Mezard, indigenous conflict resolution mechanism in northern Ethiopia: Assessing rural alamata woreda, Tigray regional state, Ethiopia

Textbook 2013 77 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Peace and Conflict Studies, Security


Table of Contents

Abstract I

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

1.1. Background of the Study
1.2. Statement of the Problem
1.3. Research Questions
1.4. Objective of the Study
1.5. Significance of the Study
1.6. Scope and Limitation of the Study
1.7. Definition of Concepts

2.1. The Concept of Conflict
2.2. Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism
2.3. African Indigenous Institutions of Conflict Resolution

3.1. Site Selection and Description of the Study Area
3.2. Data Type and Source
3.3. Research Design and Strategy
3.4. Sampling technique and procedure
3.5. Data Collection Instruments
3.6. Data Analysis and Interpretation

Mezard Institution of Conflict Resolution in Rural Alamata Woreda
4.1. Sources and Type of Conflicts in Rural Alamata woreda
4.2. Historical inception and Development of Mezard institution
4.3. Procedures of the Mezard institution
4.4. Enforceability of the Mezard institution of conflict resolution
4.5. Relation between Mezard and formal Court
4.6. Sustainability of the Mezard institution of conflict resolution
4.7. Strengths and Weaknesses of the Mezard

5.1. Conclusions
5.2. Recommendations



Appendices A


I am grateful to Gebremedhin Yihdego (Ass.prof.), my advisor, for his scholarly enlightening supervision in carrying out the research work. His scholastic insight and the genuine classroom reflection have also influenced me positively in the course he offered me during my study. In line with this I deeply appreciate my co-advisor Abraham Worku (MA) for his constructive comments he gave me throughout the research work.

My warmest and honorable thanks also goes to Abreha Hailezgi, lecturer in Mekelle University, for all the encouragements and his honest and constructive preliminary piece of advice he gave to me regarding the topic of the research.

Moreover, I would like to thank to all my informants without whom the research would have borne no fruit. I especially thank Ato Mesfin Andarge and Ato Rezene Hagos for their cooperation in meeting and convincing the resourceful informants. I also thank, Alexander Berhane, Mentsegeba Girmay and all my friends who have their own shares in the accomplishment the research work.

Thanks to GOD!!!


June 2012


This study deals with indigenous conflict resolution mechanism in Rural Alamata woreda specifically in the institution called Mezard exercised by the Raya people. The study was aimed at examining the Mezard indigenous institution of conflict resolution. The research design employed for this study was case study research design. To this end purposive sampling design was used, employing 24 total sample sizes. Its composition was from indigenous judges, court leaders, to explore the sustainability of the institution, the enforceability, strengths and weaknesses and its role in maintaining peace and stability in the area. This study was conducted using unstructured interview as the main data collection instrument along with focus group discussion employing open ended questions to supplement the data gathered from the key informants. Accordingly, the study finding shows sustainability of the institution is being in formidable challenges, this is mainly because of its less attention on transferring the practice to the young generation and some forces of modernization, etc. With regard to enforceability, the decisions passed by the institution are found to be high in being accepted by the community of the study area. In order to integrate Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism with the formal court legalizing their role and defining their jurisdiction is so important. In addition advancing affirmative action, increasing the income of women by creating new job opportunities, give chance the youth to decide on their matters continually, raising finance generated from the community, etc can help the sustainability of the Mezard institution of conflict resolution.

Key words : Erq, indigenous conflict resolution, Mezard, Tabia, Wonz

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


1.1. Background of the Study

Conflict is not a new phenomenon in the history of human beings. It always exists as long as human beings live together and it is an inescapable human experience. Conflict can be understood as engagement in a fight or possible confrontation between two or more parties as aspiring towards incompatible or competitive means or ends (University of Peace, 2005). According to Francis (2006), conflict is by definition natural and unavoidable part of human existence, i.e. a nature disagreement resulting from individual or groups that differ in attitude, beliefs, values or needs.

As there is the notion of society and the very existence of peoples, there is obviously conflict no matter the extent as well as the source of it. In fact, one cannot separate conflict from humankind. It is impossible to see them independently; they are always together making two faces of the same coin. It is unconceivable to think a society without conflict (Assefa, 2005).

