Developmental State and Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia:

Is Leadership the Missing Link?


  • Zekarias Beshah Abebe Assistant Professor of Law at the College of Law, Debre Berhan University, Ethiopia



developmental state, ethnic federalism, politics, ethiopia


The ethnic federalization of the post-1991 Ethiopia and the subsequent adoption of developmental state paradigm are the two most important pillars for the country’s political and economic restructuring. An interventionist developmental state model is opted for against the dominant narrative of the non-interventionist neo-liberal approach as the right path to conquer poverty: a source of national humiliation. On the other hand, ethnically federated Ethiopia is considered as an antidote to the historical pervasive mismanagement of the ethno-linguistic and cultural diversity of the polity. The presence of these seemingly paradoxical state models in Ethiopia makes it a captivating case study for analysis. Ethiopia’s experiment of pursuing a developmental state in a decentralized form of governance not only deviates from the prevalent pattern but also is perceived to be inherently incompatible due to the competing approaches that characterize the two systems. This article argues that the way in which the developmental state is being practiced in Ethiopia is eroding the values and the very purposes of ethnic federalism. Its centralized, elitist and authoritarian nature, which are the hallmark of the Ethiopian developmental state, defeats the positive strides that ethnic federalism aspires to achieve, thereby causing discontent and disenfranchisement among a swathe of the society. The article posits that the developmental state can and should be reinvented in a manner that goes in harmony with the ideals of ethnic federalism. The notion of process-based leadership remains one way of reinventing the Ethiopian developmental state model.


Author Biography

Zekarias Beshah Abebe, Assistant Professor of Law at the College of Law, Debre Berhan University, Ethiopia

Zekarias Beshah Abebe is an assistant professor of law at the College of Law, Debre Berhan University, Ethiopia. He has been an African Leadership Centre Peace, Security and development fellow at King’s College London (2016/17) and a research intern at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Public Law. He has successfully completed an MSc program in Security, Leadership and Society from King’s College London in 2017. He also earned an LLM degree in Public International Law from Addis Ababa University in 2011. His research interest broadly lies in peace and security in Africa, protests, identity politics, and development-security nexus in the context of developing society.




How to Cite

Abebe, Z. B. (2018). Developmental State and Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia:: Is Leadership the Missing Link?. Leadership and Developing Societies, 3(1), 95–127.