Legal Pluralism in Light of the Federal and State Constitutions of Ethiopia: A Critical Appraisal

132 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2009 Last revised: 28 Sep 2009

See all articles by Alemayehu F Weldemariam

Alemayehu F Weldemariam

LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin; Suffolk University

Date Written: June 1, 2004


This thesis aims at analyzing the functioning and implementation of legal pluralism within the multinational federal setting of Ethiopia. Through the study of the institutional (constitutional) devolution or decentralization of legislative and adjudicatory authority that is taking place in the country, elements of legal pluralism will be identified and explained. Furthermore, through the study of empirical findings in addition to others’, coupled with established theory and generalizations, it shall attempt to explore the structure of the Ethiopian legal system. The relationship among the multiple layers of the country’s legal structure is also examined, including the chief challenges posed by the fact of legal pluralism.

The first objective was to see if the new constitutional order furnishes public space necessary for the play of nonstate actors, particularly ethnic and religious groups. In so doing, it has unraveled the constitutive layers of the country’s legal structure ,and hence, its pluralist framework. The second objective was to examine the prevalent condition of legal pluralism under the present constitutional order. On the one hand, it has presented the ways in which the state actors have brought about pluralism in the law. On the other hand, it has discussed how and to what extent state constitutionalism can serve as an institutional modality for implementing legal pluralism. The third objective was to explore the current frontiers of formal legal pluralism. Fourthly, it has put forth arguments, based on an empirical case - the abbo-gerreb of Wejerat and Raya-Azebo in Tigray, for extending full public recognition to the dominant customary law systems, at least the abbo-gerreb. Stated differently, arguments have been marshaled in favor of the need to redraw the present frontiers of formal legal pluralism to accommodate at least some of the well-established customary criminal processes. Finally, it has called particular attention to two major threats that the fact of legal pluralism presented to both the rule of law and the smooth operation of law in the Ethiopian multinational federal set-up.

Keywords: legal pluralism, federalism, customary law, human rights, forum shopping

Suggested Citation

Weldemariam, Alemayehu F, Legal Pluralism in Light of the Federal and State Constitutions of Ethiopia: A Critical Appraisal (June 1, 2004). Available at SSRN: or

Alemayehu F Weldemariam (Contact Author)

LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin ( email )

2317 Speedway
Austin, TX 78712
United States
206 446 1432 (Phone)

Suffolk University ( email )

Boston, MA 02108
United States


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