Conflict appears to be an integral component of human performance in diverse activities. The term could be classified based on different criterias and variables, and this creates difficulty in formulating an operational and exact definition. According to Slabbert (2004), conflict is a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affects, something that the first party cares about. Hence, attempting to avoid conflict is not only going against nature but it is also going against development. However, conflict should be wisely resolved before it turns to be destructive.

What especially makes conflict normal and natural is its very existence at different levels and walks of life of people in a given society. In fact, conflict takes different forms to occur. It may come to happen at intrapersonal, interpersonal and inter-group levels. It may also be within and/or between communities (Befekadu and Diribssa, 2005).

The practice of conflict resolution is dominated by the assumption that conflict can at best be managed but hardly possible to solve it. Particularly, conflict management theories see violent conflict as an ineradicable-viewing resolving a conflict as unrealistic and the best that can be done is to manage and contain them and occasionally to reach a historic compromise (Reilly.L and Bloomfield.T, 1998).

On the other hand Conflict Resolution theorists argue that it is possible to transcend conflict if the parties can help to explore, analyze, question and reframe their position and interest. Conflict resolution, therefore, emphasizes intervention by skilled but power third party to foster new thinking and new relations (Miall, 2003). Thus conflict resolution involves process oriented activities that aims to address the underlying causes of direct, structural and cultural violence (Walters, 2000), while simultaneously finding a way to respect their underlying values and identities (Spangler, 2003).

There are two ways of conflict resolution methods, i.e. the formal and informal. According to Macfarlane (2007), the formal one is conducted in the court through litigation with official recognition of the government and tends to be more strictly examined and monitored whether there are signs of impartiality, entrenched inequities and lack of due process. Indigenous or sometimes called informal conflict resolution mechanism is the ancient set of practices in almost all the societies in the world with an ultimate application of third party arbitration and mediation (United Nations, 2007).

According to Kennedy (2011), the concept of ‘indigineity’ connotes institutions, mechanisms and practices predating colonialism and the Westphalia state that derive from the sociological, historical, demographic, environmental and geographical contexts in which they exist.

Kennedy, (2011) suggested that the role of indigenous-based institutions and culture in conflict prevention and resolution as well as peace building is becoming increasingly prominent in most countries.

Dahal and Bhatta, (2008) also confirmed that indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms are used to organize a discussion to mediate several types of conflicts within the societies by recognizing the identity and interests of the conflicting parties. Here its main aim is to come up with a solution and justifying it by the duty of the mechanism based on recognized customs and morality of the society itself.

“Indigenous Dispute Resolution processes,” are intuitive, time-tested and pre-colonial forms and systems of dealing with community problems by coming up with a consensual, communal solution (Osi , 2008) .

‘Indigenous Institutions’ include structures, mechanisms, methods or techniques and practices that incorporate indigenous principles such as conciliation, discussion, negotiation, mediation and arbitration. Indigenous approaches cannot be compartmentalized into “political” or “juridical” or other, rather they are holistic; comprising also social, economic, cultural and religious-spiritual dimensions

This implies that the sum of indigenous lifestyles and world views in which the different spheres of societal life are hardly separated. In addition the conflict parties can directly engage in negotiations on conflict resolution and in the search for a solution, or a third party can be invited to mediate.

In this case Kennedy, (2011) suggests that the process of conflict resolution is public and the participation in the process and the approval of results is voluntary.

The process is carried out by social groups in the interest of social groups such as extended families, clans, village communities, tribes, brotherhoods, etc.; individuals are perceived as members of a kin-group, they are accountable to that group, and the group is accountable for the deeds of each of its members (Boege, 2006).

The above idea implies, every society has its own culturally deep-rooted mechanisms of conflict resolution. Accordingly, Raya is one of the cultural communities in Tigray and northern Wollo, has its own indigenous mechanisms of conflict resolution. Thus, this research paper exhaustively deals with how any sort of conflicts are settled and resolved by the Mezard and how its sustainability and enforceability is in the study area.

