Government Sudden Operation The constitution divided Ethiopia into nine ethno-linguistic states that -with the exception of what is called the Southern Nations and Nationalities Regional State-are based on the ethnic identities of residents of those states. Most importantly, the constitution grants the “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples” within those states the unconditional “right to self-determination, including secession”. In other words, rather than with a people, sovereignty resides in a plurality of peoples of Ethiopia.
It is these peoples that came together to form Ethiopia and they are the custodians of Ethiopia, from which they have the absolute right to secede if they so wish. That way, the constitution replaced the age-old notion of Ethiopia as a nation with an Ethiopia as a “nation of nations”. “What are the Ethiopian people composed of? I stress the word peoples because sociologically speaking at this stage Ethiopia is not really a nation”, so said Walleligne almost quarter of a century before and it came to be through the 1995 constitution.
After 17 years of armed struggle, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) defeated the Dergue and controlled Ethiopian state power in 1991. EPRDF was a coalition composed of the TPLF, The Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO) and the Southern Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Front (SEPDF). It should, however, be noted that it was only with victory in sight against the Dergue and a desire to expand its sphere of influence beyond Tigray, that the TPLF formed the EPRDF in 1988. Otherwise, the actual power holder within the coalition remained TPLF.
Consequently, the EPRDF introduced the 1995 constitution. Adopted in the immediate context of the post-Cold War, in a way that reflects the politics of constitutionalism and especially the shrewdness and pragmatism of the man behind it, the late Meles Zenawi, the constitution was a compromise between TPLF’s deep-rooted Marxist-Leninist ideological moorings and the post-Cold War euphoric triumphalism of liberal constitutionalism and human rights.
So much so that the constitution declares the inviolability and alienability of human rights and freedoms emanating from the nature of mankind. However, as his building a de facto one-party state would later reveal, this was a move that seems to have been motivated more by placating the West than a genuine desire on the part of Meles’s EPRDF to champion the causes of human rights and democratic values.