Regional and Local Government

Regional and Local Government

When it assumed power in 1974, the Derg only slightly reordered the imperial regime's pattern of administrative organization at the national level. By contrast, the new regime saw existing local administration as anathema to the objectives of socialist construction, and its reform efforts were initially more evident on the local level than in the central bureaucracy.

Immediately after assuming power, the Derg reorganized Ethiopia's fourteen provincial administrations and replaced all serving governors general. The fourteen provinces (teklay ghizats) were relabeled regions (kifle hagers) and were divided into 102 subregions (awrajas) and 556 districts (weredas). (By 1981 the number of administrative divisions had increased to sixteen with the addition of Addis Ababa and Aseb.) The restructuring was a major step toward dismantling feudal privilege. Moreover, all new appointees were either military men or university-educated individuals who were considered progressives.

The main charge of these new administrators initially was to promote development, and the maintenance of law and order was considered only of secondary importance. Despite the commitment to rural development and to the staffing of regional administrative positions with young, dynamic, educated people, not much could be done to accelerate the process of change. Field bureaucrats had few resources to work with, their staffs were small, and their budgets were committed almost exclusively to salaries. By the mid-1980s, the relief and rehabilitation contributions of foreign private voluntary organizations in some cases made more resources available at the local level than did the regional administrations.

After having concentrated on a gradual transformation of the state's administrative structure, with the promulgation of the 1987 constitution the Mengistu regime prepared for a further reorganization of regional administration. Hence, at its inaugural session, the National Shengo enacted a government plan for the administrative reorganization of regional government. As a result, twenty-five administrative regions and five autonomous regions were created. The autonomous regions consisted of Eritrea (broken further into three subregions in the north, west, and south), Aseb, Tigray, Dire Dawa, and Ogaden. The change promised to alter significantly Ethiopia's traditional pattern of administrative organization.

If the plan were to be fully implemented, this reorganization would have required a dramatic expansion in the government and party bureaucracy. Relatively new institutions, like regional planning bodies, would have been eliminated and replaced with new planning agencies in the various regions. Some observers suggested that this plan was initially endorsed to pursue a Soviet-style approach to the nationalities problem. They argued that the regime was trying to organize regional administration along ethnic lines. Consequently, this reform had little positive effect on enhancing the regime's legitimacy and in fact limited its control over the general population.

The primary organs of state power at the regional level were regional shengos. These bodies were responsible mainly for implementing the central government's laws and decisions. Regional shengos could draft their own budgets and development plans, but these had to be approved by the National Shengo. Regional shengos also possessed some latitude in devising and enforcing local laws and regulations and in electing local judges. By the summer of 1989, however, regional shengos had been elected in only eleven of the twenty-five newly designated administrative regions and in only three of the five regions designated as "autonomous."

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