The Raya people have their own varieties of customary practices. Among these practices they have traditional conflict resolution mechanisms which are more than helping the people to build solidarity and peaceful coexistence among them. It has a gap filling role for the state made laws. In Raya, offices of elderly are known by variety of names, but they do have common goal i.e. resolving the conflicts especially personal and family peacefully through mediation, conciliation, and arbitration mechanisms at local level customarily. Mezard, Zewold, Kefco, Gebremedhin, Mergeta, senayseged, are some of the most known indigenous mechanisms with local judicial jurisdiction. There are various indigenous institutions in Ethiopia that have their own customary methods of settling conflicts. For the purpose of this paper the researcher dealt with the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism which is practiced in the rural Alamata woreda. This institution was chosen for its unique characteristics in form, procedures and content. In addition it is predominantly exercised by the residents of the study area.

1.2. Statement of the Problem

Africans, as any other people elsewhere, have their own philosophy of life. They have a distinct culture by which they see and interact themselves. For instance, individualism is a philosophy of life in the West as communality is in Africa. Collective mode of living is a peculiar identification of Africans in general. In fact, this mode of living is a different version of life rather than connoting backwardness and/or primitiveness which might be wrongly perceived by some westerners. The communal life in Africa, on the other hand, has an implication in conflict and its resolution. The issues of security, peace and conversely conflict are communal matters in Africa, unlike in the West. Thus, the priority of African traditional conflict resolution mechanisms is to bring about collective social stability and harmony. They do not simply focus on the punitive measure nor do they merely settle the conflict. They rather strive to bring about sustaining peace among the disputants thereby the prevalence of enmity and hatred within as well as across communities would permanently be vanished (Tsega, 2002).

Conflicts in Ethiopia could easily be handled at the grass-root levels by the societies themselves without the direct intervention of the government. After all, Ethiopia is believed to be the home of more than 80 ethnic groups. They have their own distinct languages, and cultures. These various ethnic and cultural groups for so long years have developed their own unique political or administrative, economic, social and judicial systems. They had been able to sustain themselves without necessitating to have copied the Western modes of governance nor is their mechanisms of conflict resolution (Assefa, 2005).

Indigenous laws have been “de-facto” recognition in Ethiopia and has been applied both in formal courts and traditional justice processes and in relation to interpersonal and community based conflicts. Under the Constitution, its application is however, restricted to matters of personal law and therefore its application in other matters relating to conflict does not have any legal recognition and enforcement, as the indigenous institution of conflict resolution is subordinate to the formal court (ibid,2006).

Several researches are done on several indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms in Ethiopia in among nations, nationalities and ethnic groups of Ethiopia. These among others include such as Gereb in Wajerat (Tigray) and Mablo in Ab’ala of Afar (Kelemework, 2000); Abagar in Southern Wollo (Netsanet, 2006), Michu in Metekel (Tsega, 2002), Awassia in Walayta (Mellesse, 2008), Afocha in Harar (Biruk and Jira, 2008), Jarsumma and Haffi Hamee in Oromia (Assefa, 2005), Guma in Waliso Oromo (Dejene, 2007) and so on and so forth. However the above researches were predominantly relied on the process, role of the elders, as well as the actors in the indigenous conflict resolution mechanism. However, this study is intended to search the issues dealing with the sustainability and the enforceability of the decisions passed by the indigenous conflict resolution which is not well addressed by the previous researches.

Similarly, the Raya community living in the southern part of the regional state of Tigray in Alamata woreda practice their own way of conflict settlement. Customarily they have their own indigenous way of conflict resolution mechanisms aiming to address the cause of conflict and seek to build solidarity and belongingness for themselves and for peaceful and good relationship within themselves and their neighboring societies.

In recent years the indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms have been weakened partly because of the failure of the members of the community to strengthen their role of resolution of conflicts at the community level (Asnake, 2010). Therefore, the undermined and eroded status and functions of the elders give rise to the absence of well performing institutions which is a sufficient condition for violent conflicts to arise.

