“Some conflict between pastoralists is inevitable and people will sometimes die due to conflict. But if pastoralists resolve such cases with traditional negotiations through elders, there won’t be a sense of revenge. The Borana, Gabra and Guji set traditional rules for themselves and brought peace to their communities. Their law is not contray to [Ethiopian] government law or the constitution and, as long as it’s not against the constitution, the government accepts any law set by the people in relation to their culture, religion or lifestyle.”
Hon. Tuke Liban, MP for Moyale Ethiopia district speaking at the Ethiopan Pastoralist Peace Gathering in January 2009, organised by the Oromia Pastoralists Association, with support from the UK DFID’s DGPP project. Over 500 pastoralists and government representatives from all corners of Ethiopian and northern Kenya met at the event to discuss different ways of managing peace and the interplay of customary and government law.
There was much debate around this. Below is a snapshot from the upcoming report of the gathering, Gathering for Peace, which is due out in April 2009.
“Making peace between Gabra, Guji and Borana
Nura Dida, Chairman of the Oromia Pastoralists Association describes the work the association have done with the Gabra, Guji and Borana in southern Ethiopia.
“We met representatives of each group at a place called Hallona in Arero wereda to resolve the conflict between them, our first attempts at peace making. We resolved the conflict with the participation of the three groups. The peace making was achieved through the customary Gada institution. The Gada leaders (Abbaa Gadaa) made decisions according to the traditional system of conflict resolution. These were their decisions: to punish a murderer with a fine of thirty head of cattle; to punish a thief who steals a cow with a fine of five head of cattle.
Then we formed a peace committee of representatives of the three groups to ensure they followed up and monitored the peace keeping. The committee meets from time to time to discuss peace issues and to resolve conflicts in their area.”
Utukana Mallo, Chairman of Borana, Guji and Gabra Peace Committee formed at that meeting continues.
“There were conflicts between Borana, Guji and Gabra (from 1997 to 1999 Ethiopian Calendar [2004-7]). There were thefts, people were dying and were displaced. Since the OPA interventions, we have been able to move from place to place peacefully. We tried to encourage all parts of society to participate in the peace making process. The peace gathering was effective, learning from the previous ones, with the participation of all sections of the community; women, youth and elders.
The thirty-member committee was formed by selecting ten representatives from each of the three groups: Borana, Guji and Gabra. Their main duty is to implement the decisions made by the gathering, like punishing criminals and following up the continuity of the peace process at community level.
The committee has just strengthened the existing, customary way of resolving conflicts within the community as they have strengthened their own traditional administration and institutions. Nothing was added from outside. They made their decisions through the traditional system, using the punishment system [described by Nura Dida].
“A great deal of the committee’s work is in preventing the problem before it occurs. The committee has been focusing on preventing conflict before it results in destruction. We have worked on preventing conflict in Adolla, Arero, Bulehora, Dugdadawa, Moyale, and Arsi areas, in all areas where Borana, Guji and Gabra live. This work has been appreciated by our neighbours, especially by Garri elders in Somali region. We have done all these things in cooperation with government bodies at different levels.”
There followed a series of questions and answers around this issue
Q “If a murderer has to pay a fine of thirty head of cattle, who is responsible for payment, the killer or his clan?”
A “If the killer has cattle, he is the one to be punished and must pay thirty head of cattle. If he doesn’t have cattle, his clan has to share the punishment because they should have advised him and prevented him from committing the crime.“
Q “It was said that a killer has to pay a fine of fifteen or thirty head of cattle and a thief who steals one cow has to pay a fine of five head of cattle. A killer doesn’t usually consult his clan, his wife or his father before killing someone. It was said that his clan must share his punishment. Isn’t this against the law? Doesn’t it put pressure on the people?”
A “It’s not against the constitution and the government has accepted it. The government law will judge criminals after they pay the fine; and these people could be released due to lack of evidence when the government law judges them. The other parties might see them being released and say to themselves “why should I keep myself from killing these people for they, who killed my people, have been released?” Thus we pastoralists punish the guilty one according to our culture so that others will be discouraged from committing crimes.
“This rule has been put into practice which in turn results in a decrease in crime. It doesn’t harm the people or the government in any way. The Guji, Borana and Gabra approved the idea because the traditional Gada law governs them. It doesn’t apply to other regions.”
Q “Is the rule working practically? And how much does it improve things for the people? Because if this rule brings peace to the people governed by it, all pastoralists should adopt it.”
A “The rule is working in practice and has created peace and security. For example, last month a Guji man stole ten head of cattle and was caught at Bule Hora Woreda. The thief had 52 cattle of his own and 50 were taken from him, leaving him with only two cows. When other thieves heard this story, they abandoned cattle they had stolen before even reaching their homes with them. These stolen cattle were found and returned to their owners. The rule benefited the people to this extent and it has brought peace.
Q “It was said that a killer has to pay a fine of thirty head of cattle. Is this a rule or a constitutional law? According to folk talk, public law is not the same thing as family law and vice versa. Is it family law or cultural law?”
A “Oromo is a big society, and it has various cultural administrations within it. Culture varies from area to area. The three groups who declared this rule did so according to their culture. It’s not all Oromo society that is doing this. We are not saying that this is part of the culture of the Oromo in Hararghe; we are talking about how to resolve conflicts. We are gathered here to condemn, resolve and prevent conflicts, not just between two groups but among all pastoralists.”
Q “Who will get the cattle that are taken from the criminals in fines?”
A “The cattle that are taken from criminals are given to the victims of the criminals. When conflict breaks out in an area, we use the culture in that particular area to resolve the conflict. For example, if conflict breaks out between the Oromo and Somali, we form a committee that includes both parties; we appoint peacekeepers and they’ll keep the peace. A killer in Oromia has to pay a fine of thirty head of cattle, while a killer in Somali has to pay a fine of a hundred camels. When a person from one of these groups is killed we may make the fine fifty head of cattle, as a basis for negotiation, or we may take a hundred. Many times, we have been negotiating according to their culture and this is how the reconciliation process works and it will continue like this.”
Pastoralist representatives from Somali and Gambella Region added some comments.
“The Afar, Somali and Oromo have different cultures, but pastoralists in these regions should take these different cultures as examples and evolve one culture. It would be better if Ethiopian pastoralists discussed matters with a common culture and a common way of doing things.”
“I am a Nuer, one of the five ethnic groups in Gambella. There are people who kill intentionally and people who kill accidentally. If it’s accidental, a killer has to pay a fine of fifty head of cattle. If it’s intentional, a killer has to pay a fine of a hundred head of cattle. After a killer has paid the fine, he’ll be handed over to the government and will be judged by the law. After paying a fine of a hundred head of cattle, a killer will not make the same mistake again.”