Rule by law in Ethiopia: Rendering constitutional limits on government power nonsensical
Adem Abebe (Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa Visiting Doctoral Researcher, CGHR).
Rule of law is one of the most controversial yet universally appealing contemporary legal political concepts, a buzzword for a range of actors – political leaders, international organisations and academics. Jumping on the bandwagon, the Ethiopian Constitution aims to build ‘a political community founded on the rule of law’ and conditions the success of this laudable goal on the full respect of individual and people's fundamental freedoms and rights. Scholars have distinguished between formal and substantive, “thin” and “thick” conceptions of the rule of law. This paper will assess the constitutional basis and understanding of the rule of law and limits on government power in Ethiopia. It discusses the manifestation of rule by law or the law of rules (much in line with the thin or formal conceptions of rule of law) in practice particularly since the most contested 2005 Ethiopian elections. The article also identifies the different factors that breed and reinforce rule by law and the defiance of the constitutional limits on government power, including those limits embodied in the human rights guarantees. Given the insignificant influence of opposition and civil society groups lacking the capacity to generate the necessary pressure to induce change from below, the paper is pessimistic about the potential of achieving substantive rule of law in Ethiopia in the near future.