The conflict resolution mechanism called Mezard plays a complementary role in keeping the peace and stability among the people in the study area. Despite the role it plays and legal recognition it has, the government of the state gives less regard to it. Members of this indigenous tribunal perform their duty permanently at least two days a month but without any allowance and budget from both the people as well as the administration for the activity they conduct. As a result the elder traditional tribunals sometimes become less sensitive to the cases brought before them. This condition leads them to some irregularities in their activity among themselves and the conflicting parties. Therefore the general purpose of this study is to assess how the Mezard institution of conflict resolution mechanism handles any sort of conflict in the study area and how is its current status.

1.3. Research Questions

The study addresses the following research questions:

- What are the types and sources of conflict in the area handled by the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism?
- How is the procedure of Mezard conflict resolution mechanism practiced in the rural Alamata woreda?
- What is the enforceability of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism?
- How is the sustainability of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism?

1.4. Objective of the Study

1.4.1. General Objectives

- The general objective of the study is to assess the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism in rural Alamata woreda Tigray region of Ethiopia.

1.4.2. Specific Objectives

- Identify the types and sources of conflicts in the area with regard to the Mezard conflict resolution mechanism.

- Describe the procedure o f Mezard as conflict resolution mechanism in the Rura l Alamata woreda.
- Examine the enforceability of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism.
- Examine the sustainability of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism.
- Examine the strengths and weaknesses of Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism.

1.5. Significance of the Study

Conflicts occur among individuals, within families, between clans, and communities across ethnic borders. The study shows indigenous conflict resolution method’s (ICRM’s) relevance in settlement of conflict especially as family, inter-ethnic, etc across regions. Hence indigenous laws are made by the people and not the state and also drive its legitimacy from the participation and consensus of the community and its recognition by the government. This study has the following relevance;

- Serving as an input for policy makers in relation to conflict resolution and peace building.
- Serving as a reference for other researchers to conduct research on similar topic region-wide or nation-wide.
- Contribute to a better understanding about the indigenous conflict resolution method ‘ Mezard’ to the community.
- Help to specify the factors that hinder the indigenous conflict resolution methods from application and contribute for further strengthening the institution to the extent that it go line in line with the formal court.
- Additional contribution to the few works that have already been done on conflict resolution in the region. It serves as a useful input for those individuals interested to carry out in-depth studies on similar topics.

1.6. Scope and Limitation of the Study

The Raya people have a number of indigenous practices with socio-cultural and economic practices. The study is only limited to Tigray region in general and Raya Alamata woreda in particular on the indigenous mechanism of conflict resolution in rural Alamata. Comprehensive evidence can be obtained only by working within the institution or taking a longitudinal research method. This will be one of the methodological limitations of this research. In addition to this the research only employs a convenience sampling procedure.

1.7. Definition of Concepts

Abahaga : the one who is in charge and of something; care taker of one social issue

Anebabro: bread like food

Duberti : a group of women in the community who beg the conflicting parties to come in to negotiation then to arbitration

Erq(i) : resolution or reconciliation.

Ketena: an administrative structure found below woreda and above the tabia

Mak: a black thick cloth

Mereba : a traditional request made by the elder women to beg erq

Meyazna : an agent as a guarantee

Mezard: is an indigenous or informal way or method of conflict resolution which is practiced around the rural Alamata woreda in southern part of Tigray region also kefko, gebremedhin, mergeta, senayseged, zewold

Millisha: one who is armed from the members of the community, mostly doing his

civil matters too

Raya: is a name specifically given to both the area which is found on southern Tigray

and Wollo as well as the people who reside in those areas

Rond: night guard

Tabia: is one of the Government structures within the regional states which is smaller in

unit as well as less powerful than the woreda

Teskar: ceremony conducted for commemoration of the deceased

Wanza: an acacia tree

Wonz: literally in Amharic means house of elder fathers

Woreda: is an administrative structure which is equated with the District

Yerejat: close relatives of the murderer


This chapter exhaustively deals with the theoretical framework of the nature and essence of conflict and types of conflict, conflict resolution mechanisms with special reference to the indigenous dispute resolution. Only some of the most prominent African traditional institutions in general and the Ethiopian in particular which are currently being practiced and used in resolving conflicts of any sort are also pointed out and reviewed from different sources.

