Journal of
Public Administration and Policy Research

  • Abbreviation: J. Public Adm. Policy Res.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-2480
  • DOI: 10.5897/JPAPR
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 147

Full Length Research Paper

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

Milkessa Midega
  • Milkessa Midega
  • Department of Political Science and International Relations, Dire Dawa University, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 28 October 2014
  •  Accepted: 16 December 2014
  •  Published: 31 January 2015


Building an inclusively representative and equitable bureaucracies in a multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural polity is a challenging phenomenon. Being one 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 government 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.

Key words:  Federal bureaucracy, official working language, representation.