach where national issues are given priority without/little due consideration of regional self-rule. The development drive along the developmental state seems to undermine the federal values and democratization processes that might be unresponsive approach of state-building project. The article suggests addressing issues undermining responsive state and nation building approach, in line with the federal democracy, would result in successful federal state-building in Ethiopia. This in turn enhances national consensus and brings about smooth state-society and intra-society relations. Hence, GERD has the potential to fill the gap as it enhances national consensus and unity. Equally important, GERD has the potential threat to Ethiopia’s infant federal experience whereby the country’s political culture is entirely hierarchical, despotic, corrupt and centrist. Hence, the project escalates the incumbent regime’s securitization tendencies (internal and external) with possibly encroaching the nations, nationalities, and peoples rights to self-determination-self-rule.

What would be the Contribution of GERD to in Ethiopia?

Although the mandate of the government is to work on social and economic improvement of the Ethiopian society, GERD is taken as something beyond that as the EPDRF claims its construction as ‘the Possibility of Impossibility´. The project has motivated all citizens in the country and from abroad promising socio-economic developments of Ethiopia. Despite the politicization of the project from both sides — the government and the opposition political parties — citizens at all levels are happy about the project and showed their commitment to finance its construction. The media (both government and private owned) have given full coverage of the GERD in different panel discussions, workshops, meetings, speeches, etc. Today, the GERD has been more or less socialized and become daily public issue where everybody has enough understanding about its expected national, regional and local benefits. The advocacy which is made by comedians, artists, journalists, and professionals helped in terms of socialization of the GERD.

Therefore, the GERD has made smooth the state- building process in Ethiopia in the post 1991 whereby ethno-linguistic approach of Ethiopian federalism has triggered views in support for or against it. Differently put, it would strengthen state-society and inter-society relations thereby resulting in healthy and sustainable state-building approach in a ‘state-in-society’ synthesis. Relative political settlement among elites, perceiving GERD as both survival and expected functions of the EPDRF promises of responsive state- building approach in Ethiopia. This doesn’t mean that development of socio-economic, political conditions and infrastructure in contemporary Ethiopia has escaped criticism. There are still questions related to democracy, federal values and issues of good governance and political culture of tolerance to dissent political views.

The general socio-economic contributions of the GERD in Ethiopia at local, regional and national level are profound. If it completed, without generating power, it adds 5% to GDP; it boosts the national energy sector making 67%; as a result, rural electrification increases; GERD encourages urbanization and industrialization; it has become the source of lives for more than 12,500 people (employment opportunity); it has also provided alternative economic activities like fishery, lake-tourism, etc. Moreover, exporting electricity for neighboring countries generates foreign currency which in turn encourages regional power interconnection making Ethiopia the ‘Battery of East Africa’. Furthermore, GERD strengthens Ethiopia’s geopolitical influence and relevance in the Horn.