2.1. The Concept of Conflict

The term conflict refers to a situation of hostility between individuals, groups, or states resulting from competition over resources, power, or opposing interests in other areas (Francis, 2006).

Individuals need each other for survival; along the way conflict is unavoidable. What is important for all parties is that differences be reconciled without resort to violence. Goodhand and Hulme (1999), note that ‘conflict is only a problem when society cannot represent, manage or resolve its different interests in a productive manner, thus initiating a degenerative or destructive cycle of physical violence.

Conflicts are as old as human societies themselves. Historically, individuals, social groups and societies have disputed and competed against one another over scarce commodities and resources land, money, political power, and ideology. They have even fought one another and bitterly sought the elimination and/or subjugation of rivals, in order to control these resources and commodities (Reichel, 1998). Similarly conflict is defined as a situation in which two or more parties strive to acquire the same scarce resources at the same time. It occurs between people in all kinds of human relationships and in all social settings. Because of the wide range of potential differences among people, the absence of conflict usually signals the absence of meaningful interaction. Conflict by itself is neither good nor bad. However, the manner in which conflict is handled determines whether it is constructive or destructive (Deutsch & Coleman, 2000).

In addition, Conflict refers when two or more values, perspectives and opinions are contradictory in nature and have not been values and perspectives are threatened; or discomfort from fear of the unknown or from lack of fulfillment. Conflict is inevitable and often good, for example, good teams always go through a "form, storm, norm and perform" period. Getting the most out of diversity means often contradictory values, perspectives and opinions (McNamara, 2007).

Nathan (2007) on the other hand asserted that conflict is also a nature consequence of major reform and of popular pressure for fundamental political or economic change. Furthermore, (Spangler,2003) stated that conflict tend to arise over non-negotiable issues such as fundamental human needs, intolerable moral difference or high stakes distributional issues regarding essential resources such as water or land. Accordingly, conflict is inherent to all societies. Differences in interests and opinions between groups are natural, but the method by which such differences are expressed and managed determine if conflicts manifest themselves in either non violent or violent ways.

2.1.1. Types of Conflict

Conflict exists mainly in two forms. There are direct and indirect depending on their magnitude and manifestation. Direct conflict is the most outward, visible and easily identifiable sort of conflict. It is just like a direct physical confrontations or clashes between individuals. It could also be manifested in a form of war between nations or groups of different interests. On the other hand, indirect violence, which is synonymously referred to as structural violence, appears to be in a form of invisible and relatively unidentifiable societal structures. Such violence is built deep in to the social, economic and political structures. These structures deliberately prohibit every people from enjoying equal social status and equal access to economic opportunities as well as involvement in one’s own political matters. It is all about discrimination and marginalization, suppression and exploitative world order. And all these in turn would result in human suffering and life misery in general as the consequence of impoverishment to overwhelmingly majority of the people (Jeong, 2005).

Hence, violence or conflict of any kind needs to be peacefully managed and resolved. If not so, it would result in human destruction. There might be constructive conflict but only if it is properly managed and harnessed as to be supporting and driving force for humans in their development.

Macfarlane (2007), outlines that, there are two forms of conflict management and resolution mechanisms as formal and informal conflict management and resolution that the best result often are achieved by combining the two methods.

The formal way of conflict management and resolution is conducted through litigation as the conflicting parties are subject to court procedures and final judgment thereby the parties become binding to the court decisions, where as the informal one is accompanied with major components such as mediation, arbitration, and negotiation among the others (Brainch, 2006).

2.2. Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism

As long as people live in society or group, there are conflicts arising from differences of interests, prejudice, needs and ambitions. Therefore, the approach adopted to prevent or resolve such difference of interests determines its resolution. In other words, when a conflict happens, the crucial point should be the effective adoption of the necessary principle of the resolution. Indigenous mechanisms are grass root approaches to solve conflicts by the society. The most important elements involving in this mechanism include the tradition of forgiveness, respect for elders because of their symbolic authority to enforce decisions and transfer of resource as compensation (Zartman, 2000).

