The establishment of federal states in Ethiopia based on ethnicity has increased conflict in the country. The objective was quite the opposite – to let each ethnic group handle its own problems. However, there are 56 ethnic groups in Ethiopia, but only nine federal states. Moreover, several ethnic groups are pastoralist, moving around with their cattle regardless of boundaries drawn on a map.
– With the advent of the federal states, intolerance towards other ethnicities has grown in Ethiopia. Now people think in terms of our land and their land. It wasn’t like this before, says NAI guest researcher Bamlaku Mengistu.
In his research he investigates these new conflicts, in particular those involving pastoralist groups. He is also exploring how the effects of climate change are deepening conflict over scarce resources. Both pastoralists and farmers suffer when less rain falls, and when it does come, the rain is irregular and unpredictable. Severe droughts kill both cattle and crops. The pastoralists seek alternative routes for their herds, which can lead to conflict with farmers, or they may choose to produce charcoal as a living, which means they cut down trees and contribute to deforestation.
– There has always been competition between farmers and pastoralist. However, given the population increase and the scarcity of natural resources, matters have become much worse. In future, pastoralists may have to change their mode of production to survive, Bamlaku Mengistu notes.
Several violent conflicts have occurred between ethnic groups or between clans within the same group. Each clan has its customary institutions to resolve internal disputes, but these are of no help in conflicts between clans. Whenever a conflict gets out of hand, the central government sends in troops to deal with the situation. However, the government never tries to address the root causes of the conflict, so as soon as the troops withdraw, violence begins again.
The root problem, according to Bamlaku Mengistu, is the federal states based on ethnicity.
– Instead of talking about mine and yours, we should share the resources. But the ethnic-based boundaries have changed the popular mentality. The government needs to redefine the federal states, Bamlaku Mengistu asserts.