Federalism and State Restructuring in Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Origins, Rationales, and Challenges

Bizuneh Yimenu*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article assesses federalism in the five African federations: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, and South Sudan. By using Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) and Afrobarometer data, it systematically investigates in what respect federalism succeeded and failed and whether the success rate varies across the states. It shows that federalism is successful in maintaining the states’ territorial integrity, but its success in conflict reduction is limited. Federalism helped reduce conflict in South Africa but not Nigeria and Ethiopia due to a lack of essential ingredients enabling federalism to flourish in multinational states. Federalism enabled South Africa and Nigeria to accommodate diversity by reducing identity-based exclusion and improving diverse groups’ access to power. In Ethiopia, it facilitated cultural and linguistic plurality but was unsuccessful in reducing exclusion and improving groups’ equal access to power. Africa illustrates that federalism fails to manage conflict unless incumbents embrace democracy, curtail centralism, and are loyal to federalism.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberpjad015
Number of pages28
JournalPublius: The Journal of Federalism
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2023


  • federalism
  • africa
  • Accommodation
  • Ethiopia
  • Diversity
  • Nigeria
  • Conflict
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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