Previously a centralized unitary state, Ethiopia, a country located in the Horn of Africa region, has undergone a decentralization process in two phases over the past thirty years. The first phase of decentralization, which began in 1991, culminated when the country became a federal state following the promulgation of the 1995 constitution. The second phase of decentralization, implemented in the early 2000s, started the process of gradually devolving the responsibility for frontline services from the regional states to the local government level. Ethiopia now has a federal system with a federal government and 11 regional states and two federal cities. State constitutions generally provide for a three-tier local governance structure below the regional states. In practice, however, the powers and functions of regional state governments and local governance institutions continue to be substantially intertwined.

The 1995 constitution of Ethiopia has created two orders of government – federal and regional (state) governments with a federal city- Addis Ababa. Eleven regional states and two federal cities constitute the primary territorial and administrative sub-division of the Ethiopian federation. The constitution only implicitly envisages that there would be a local government system that would serve the purpose of accommodating intra-state ethnic minorities and provision of basic services. The states, using their constitutions and ordinary statutes, have created three-tiered local governance system, with institutions at the zonal level (administrative and ethnic zones), the woreda (district) and city level, and the kebele (ward) level. Woreda and cities form the most important tier of local government as far as the provision of basic services is concerned.

Regional states and federal cities could be considered as truly devolved sub-national governments even if they operate within a political context where all levels of government are under a single political party and there is a political culture in which senior levels or tiers of government routinely intervene in the affairs of lower-levels or units of government. Even though notionally autonomous, governance institutions below the regional states are typically beholden to the regional government without clear walls between state and local government powers and functions. In practice, woredas and cities are hybrid local governance institutions, combining features of devolved and deconcentrated governance.

The 1995 constitution divides functions and powers between the federal and state levels of government. It contains some 22 broadly defined federal functions and leaves residual powers to the states. In turn, local governments are expected to exercise the functions that the states have assigned to them through state constitutions or state legislation. While state constitutions are less than explicit on the specific functions and powers of local government, the latter (woredas and cities) are engaged in the provision of basic services such as primary health care, primary education, water, and the like. Cities provide additional urban-specific services, such as garbage collection, firefighting, and the like.

LoGICA Assessment

LoGICA Intergovernmental Profile: Ethiopia 2023 (PDF / Excel)

Additional resources

Ethiopia Country Profile (World Observatory on Subnational Governance and Investment, OECD/UCLG)

Local Government in Ethiopia: Design Problems and Their Implications (Zemelak Ayele, 2022)

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Last update: September 22, 2023