Decentralizing and Reinvigorating Legal Education in Ethiopia

Posted: 9 Sep 2001  

Wray Witten

affiliation not provided to SSRN


In 1960, Emperor Haile Selassie I enacted the Civil Code of Ethiopia; in 1963 the first Faculty of Law was established at Haile Selassie I University, staffed primarily by Americans; in 1974 the Emperor Haile Selassie I was killed by a military dictatorship (the Derg) which then styled the government after the Soviet model; in 1991, the Ethiopian Democratic Revolutionary People's Front (EPRDF) ousted the Derg and set the country's course towards democratic free-market economic development; in 2000 Mekelle University and four other new regional universities were created from scattered colleges; in 2001 a new Faculty of Law, once thought impossible outside the federal capital but now seen as the model for four more, has been established at Mekelle University in Mekelle, Tigray, two days drive from the federal capital, Addis Ababa.

Legal education has changed little in Ethiopia during this time, though the law and society have changed radically. Now, under the EPRDF a new Constitution has been adopted, a new Federal system with quite strong states has been put in place, and efforts have been made to devolve power to a level where democratic institutions effectively allow citizens to participate in, and monitor and evaluate government performance. The Ethiopian government and many donors are seeking to strengthen the rule of law throughout the country, hoping it will provide a fertile environment for human rights-based economic development. The newest stage of decentralization has been in higher education, and in legal education in particular. Thus, the question of what a law school should do resonates.

The benefits of establishing law faculties in state capitals are many: reinvigorating the main chore of producing graduates both able and willing to work everywhere in Ethiopia; providing legal education close enough for continuing education and capacity upgrading; bringing legal expertise close enough for consultation and contribution to state policy and law making; grounding legal research in regional concerns; and creating constructive interaction between the academy and practice. The challenges are also many, but the greatest is finding, training and retaining instructors.

The strategies of the new Mekelle University Law Faculty are: rethinking the curriculum, making instruction more practical, and increasing the entry points and pathways to a law degree; reorienting and educating faculty and students through empirical research on courts, local administration, and the protection of Constitutional rights; analyzing how every part of the law interacts with economic development; collaborating with the Women's Association of Tigray to provide their half million members key legal services; exploring new State / Federal and State / State relationships; and providing consulting services to policy and law makers.

Suggested Citation

Witten, Wray, Decentralizing and Reinvigorating Legal Education in Ethiopia. W.G. Hart 2001 Legal Workshop. Available at SSRN:

Getachew Reda (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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