Peacebuilding through federalism: A road half-travelled in Ethiopia

It has been two decades now since Ethiopia formally adopted a decentralized/federal form of governance. Ethiopia’s federalist project was a radical departure from the hitherto highly centralized state structure and it represented the culmination of a century old nation-building project. The remaking of the state was unique not only for it adopted a federal system of governance but also because of the prominence it gave to ‘ethnicity’ and the notion of ‘self-determination’ in the affairs of the state.

Kenya: Devolution and prospects for peace

After a struggle for two decades, in August 2010 Kenyans passed a new constitution which, provides for transfer of authority, administrative responsibility and resources from the central government to 47 subnational governance units—or counties. This constitutional provision under Chapter 11 represents a fundamental shift in the state structure and mode of governance in Kenya from centralized governance to a devolved government.

Federalism amid political and military chaos in Somalia

“What can be done to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again?” asked Said S Samatar in an Africa Report paper in 1993 after the fragmentation of the state of Somalia into regional, clan-based entities. The latest formula prescribed for Somalia is the 2012 constitution—which is still a work in progress—and which lays down federalism as the future form of governance for a fractured society that has not been governed by a central state since 1991. However, unlike other Horn of Africa countries, state-building in Somalia is happening along a diagonally divergent trajectory.


As the so-called Arab Spring has slid into political uncertainty, lingering insecurity and civil conflict, European and American initial enthusiasm for anti-authoritarian protests has given way to growing concerns that revolutionary turmoil in North Africa may in fact have exposed the West to new risks. Critical in cementing this conviction has been the realisation that developments originated from Arab Mediterranean countries and spread to the Sahel have now such a potential to affect Western security and interests as to warrant even military intervention, as France's operation in Mali attests. European Union and US involvement in fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa had already laid bare the nexus between their security interests and protracted crises in sub-Saharan Africa.
In his Bertrand Russell Peace lecture in Ontario, Canada, Douglas Johnson clearly states that South Sudan does have experience at peace making, as three historic peace negotiations, the 1972 negotiations that led to the Addis Ababa Agreement, the 1999 Wunlit people-to-people peace conference, and the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, prove. However, the question that remains is whether this experience is relevant to the conflict that is threatening to tear South Sudan apart today or not.
Since the 1990s, war in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia has claimed thousands of lives. The conflict between the Government of Ethiopia and the insurgent Ogaden National Liberation Front has impoverished the communities of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State, swollen the refugee population in Kenya, and added to insecurity in the Somali territories of the Horn of Africa. "Talking Peace in the Ogaden" outlines the modern history of ethnic Somalis in relation to the Ethiopian state from the late 19th century to the present day, and assesses prospects for a peaceful settlement between the Ethiopian government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
The aftermath of recent Kenyan elections has been marred by violence and an apparent crisis in democratic governance, with the negotiated settlement resulting from the 2007 election bringing into sharp focus longstanding problems of state and society. The broader reform process has involved electoral, judicial and security sector reforms, among others, which in turn revolve around constitutional reforms.
In "Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Kenya", Hannah Whittaker offers an in-depth analysis of the Somali secessionist war in northern Kenya, 1963-68. The conflict was not, Whittaker argues, evidence of the potency of Somali nationalism, but rather an early expression of its failure. The book also deals with the Kenyan government’s response to the conflict as part of the entrenchment of African colonial boundaries at independence.
Federalism has once again become a central issue in political debate in South Sudan. The idea has a long pedigree in the country’s political history, signifying different things at different times. In Federalism in the history of South Sudanese political thought, Douglas Johnson explains how the idea evolved in the colonial era as part of the southern search for political identity.