Q3. I would like to get your opinion of how the Fetha Negest may be used to make up a constitution of Ethiopia. Of course with synthesis of modern ideas into it but limited monarchy, is this workable?


My spontaneous view is that I would first consider the time in which Fetha Negest was introduced into Ethiopia, and the purpose for which it was used. The Fetha Negast (Law of the Kings ) was introduced in the legal system of Ethiopia at the beginning of the 17 th century. It is said that the Fetha Negast was a translation of a well known Coptic "nomocanon" originally written in Arabic. Some authors wrote that the original text was changed and adopted to Ethiopian conditions when translated into Ethiopic language Geez. According to the Ethiopian church tradition, the Fetha Negast was introduced around the middle of the 15th century. But this tradition was to refer the existence of the ecclesiastical part of the nomocanon in the Ethiopian church before the translation.

The Fetha Negast consists a part dealing with ecclesiastical law (chapter 1!22) and another part on secular subjects. For the benefit of the readers I have quoted the secular part as follows:

Chapter 23 -- Food, clothing, habitation, and trades proper for Christians.

Chapter 24 -- Betrothal, dowry, Marriage and dissolution of marriage.

Chapter 25 -- Prohibition of concubinage.

Chapter 26 -- Donation.

Chapter 27 -- Loan, pledge and guaranty

Chapter 28 -- Loan for use

Chapter 29 -- Deposit

Chapter 30 -- Mandate

Chapter 31 -- Slavery and manumission of slaves

Chapter 32 -- Guardianship

Chapter 33 -- Sale, purchase and related matters.

Chapter 34 -- Partnership

Chapter 35 -- Coercion and duress

Chapter 36 -- Lease and rent

Chapter 37 -- Buildings, waters and streets

Chapter 38 -- Commercial ventures

Chapter 39 -- Acknowledgment of debt

Chapter 40 -- Lost ownerless things

Chapter 41 -- Will

Chapter 42 -- Successions

Chapter 43 -- Judges and judicial procedure

Chapter 44 -- Rights and duties of the king

Chapter 45 -- Miscellaneous provision from the Old and New Testament

Chapter 46 -- Penal, Provisions for blasphemy, apostasy and sorcery

Chapter 47 -- Penal provision for theft

Chapter 50 -- Penal provision for drunkenness, usury, and miscellaneous offenses

Chapter 51 -- Regulations of the church regarding heir, circumcision, confession and rule making powers of the clergy.

Appendix: -- Succession.

(See, Tzadu, P.,ed. 1968. The Fetha Nagast. The Law of the Kings. Addis Ababa).

As the title itself proclaims, and judging from the contents mentioned above, the law was designed to regulate the relationship of the Mekwanent, Masafint, Liqawunt class and their subjects. Do you think that it is acceptable by the present middle class that have diverse social background, ideology, different economic base, and a class that demanded democracy for the last thirty years. I am not a student of law and neither I have studied constitutional history. My feeling is that, you have to consider the difference in time and the subject to whom you address.

Yours,

Tsegaye T.