Indigenous conflict resolution typically incorporates consensus-building based on open discussions to exchange information and clarify issues. Conflicting parties are more likely to accept guidance from these mediators than from other sources because an elder’s decision does not entail any loss of face and is backed by social pressure. The end result is, ideally, a sense of unity, shared involvement and responsibility, and dialogue among groups otherwise in conflict (USAID, 2005).

Some authors trace the genealogy of what is now known as mediation to early Greek and Chinese cultures. Sri Lankan antecedence dates back to about 425 years before Christianity while Chinese mediation goes back to the Zhou Dynasty which predates the Christian era by 1,100 years. Other scholars characterize pre-colonial forms of mediation as a familiar face of early Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian religions as well as Indigenous cultures. Ethnic groups and aboriginal tribe’s people have been practicing these forms of mediation long before newer settlers arrived (Osi , 2008) .

Indigenous conflict management and resolution mechanisms use local actors and traditional community-based judicial and legal decision-making mechanisms to manage and resolve conflicts within or between communities. Local mechanisms aim to resolve conflicts without resorting to state-run judicial systems, police, or other external structures. Local negotiations can lead to ad hoc practical agreements which keep broader inter-communal relations positive, creating environments where nomads can graze together, townspeople can live together, and merchants can trade together even if military men remain un-reconciled (Lowry, 1995).

While Western forms of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) were generated as a response to the difficulties and deficiencies associated with court proceedings, Indigenous Dispute Resolution processes were not an “alternative” to anything. There were no courts or highly formalized procedures and institutions to speak of when they were first developed and practiced. Generally, Indigenous Dispute Resolution processes were all that the communities had in common. Although they seem very ADR-like, they were truly indigenous and unique to these peoples (Brainch, 2006).

Indigenous societies have varied institutions and personnel that function as agents of conflict resolution in their respective locality (Degene, 2007). In spite of this, Ember (1977), cited in Degene (2007), argued that, these agents lack coercive force to support their decisions.

There is a little evidences from the literatures that a settlement of conflict within the indigenous institutions is in any way encouraged by the governments, rather the indigenous institutions of conflict resolution impose sanctions which are of two types, the secular and the sacred from which the later is more effective and often used(Hamer,1987).

Indigenous societies in all parts of the world have featured variations of third-party arbitration and mediation. Western societies saw these practices subsumed by the rise of modern judiciaries. The increased complexity of these processes, however, saw reduced satisfaction with legal outcomes among disputants (United Nations, 2007).

In fact, the indigenous forms of conflict resolution have been practiced by peoples and communities for centuries. The older forms of dispute resolution, particularly those practiced by the Indigenous or Aboriginal peoples around the world, challenge the originality of present-day court system (Osi , 2008) .

Indigenous conflict resolution offers not only alternative means of resolving conflicts but an entirely more efficient way of doing business with each other. It’s the term in advance of justice all over the community but remains widely misunderstood which is likely to be the reason it is often initially treated with less recognition by the state (Brainch, 2006). According to Open University of Nigeria (2010), these institutions were mostly characterized by public will and associational trust especially as they are conducted truthfully and pragmatically.

Indigenous conflict resolution comprises a range of processes fashioned structured to meet the specific needs of parties in a conflict; each process being an alternative to litigation but commonly ‘mediation’ and ‘arbitration’. The key principle is that the means used in seeking to resolve the conflict must be proportionate to its nature in terms of value, complexity and importance to the conflicting parties (ibid,2006). This implies that Indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms refers the set of mechanisms a society utilizes to resolve conflicts outside litigation or the formal court (Osi , 2008) .

Indigenous or Aboriginal communities in the present day practice three forms of conflict resolution their own Indigenous processes, Western forms of ADR, and the Indigenized Western ADR systems. They sometimes resort to court litigation, whether because it is expensive, time-consuming, highly complicated, and judge and counsel-dependent, or simply because it is not innate for them to do so. Of course, certain exceptions have to be made for a few communities (Brainch, 2006)

2.2.1. Advantages and Disadvantages of Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanisms.

Some of the advantages of indigenous conflict resolution, in contrast with the court litigation or formal way of conflict resolution are given as it has low cost, speed, accessibility, cultural relevance, and responsiveness to the poor people’s concerns(DFDI,2004). According to penal reform international (2003), also indigenous is advantageous as the conflicting parties are active participants, raising public interest and awareness, gives rise to permanent resolution of conflict as well as it employed non discriminatory approach on its conduct.

