Ethiopians embrace federalism but are split over whether it should be ethnic or geographic, Afrobarometer survey shows
A majority of Ethiopians view federalism with independent regional governments as the best
form of government for the country, a new Afrobarometer survey shows.
But citizens are evenly divided as to whether Ethiopia’s federalism should continue to be
based on regions defined by ethnicity or should change to a system based on geographic
features of the country.
The fate of federalism has been intensely debated since the country launched a reform
agenda two years ago. Both private and public media have been hosting debates by
politicians, scholars, and civil society representatives on whether the country should maintain
the ethnic/multinational federalism that has been in place since the federal Constitution was
ratified in 1995, modify it, or shift to a unitary form of government.
Key findings
▪ Six out of 10 Ethiopians (61%) prefer a federal over a unitary system of government.
Almost four out of 10 (37%) see federalism as too divisive and favour a shift to a
unitary form of government (Figure 1).
▪ If a federal system of government is maintained, Ethiopians are split as to what it
should look like: About half (49%) say federalism should continue to be based on
regions defined by ethnicity, while the other half (48%) say the regions should be
based on geography, not on where different ethnic groups live (Figure 2).
o Urban residents are more likely to favour a geographic basis (54% vs. 44%), while
residents in rural areas, which tend to be less ethnically diverse, are more likely to
prefer the current ethnicity-based definition (51% vs. 47%).
Afrobarometer surveys
Afrobarometer is a pan-African, nonpartisan survey research network that provides reliable
data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life.
Seven rounds of surveys were completed in up to 38 countries between 1999 and 2018.
Round 8 surveys in 2019/2020 are planned in at least 35 countries. Afrobarometer conducts
face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent’s choice with nationally
representative samples.
With support from Freedom House, the Afrobarometer team in Ethiopia, led by ABCON –
Research & Consulting, interviewed 2,400 adult Ethiopians in December 2019 and January

  1. A sample of this size yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-2
    percentage points at a 95% confidence level. A previous survey was conducted in Ethiopia
    in 2013.