Anything but Transitional Gov't

May 9 , 2020
By Christian Tesfaye

There have been a lot of suggestions coming from all corners of the political space on avoiding the impending constitutional crisis when lawmakers' time in office comes to an end this September. The most unreasonable and dangerous of these proposals is that of a transitional government.

It is unsurprising that many in the opposition have jumped on this suggestion. What boggles the mind is that many of these same individuals and political parties calling for a transitional government claim that the incumbent is taking an unconstitutional stance. Their solution to the supposed assault of the constitutional order is to throw away the Constitution altogether.

There is, undeniably, a certain logic to this view. They believe that what Ethiopia has in its hands at the moment is a crisis that cannot be addressed constitutionally. Whatever option the government takes will thus, presumably, be illegitimate in the eyes of the public.

They believe there is only one way to address this dilemma, and that is establishing a transitional government. There are various propositions on what this will entail. The most radical is to start from a blank piece of paper and write a different constitution altogether. Others suggest keeping the current constitutional order but transferring power from the lawmakers, once their term comes to an end, and giving it to an array of political parties that are believed to represent the public.

Both suggestions for a transitional government are impractical, not least for the obvious challenge of who it would be made up of. There is also a greatly dangerous element to this.

Who will be in charge of the army? Who would mobilise resources and execute plans in case of a resurgence of COVID-19 or natural disasters? And what happens if the members of the transitional government never agree on what constitutes a free and fair election?

Given what we know of opposition parties - their antagonism and lack of goodwill toward each other and their respective constituencies - the last one is not entirely implausible.

What we have in our hands is actually a lack of originality. Ethiopia’s successive opposition parties have been demanding a transitional government ever since the question of the legitimacy of government was being raised in the 1970s. It was far more plausible then when there was a coup d’etat by a military junta, which itself was refered to as a transitional military government. It is far less reasonable now when there is a state over which there is much more agreement in its arrangement.

We should reject this idea because it can lead to a very dark road. We should also reject it, because it is not the only option we have. Like many constitutions around the world, our framers have recognised that some articles might not be clear; that there might be constitutional gaps; or that society will progress far enough and some provisions might no longer become acceptable.

That is why they have included provisions for amendments and interpretation. They wanted us to consider the intent and spirit of the Constitution as well as build on it.

Currently, there is a debate on what can be done to avert this crisis constitutionally. This is good, because this offers an opportunity for further debate and discussion.

Now, more than ever, we have come to respect what our Constitution says, what it wanted to say and why. This offers the perfect opportunity for collective introspection. It will be a mistake of epic proportions if we sacrifice this opportunity for the sake of a proposition as unreasonable, unnecessary and unsafe as a transitional government.

PUBLISHED ON May 09,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1045]

Christian Tesfaye ( is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture.

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