A Constitution for a Multinational Democratic State-Nation: The Case of Ethiopia

February 24, 2015
03:00 pm - 04:30 pm

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004


Negaso Gidada Solan
Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

with comments by

John Harbeson
Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

moderated by

Dave Peterson
National Endowment for Democracy

About the Event

Ever since the formation of the modern state of Ethiopia, the country’s diversity, represented by its roughly eighty ethnic groups, has defied common formulas for unity and democratic development. Regimes have come and gone, but the central question—whether to forge a nation-state, a multinational federation, or something else—has dominated Ethiopia’s political agenda for decades. Looking ahead to the upcoming 2015 elections and the country’s longer-term stability and development, Dr. Negaso Solan focused on the need for a constitution that mirrors Ethiopia’s ethnic diversity and that lends itself to developing a truly democratic multinational state. As former president of Ethiopia, he reflected on his experiences drafting the country’s 1995 constitution and offer recommendations for public confidence-building around future amendments. His presentation was followed by comments from Dr. John Harbeson.

About the Speakers

Dr. Negaso Solan is an esteemed statesman and scholar who has served as president of Ethiopia (1995–2001), member of the House of People’s Representatives (2005–2010), and most recently, as chair of the United for Democracy and Justice Party, one of Ethiopia’s main opposition parties (2012–2013). A life-long proponent of human rights, ethnic inclusion, and democracy, he participated in the student movement of the 1960s, led the Aira School demonstrations against the Wallaga feudal system in the 1970s, and advocated for the rights of the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. While living in Germany, Dr. Solan worked to unite the Oromo community, both internally and with other Ethiopian groups, in their struggle against military rule. Returning to his homeland in 1991, he helped to draft a new constitution, chaired the 1994 Constitutional Assembly, and signed the constitution in 1995 as first president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. During his fellowship, Dr. Solan is writing an article addressing the role of democracy in settling controversies around the Ethiopian ethnic federalist system.

Dr. John Harbeson is professorial lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and professor of political science emeritus at the City University of New York.