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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Between Failure and Redemption: A Convening of Scholars on the Future of the Ethiopian Social Contract

About the Conference

May 9-10, 2022


 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Venue: Radisson Blu Hotel

The contemporary Ethiopian state is, without question, facing enormous challenges, including the militarization of state and non-state actors, high population density accompanied by youth unemployment, food insecurity, real and perceived inequality and discrimination among ethnic groups, ethnic and political polarization and widespread human rights abuses. At the core of the issues faced by Ethiopia lies the state-building process by which major constituencies and elite groups were either alienated from, or coopted into, ruling structures. Unable to derive political legitimacy from democratic participation, successive governments largely relied on coercion and neopatrimonialism, modulated by constitutional narratives and reform efforts including those of the imperial regime’s attempts to regulate government functions by a written constitution, the Derg’s land law reforms and the abolition of the gabar system, and the EPRDF’s recognition and promotion of linguistic and cultural rights. Despite an initially promising political, legal, and institutional reform initiatives undertaken by the incumbent regime, Ethiopians remain divided in their views about what kind of constitutional structure has the greatest potential to unify the country without compromising diversity.

Within this context, Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law and Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, in collaboration with the Addis Ababa University College of Law and Governance Studies and the Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program, invite you to participate in a convening of scholars on the future of the Ethiopian social contract.

This two-day conference will bring together Ethiopian scholars from a wide variety of fields including constitutional law, federalism, history and political science in a setting designed to promote and facilitate discussion on issues relevant to Ethiopia’s constitutional and political future. 

Participating scholars can present papers or essays, serve as discussants for other scholars’ submissions, or both.


Submission Timeline and Requirements

If you are interested in submitting a paper at the conference, please first submit an abstract of the proposed paper by Friday, March 25.

Accepted papers and essays will be presented and discussed at the conference, and are invited to address the following issues, among others submitted by invitees:
  • What kind of society do Ethiopians want, and how do constitutional issues inform that conversation? What are the issues of solidarity, fraternity, and national unity that need to be envisioned or re-imagined building an all-encompassing Ethiopia? 
  • What are the problems and unresolved national/constitutional issues  that presently impede transition to a more participatory and representative system? Can these issues be resolved so that relative political consensus and shared political goals/visions are created? How? What are the points of contention, and can there be new approaches to constitutionalism? 
  • Should or can the current constitutional system be redeemed? If the current constitution were to be redeemed, would its contents stand and be implemented properly or what kinds of amendments would it require? What amendments are political actors likely to demand and which ones can be prone to agreement/consensus and which amendments, or pre-existing precepts, are unlikely to garner agreement/consensus? If it is not redeemed what kind of constitution would or should Ethiopia be aiming for?
  • If Ethiopia were to have a constitutional convention, what kind of platform would it need? What would be the rules of the game? Who should be represented in the writing of the constitution? How would the participating members be identified and selected? How would such a gathering proceed and what would its rules of decision making be? 
  • If Ethiopia were to become a truly representative democracy, what constitutional changes should be made? Should the constitution retain the existing ethno-federal structure, or some altered version of the same? Should it introduce a system of proportional representation or consociationalism? 
  • What are the challenges preventing transition to a more participatory, representative, or democratic political system? 
  • What kind of mechanics of transition will work among the possibilities ranging between negotiated, semi-negotiated, and non-negotiated transitions; transitional justice? 
  • What place should dialogue, (re)conciliation, and/or restorative justice have in Ethiopia’s transition to a stable and accountable form of government? 
Abstracts will be reviewed by the conference organizing committee. Following acceptance of the abstract by the committee, authors should submit their full papers or essays by Monday, April 25. Abstracts should be no more than 250 words in length, and papers or essays should be 20-30 pages in length (double-spaced).

The conference organizing committee will select and invite discussants after the abstract review process is completed.

Please contact with any questions.