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Journal Article

Voting for an Ethnic Identity: Procedural and Institutional Responses to Ethnic Conflict in Ethiopia

Lahra Smith
The Journal of Modern African Studies
Vol. 45, No. 4 (Dec., 2007), pp. 565-594
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4501947
Page Count: 30
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Voting for an Ethnic Identity: Procedural and Institutional Responses to Ethnic Conflict in Ethiopia
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Abstract

The literature on democratisation in diverse and divided societies suggests that procedural and institutional innovations can help create the conditions for democracy by adjudicating among groups with competing claims for recognition and inclusion. Some of the most critical assumptions about the relationship between ethnic identity and formal political institutions have been tested in Ethiopia since the early 1990s. Ethnic federalism is a unique and controversial attempt to account for the contested nature of ethnic identities in contemporary Ethiopian politics through a variety of mechanisms, including the use of a referendum to determine ethnic identity. In 2001 the Siltie people voted to separate from the Gurage ethnic group. With this political manoeuvre, the Siltie accessed greater levels of political power and greater resources, but also recognition under the constitutional arrangement as a distinct ethnic group. The Siltie case suggests that formal political institutions have a limited, though important, role in resolving contested citizenship claims. At the same time, it raises vital questions about the challenges of procedural solutions in the context of contested citizenship and democratic transition in sub-Saharan Africa.

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