Indigenous conflict management and resolution mechanisms aim to resolve conflicts locally, preceding or replacing external conflict resolution and thereby reducing reliance on external structures. Indigenous mediation helps the community keep control over the outcome of the conflict. Implementing this approach does not require sophisticated party structures or expensive campaigns; it provides a low-cost, empowering means of resolving conflicts within a relatively short time frame. In many societies, elders have indigenous jurisdiction in facilitation, arbitration, and monitoring outcomes (Paul, 1994).

Indigenous conflict mediators typically possess moral status, seniority, neutrality and respect of the community; they are acceptable to all parties and demonstrate leadership capacity. Resolutions are generally accepted and respected by all concerned parties (USAID, 2005).

According to Lowery (1995), some indigenous conflict resolution efforts may be weakened by age or gender bias for example, in cases with no women elders, some women may believe that male elders are biased against women and that this will be reflected in their decisions. Therefore the above idea can imply that the Indigenous authorities are predominantly not progressive elements of social change.

International agencies’ efforts to build local capacity and enhance participation should question whether indigenous structures are being undermined, what their role is in keeping the society intact and managing conflict, and whether it is important to make efforts to retain such structures. Indigenous mediation has a dynamic of its own and does not always respond positively to external prompting. Indigenous mediation requires delicate and knowledgeable management, and external actors must bring an intimate understanding of local conditions (paul, 1994).

Indigenous conflict resolution processes will allow community members to pursue remedies and resolve conflicts outside of the courtroom and still within their own cultural confines. Practiced in Indigenous communities since time immemorial, they are culturally more appropriate than litigation because they are based on the customs and traditions of the group concerned. They may also pursue remedies through state-formalized ADR. Litigating in court is normally prohibitive; with long case queues, intermittent delay in the resolution of motions or claims is quite common. More importantly, litigation with its basic rudiments of confrontation, fault-finding and judge made resolutions, coupled with its adversarial nature (Osi , 2008) .

Assefa (2005), has summarized only some of the advantages of indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms as they quickly respond to crisis in terms of time, they contribute to the reduction of regular court case loads, they contribute to saving of the public money, it also minimizes the problem in shortage of judges who work in the regular courts, and budget constraints, they are complementary to modern government structures and are not substitutes or competitors as some government officials think and worry about, They give access to many people who do not find modern system of conflict resolution comfortable, affordable or suitable to their needs, Disputants are satisfied with their operation and view their outcomes as fair, and the like.

According to DFID (2004), the disadvantages of indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms are among the others, it may led to the abuse of power, may lack accountability, and not consistent with International human rights as it practices inhuman and degraded punishments. The center for Democracy and Governance (1998), also suggested that, indigenous conflict resolution mechanism has limitations such that it is not appropriate taking cases as public sanction, with extreme power imbalance, may undermine other judicial reform efforts, and have no any educational, disciplinary, or restriction effect on population. Therefore the decisions that can best describe court proceedings are adversarial, thorough, rigid, strict, evidentiary, rights-oriented, unbiased, impartial, and generally appealable unlike the indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms. On the other hand Boege (2006), noted that, indigenous conflict resolution is targeted at problems in relatively small communities in the local context. It can work well within a given community with regard to the members of that community. Conflicts within and between families, between neighbors, within and between villages or clans lend themselves rather easily to traditional approaches.

There are several problems with using Indigenous Dispute Resolution for more advanced cases such as patent challenges concerning Indigenous communities.

