About 28 nations have adopted the federal political structure, which enables self- and shared control. Since it reconciles variety with unification under a single political structure, the system continues to be well-liked. Modern federal constitutions are made to offer the unitary state a means of correction within the context of nation-building. Even nations that are not federal in nature but have many of the characteristics of federations exist. The best illustration of these nations is Spain.
Usually, the actuality of the society in question informs the federal design. Territorial and ethnic-based federal systems are the most common classifications in the modern world. A territorial form of federal political system is exemplified by the US and Germany’s federal structures, while multilingual or multicultural federal structures are exemplified by Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, and India. The latter mostly resulted from the aim to forge a solid marriage while taking into account language and cultural differences.
Multilingual/multicultural federalism is the fundamental component of Ethiopia’s federal political structure. Some people vehemently contend, however, that Ethiopia’s federal structure is based on ethnicity.
There are arguments in favor of and against ethnic-based federal systems. The opponents of this system contend that ethnic-based federalism tends to separate rather than unify people and that the ethnic fragmentation of the nation poses a threat to the state’s stability.
Due to this, many academics contend it is unfit for nation-building and offers a legal justification for the practice of unilateral secession followed by the dissolution of the nation.
Proponents, on the other hand, assert that it supports a system of government even at the expense of unity because they think it is the only way to advance freedom and equality among ethnic groups and restrain tyranny.
Taking into account the aforementioned justifications, it is crucial to evaluate the principles of federalism, which apply to any federation that may exist.
The preservation of union through the process of nation-building is one of the fundamental principles of federalism. Being together rather than alone is a key consideration in the formation of federations. The federal principle of shared and self-rule makes all of this possible.
Because of this, it is claimed that federalism primarily acts as a mechanism to foster solidarity among nations, nationalities, and peoples by allowing constituent units to retain substantial political power. A successful federal political system unites nations, nationalities, and peoples.
The system is a crucial tool for balancing various opposing forces in the context of federal principles. Therefore, a fundamental element of federalism is achieving a balance between the forces of centralization and decentralization. The federal government, which stands for union, and the governments of the regional states, which stand for independence, appear.
In recent times, federalization has become a widely suggested formula for conflict management, particularly in deeply divided societies. However, it must adopt and put into place the systems that take into account recent changes in the nation. In other words, a crucial response of true federalism is to adjust to the changing reality of the particular nation that implements the federal political system.
As a result, some believe that federalism is a work in progress or an unfinished project that will never be fully realized.
Some of the most successful federations in the West and some rising federations, such as India, have managed to endure, maintain stability, and adjust to the shifting conditions of the world.
Thus, federal reform is a strategy for adapting to changing circumstances. A succession of timely updates or amendments to each state’s constitution is one of the finest ways to reflect federal reform. We only need to look at the US’s history of repeated constitutional amendments to see how successful and flexible it has been in responding to changing conditions. Another example is South Africa’s experience.
The nation-building process should acknowledge and put the ideas of accommodation into practice. In this sense, leaders of ethnic-based political parties frequently discuss the right to self-determination.
Constitutions are crucial tools for distributing authority among the territorial units of federations in order to formally recognize secession. They provide indivisibility of states, which generally places a high value on national unity and territorial integrity.
The principle of the right to self-determination should be to safeguard the unity and territorial integrity of the state, regardless of the ultimate goal of any constitution in either granting or denying constitutional secession.
There are reasons in favor of and against this.
For instance, the majority of Ethiopian politicians with ethnic roots and their academic peers fervently support the idea that the federal constitution should acknowledge the right of unconditional secession. However, for a free man, secession and expulsion are the same as the dissolution of a federation.
It is worth noting that secession by a federation’s constituent units is inherently incompatible with the idea of a federation as a federation, according to a conventional knowledge that has emerged in popular literature.
A federal constitution is no longer written to allow for secession since, as Edward Freeman noted more than a century ago, a federation is “basically a perpetual union.” Any official attempt towards secession would conflict with the formal role of the federal government, according to M. Burges, who was analyzing the difference between the political and legal aspects of secession.
Since secession is the desire and right of one portion of a country to cut political relations with the rest, the notion is all about the legal wisdom of constitutional protections in response to secession.
(Sisay Mengistie Addisu holds a PhD in Human Rights)
Contributed by Sisay Mengistie Addisu (PhD)