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Gadaa: Ancient rituals and modern practices

The following article is from PRESSENZA, an international press agency specializing in news about Peace, Nonviolence, Humanism and Non-discrimination.

By Tony Henderson* | PRESSENZA**

It is generally thought that separation of the powers of Church and State, and an independent judiciary are new considerations, and the universal humanists too may think that the Law of Political Accountability is quite new – think again – and look to Africa. Bereket Alemayehu, an organiser with Convergence of Cultures on the African Continent, introduces us to the Gada system.

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Rural Ethiopia near Oromia riverside celebration (Image by: Bereket Alemayehu)

Pressenza Oromia, 6/20/11 “I took this picture recently in a rural area of Oromia (Ethiopia) while observing the Oromo people’s ancient traditional democratic system in celebration mode, which is called the Gada system,” says Bereket Alemayehu, with Convergence of Cultures, an organism that applies to the dialogue between cultures and combating all forms of violence and discrimination.

“Every eight years they perform a special event of the system at the household level by preparing a get-together feast and holding a public celebration for everyone at large. This is the uniqueness of this system that gets total attention from everyone, every member of the family,” he added.

“I was so privileged to be a witness – and enjoyed the feast – but more than anything I was touched by the ceremony of reconciliation and forgiveness moment of the day at the river bank,” he ended.

This latter note brings to mind to members of Convergence of Cultures the important works of reconciliation as proposed in the personal studies that are part of Universal Humanism, the base of the Convergence of Cultures.

While it is appreciated that the Oromos are struggling for the opportunity to rule themselves and reinvent an Oromian state that will reflect the Gada system, it is hoped that the practical effect of the Gada system, which can instill non-violence as a byproduct, can help bring peace and stability to this region.

Note: Oromiyaa (or Oromia in the Oromo language) is one of the nine ethnic divisions in southern and western Ethiopia. A 2007 census reported its population at over twenty-seven million, making it the largest state in terms of both population and area. Its current capital is Adama. Prior to 2000, the Regional capital of Oromia was Addis Ababa, also known as “Finfinne” (the original name in the Oromo language). The relocation of the regional capital to Adama sparked considerable controversy.

The Oromia Region is the birthplace of Ethiopian coffee and it was because of coffee that the region came to renown, after a film titled: Black Gold was made, released in 2006. The film was directed by Mark Francis and Nick Francis, British. These brothers brought the plight of Ethiopian coffee growers and the people in the related infrastructure to an international audience. The problem turned around the dependance of lowly workers on the international coffee prices as determined by big-name enterprises selling coffee.

In the past, Oromos had an egalitarian social system known as Gada. Their military organization made them one of the strongest ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries. Gada was a form of constitutional government and also a social system. Political leaders were elected by the men of the community every eight years. Corrupt or dictatorial leaders would be removed from power through buqisu (recall) before the official end of their term. Oromo women had a parallel institution known as siqqee. This institution promoted gender equality in Oromo society.

The Gada government was based on democratic principles. The abba boku was an elected “chairman” who presided over the chaffee (assembly) and proclaimed the laws. The abba dula (defense minister) was a government leader who directed the army. A council known as shanee or salgee and retired Gada officials also helped the abba boku to run the government.

All Gada officials were elected for eight years. The main qualifications for election included bravery, knowledge, honesty, demonstrated ability, and courage. The Gada government worked on local, regional, and central levels. The political philosophy of the Gada system was embodied in three main principles: terms of eight years, balanced opposition between parties, and power sharing between higher and lower levels. These checks and balances were created to prevent misuse of power. The government’s independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches also were a way of balancing power. Some elements of Gada are still practiced in southern Oromia.

The Gada system was the basis of Oromo culture and civilization. It helped Oromos maintain democratic political, economic, social, and religious institutions for many centuries. The Gada political system and military organization enabled Oromos defend themselves against enemies who were competing with them for land, water, and power. Today, Oromos are engaged in a national liberation movement. Under the leadership of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) they work to achieve self-determination. (Details by courtesy of Wikipedia)

* Tony Henderson is a freelance writer working in Hong Kong since 1980, and previously Japan, for seven years following two years in Mauritius after a year in Libya.

** PRESSENZA is an international press agency specializing in news about Peace, Nonviolence, Humanism and Non-discrimination – Read More.


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3 Comments

  1. Ibrahim Elemo said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

    It is concise and very informative. I enjoyed reading it. However, I need to make one correction. De jure, the official seat of the Oromiya State Government (OSG), Caffee, is Finfinne. De facto, the political capital of OSG is Adama. This is based on the wishes of the TPLF led authoritarian regime which seeks to marginalize and disnfranchise the Oromo people. I this regard, the observation of the writer is correct. The fact of the matter is, Finfinne shall be the political and economic capital of Oromiya. Although we failed to learn and benefit nothing as a nation from a century old autocractic rule of successive Abyssinian emperors, past and present; I believe the Oromo and all peoples of Ethiopia have a great deal to benefit and learn from the egalitarian and democratic system of the Oromo: Gada.
    La Luta Continua!

  2. Mosissa Saba said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

    Sirna Gadaa irraa wantii barannu hedduuti jira. Ormilleen akka dansaa baraa jiru fakkaata.

  3. Jabessa said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

    Dear Tony Anderson,

    Thank you very much for bringing the Oromo reality to the world.Today, the Oromos are at the mercy of their colonizers. With genunine people like you, the truth about the Oromo people could come to the world. I have a suggestion for you. Like the lost boys of the Sudan, can you start making films on “The forgotten Oromo people”. If you appear on Oprah for a day, you could librate the 50 million Oromos with out any blood shed. Oromos are the source of peace”Naaga” and will appreciate your contribution.

    Thanks,

    Jabessa