Deliberate Distortions, Misconceptions, or both?
(By Dr Tsegaye Ararssa)
In the discordant noises around Finfinnee and the Oromo rights there, there are distortions that recur, often riding high on popular misconceptions about some basic facts regarding the city, the federal system, the constitution, etc. Below, I will raise some of them to aid clarity on the matter.
- 1. Finfinnee is often portrayed, wrongly, as a Federal Territory. It is not. Finfinnee, as a capital city of the Federal Government (Art 49(1), is only the seat of the offices of the Federal Government. In other words, it is the site from which the federal government's and its officials operate from. It is an Oromo city in which the Head office, as it were, of the Federal Government is located. Incidentally, it is important to remember that there is no land constitutionally designated as a federal district or territory in the Ethiopian federation. Legally speaking, there is no territory that the Federal Government claims as "naturally" its own until it is so designated by law. This means the Federal Government does not own Finfinnee or any territory anywhere in Ethiopia except those that are legally transferred to it by law.
- 2. Many people mistakenly think that the federal government can rightfully legislate for the city just because it is the seat of its government. This mistaken belief is the reason that the (arguably unconstitutional) Revised Family Code is imposed, by default, on Finfinnee and Dirree Dhawa (when it was realized, soon after it was passed in Parliament, that such a code cannot apply in the states because they are not subjected to the legislative jurisdiction of the federal government on family matters). This should make it clear to all that the Federal Government can not directly issue legislations for the city, as that task belongs to the city council (and the state the city belongs to, i.e, Oromia).
- 3. Many people wrongly assume that Finfinnee is a (city) state. Yes, there was a time when it was a self-governing region in its own right (1991-1994). But after the country was constitutionally 'reorganized' (albeit fakely) as a federation in 1995, the city is not a self-standing state. It is an Oromo city that serves as the seat of the Federal as well as the Oromia Government. Constitutionally speaking, it is a city whose population is entitled to a measure of self-governance within the framework of its own city charter. Legally, its charter is subordinate to the constitutions of Ethiopia and Oromia.
- 4. There are also people who mistakenly think that the working language of the city is (automatically) Amharic (because of the wrong assumption that it is a federal city). Such people go on to assert that making Afaan Oromoo the working language of the city violates the constitution. It is important to remember that the Federal constitution is silent about the language of the city. Given the city belongs to Oromia, the working language of wider Oromia is automatically or naturally the working language of the city because this is sanctioned by the Oromia Constitution. Under the Charter, be it out of ignorance or arrogance, only Amharic is made the working language of the city. This neglect of Afaan Oromo in the Charter and extraconstitutional singling out of Amharic as a working language in a state whose language is Afaan Oromoo is of course unconstitutional seen in the light of Oromia's constitution. It is this kind of unconstitutionality and illegal linguistic displacement that should be corrected through the so called "special interest" law and subsequent constitutional amendment.
- 5. There are many, especially in the Ethiopian(ist) right, who maintain that the people of Finfinnee are denied representation in the House of Federation (HoF). This is based on the double misconception about the HoF and the "substance" of the inhabitants of Finfinnee. The first misconception confuses the HoF with the Senate. According to the Ethiopian constitution, the HoF is not a Senate. In fact, one can refer to it as the "upper house" only as a matter of speaking (or of habit) as it is anything but an upper house of a legislative body. Its raison d^etre is representation of "nations, nationalities, and peoples" in the interpretive task of adjudicating disputes over collective rights to self-determination (political, cultural, territorial, and economic). Finfinnee's inhabitants, being predominantly settlers that came from all corners of the country (and legally not constituting a "nation, nationality, and people" as per the definition of art 39(5)), have no ethno-national identity to be represented in the HoF (other than the ones represented by the politicians from their homelands).
Some of the above (and many other) distortions are caused by misunderstandings complemented by underdeveloped political culture that also doesn't comprehend federalism. (Some of it is already symptomatic of the weak legitimacy the federalism and the constitutional frame thereof.) A large part of it is however the result of deliberate distortion by a political prejudice clouded by moral blindness. Whatever the cause, it is not an excuse to rail against a people's God-given rights to their own city and their identity therein.