Firstly, Indigenous populations have different fundamental conceptions from mainstream society, resulting in only a handful of people who actually understand the culture indigenous to them. This condition can lead to misunderstanding, mistrust, abuses and marginalization. Secondly, Governments may hesitate to organize or uphold Indigenous Dispute Resolution infrastructures, whether in traditional conflict areas such as land disputes and employment discrimination to newer conflict prone subjects such as patenting of traditional knowledge, nonconsensual commercial use of indigenous symbols or art, and the unauthorized recording/reproduction of ancient chants, songs, movements and dances (Osi , 2008) .

Accordingly Boege (2006), identifies the following potential advantages and disadvantages of the indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms as follows.

Strengths of traditional approaches to conflict transformation can be identified since the indigenous conflict resolution approaches;

- fit situations of state fragility and failure;
- are not state-centric and hence credited with legitimacy;
- take the time factor into due account and are process-oriented;
- provide for comprehensive inclusion and participation;
- Focus on the psycho-social and spiritual dimension of conflict transformation.

The five major strengths of indigenous approaches to conflict transformation are matched by five major weaknesses. Indigenous approaches;

- do not terminate violence in the long term;
- often contradict universal standards of human rights;
- have a limited sphere of applicability;
- are geared towards the preservation of the ‘good old’ order;
- are open to abuse( Boege, 2006, pp.22-27)

2.2.2. Actors in Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanisms

The process is led by the male or female leaders of communities, such as traditional kings, chiefs, priests, healers, big men, elders “elder” being a social, not a biological category and others. These authorities are the mediators, facilitators, negotiators, peace makers. They are highly esteemed for their knowledge of custom, myths and the history of the communities and the relationships of the parties in conflict (Hamer, 1980).

Indigenous conflict resolution’s rich experience in conflict regulation, their skills in setting and interpreting signs of reconciliation and their skills as orators as well as their social capital as leaders of the communities empower them to negotiate a resolution to the conflict that is acceptable to all sides. The leaders and other third parties have no or hardly any sanctions at their disposal that would allow for the enforcement of a settlement (Zartmman, 2000).

There is no monopoly over the legitimate use of violence as in modern states that would make it possible to force parties to abide by the law or to accept a ruling. Sanctions are confined to the social realm as shaming, stigmatizing and the supernatural as cursing, sorcery if one does not want to take recourse to violence. Parties have the power to reject any settlement that they are not happy with. Hence conflict solution is based on voluntary consensus and agreement. Everybody has to agree to a solution, including gods and the spirits of the ancestors. In other words, indigenous conflict transformation is consensus-based (Kennedy, 2011).

Community members involved in the conflict participate in the dispute resolution process. These community members can include traditional authorities as elders, chief’s women’s organizations, local institutions and professional associations. The elders function as a court with broad and flexible powers to interpret evidence, impose judgments, and manage the process of reconciliation. The mediator leads and channels discussion of the problem (Boege, 2006).

When solutions have been achieved, they are sealed in highly ritual forms. Ceremonies are of great symbolic and practical importance. They are a means of conflict transformation in their own right. The whole community participates in them. They are loaded with spiritual meaning. Wealth exchange, prayers and sacrificing to god/the gods/the spirits of the ancestors are part of those ceremonies as well as customary rituals such as breaking spears and arrows, drinking and eating together, singing and dancing together or consuming certain drugs (Osi, 2008).

Parties typically do not address each other, eliminating direct confrontation. Interruptions are not allowed while parties state their case. Statements are followed by open deliberation which may integrate listening to and cross-examining witnesses, the free expression of grievances, caucusing with both groups, reliance on circumstantial evidence, visiting dispute scenes, seeking opinions and views of neighbors, reviewing past cases, holding private consultations, and considering solutions (DFID, 2004).

2.2.3. Sustainability of Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism

The future of indigenous conflict resolution mechanism can be seen as hopefully. Because many states began to adopt them in line with the formal court litigation. As it is outlined by DFID briefings some of the country experiences around the world are given below;

- Shalish, Bangladesh: takes the form of a public event in which civil disputes are resolved through arbitration and/or mediation, by people with some standing in the community.
- Rondas Campesinas (Night Watch patrols), Peru: community-based organizations in charge to settle crime such as theft, slander, assault and domestic disputes they have both policing and judicial functions.
- Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs, