The functioning of democratic institutions has the potential to bring about substantial policy change in favour of poor and marginalised people. However, there is a limited understanding of how to strengthen the political representation of poor people within democratic structures.
This paper looks at one example of how the political representation of a historically marginalised and excluded group – pastoralists in Ethiopia – is shifting and changing. Based on research at federal, regional and sub-regional levels in Ethiopia, it discusses the establishment of a body within parliament committed to representing this group. It identifies the critical factors which led to its formation as changes in the broader political environment as well as a specific moment of change, the role of key actors both internally and externally, and the cumulative effect of the mobilisation of a substantial group of MPs.
The paper also discusses the limitations of both this body and other structures of political representation in the political context of Ethiopia. The key constraint to effective political representation is identified as the broader political environment, including a lack of political competition and an absence of institutionalised democratic processes.