Following a successful armed resistance against a dictatorial state regime, a new government of former rebels took control of the national state in Ethiopia in 1991. Prompted partly by unfolding sea changes in global politics in the early 1990s, the new Ethiopian government pledged to undertake radical governance reform. More than twenty years after the new government took office, contested assessments of its record vis-à-vis its human and minority rights pledge, among other issues, have generated waves of debate, criticism, controversy, and global protests. Based on observations from southern Ethiopia, this article takes an ethnographic look at both the process and the outcome of Ethiopia's experiment with ethnic self-government, with a special focus on understanding the value of minority rights as an ideological construct. Conceptually, the paper attempts to explain a disjuncture between the globally prescribed ideal of human/minority group rights and the realities of governance on the ground.