Minority empowerment, Self-determination rights and Sub-national constitutionalism in Tigray National Regional State: An analysis of the ‘Kunama community’ case

Meressa Tsehaye


Since the FDRE constitution was promulgated in 1995, it was hoped that constitutionalism would be an irreducible national value and consequently serve as the main democratic response to the historical questions of self-determination and empowerment rights of all Ethiopians- majorities and minorities alike. Indeed, the constitution declared both individual and collective rights of the minority and majority Ethiopians are equally protected and complementarily recognized at all levels of self-administration and shared governance. Those rights are also recognized and guaranteed in similar way in the constitution of Tigray. This then implies that based on the federal and regional constitutions, the Kunama community (the subject of this study) as minority group can legitimately claim wide range of rights. Three components of self-determination rights namely; language and cultural rights, self-governance rights, and representation and participation rights are of special importance in this study. The purpose of this research was then to analyze the empirical relationship between self-determination rights, sub-national constitutionalism and minority rights in Tigray by taking the Kunama community as a case of analysis. To this end, the research collected primary information from in-depth- interviews and focus group discussions with officials, professionals, students and elders of the Kunama community in addition to document analysis of secondary sources. And, its findings revealed that having democratic and comprehensive constitutions at national and subnational levels is neither sufficient enough nor end in itself in terms of fully realizing minority self-determination and empowerment rights for minority groups as there appears to be marked realization challenges in this respect in the Kunama community context. And, this has a long term impact of widening and deepening minority–majority (the Kunama Vs the Tigrigna speaking people) and the minority – minority (the Kunama Vs the Irob community) gaps and tensions in the region. The gravity of the problem thus implies that bold initiatives and intervention schemes are required both from the supply side and demand-side levels to fill up the implementation challenges in the process of fully realizing self-determination rights and thereby empowering the Kunama community.

Key words: Minority, Minority rights, Minority empowerment, Self-determination rights, Sub-national constitutionalism


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ISSN (Paper)2224-3240 ISSN (Online)2224-3259

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