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Comparative constitutional law analysis on US and Ethiopian constitutions on the questions

of representation in the upper house, vertical separation of power and legitimacy of federal


By Legesse Tigabu

To begin with making a comparative analysis between US and Ethiopian (FDRE) constitutions is

significant as Ethiopian federation is at its infant stage and the US is practiced for long time and

has rich experience which would be helpful for Ethiopian federation.

Firstly when we compare representation in the upper house i.e. the Senate in US and the House of

Federation (HF) in Ethiopia, we can find basic differences between the two jurisdictions. In US

each state, whether it is large or small has uniformly two representatives in the Senate (Art I

section 3) and members are elected directly by the people (Amendment 17).

On the other hand in Ethiopia each nation (not state) is represented at least by one member in the

HF and for one million extra people, nations will have one extra representative and members are

not directly elected by the people, rather by state legislatures (Art 61 of FDRE constitution). The

practical implication here will be for example the state of Southern nations in Ethiopia which

constitutes about 45 ethnic groups (nationalities) out of the total 80 and which shares significant

number of population out of the total 70 million Ethiopian people will have large number of seats

in the HF and state with large population too according to Art 61 and that undermines other states.

The rational behind Art 61 may be the social fact (diversity) in Ethiopia. But still it fails to

prescribe the maximum number of representation and that creates problem for which one may
need to consider US and German experience. What is more, election of members of HF by state

legislators is problematic as members will not be directly accountable to the people. Here also

resort to US constitution will be imperative.

Secondly, when we see vertical distribution of power, apparently the two jurisdictions seem to

have the same rules as both constitutions granted non enumerated powers for states. But still there

are differences in relation to powers not enumerated that in US Congress may enact laws under the

necessary and proper clause only in case it is necessary for execution of federal power which is

also subject to judicial review, but in Ethiopia the federal legislator can enact laws in non

enumerated areas whenever the HF deems it necessary for unity and this is not subject to judicial

review as the HF itself is constitutional interpreter. This trend is problematic in that it may

swallow powers reserved for states.

Lastly, the salient difference between the two jurisdictions is that while US legislator is bicameral

which is composed of Congress and the Senate, Ethiopian legislator is unicameral as the upper

house (HF) which represents diversities (ethnic groups) is denied the power to make laws which

makes the legitimacy of Ethiopian legislator questionable. Here, it would be obvious for any one

to see how the Ethiopian legislator fails to accommodate diversities and such constitutional

position needs amendment.

Generally, comparative constitutional law study between US and Ethiopia is crucial as there are

relevant experiences and common federal principles which can be taken from US and adopted for

the Ethiopian federal system.

Budapest, Hungary, Central European University