Ferdissa Demissie Bekele: Ethnic Decentralization and Negotiating Statehood in Urban Ethiopia: A Case of Study of Adama and Hwassa cities

PhD-project in Political Science, University of Basel

Following the end of the Dergue regime in 1991, ethnicity was introduced as the basis for the reconstitution of the Ethiopian statehood. Accompanying it, political representations and territorial administrations were reorganized in terms of ethnicity. Ethnicity and ethnic politics since has become a cornerstone of state rebuilding processes in the country. Against this political scene, however, cities and towns in Ethiopia, as elsewhere, are heterogeneous in terms of ethnic compositions, and hence are not conforming to the ethnic- based state rebuilding project in place in the country since 1991. 

How, then, have cities and towns been accommodated in the processes of ethnic-based decentralisation project in the post Dergue Ethiopia? To what degree, and/or, how congruently have cities and towns been incorporated and integrated in this process? What do the basis, institutions, structures, practice, processes and progress of city/towns’ political administration look like in the country in the wider context of state rebuilding processes?

To raise these questions in present-day Ethiopian politics is particularly significant, mainly for two salient reasons:

First, the question as to how Ethiopian cities and towns, which are characterised by a very heterogeneous ethnic composition, fit into and have been integrated in the state-(re)building project that the current government has developed on the basis of ethnic federalism is of great academic and practical importance. Indeed this is an aspect which has been neglected by scholars and researchers as well as by policy makers. Therefore, the research will fill a gap in the literature on post-1991 statehood in Ethiopia.

Secondly, cities and towns in Ethiopia have been growing and expanding at an alarming rate. What we are witnessing in this process is the emergence of new (local) centres of power and influence over the country’s economic, political, and social life. Being the centre of the educated, the wealth and the politically conscious parts of the society, cities and towns in Ethiopia do play crucial roles in determining the success of the undergoing state building project.

Against this backdrop, the main objective of this study will be to explore and examine the urban dimensions of negotiating statehood in post Dergue Ethiopia. Special emphasis will be put on the way which state administration has been deployed in three selected secondary cities within the Oromia Regional State, and how the politics of decentralisation has impacted upon their social and political development.

Since the core objective of this study is an examination and exploration of the practice of city administrations (using case studies), it will be primarily empirical in approach, also seeks for important and relevant conceptual and theoretical framework. Observations, in-depth interviews, small group discussion, in combination with surveying legal, historical, political and administrative document will be the core of data collection methods in the attempt to materialize the set objective.

The idea of this project title has grown out of the imperatives that a consideration of the urban dimensions of political negotiation would have invaluable contributions to the success of state rebuilding project in Ethiopia, while partly filling a scholarly gap in the field.

To this end, three cities mentioned in the title above have been carefully selected in accordance with their relevance and importance to the theme of this study.


Funding: NCCR North-South

Doctoral Programme: IGS North-South

Profile: swiss peace

Ferdissa Demissie
Swiss Peace Foundation,
Sonnenbergstrasse 17
P.O. Box
3000 Bern 7