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The politics of language and representative bureaucracy in Ethiopia: the case of Federal Government

Published in 2015, Journal of Public Administration and Policy Research, Midega, Milkessa - Archived on February 20th, 2015

Title: The politics of language and representative bureaucracy in Ethiopia: the case of Federal Government
Author: Milkessa Midega (Dire Dawa University, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia)
Published: Journal of Public Administration and Policy Research, Vol. 7, No. 1 (2015), pp. 15-23.
Language: English
Keywords: Federal bureaucracy, official working language, representation

Building an inclusively representative and equitable bureaucracies in a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multicultural polity is a challenging phenomenon. Being on of such polities, Ethiopia embarked upon multinational federal nation-building policy exactly two decades ago through a constitutional reform. Accordingly, nine regional states’ and two chartered cities’ bureaucracies were established besides the federal bureaucracy. It is obvious that, in addition to professionalism, civil service jobs generally require knowledge of certain official working language. Regions have chosen their own official working languages for their respective civil service institutions which have been reiterated as the major opportunity brought by the multinational federal policy of the country. This paper emphasizes on the bureaucracies of the Federal Government where Amharic is retained as the sole working language. From the outset, we ask questions: How could it be possible to build representative civil service institutions in multilingual polities? What are the roles of federal restructuring and official working language? What are the challenges that Ethiopia is facing at the federal level in terms of building a representative bureaucracy? This piece uses governmental reports of five years (2003-2008) and other theoretical literature to lay out Ethiopia’s (re)quest for building equitable federal bureaucracies. Overall, the finding show that, even though it may be different for political positions: the Amharic monolingual language policy of the federal government has ensured inequitable access to the federal civil service institutions, thereby posing challenges to the constitutional vision of building equitable and multicultural bureaucracy.

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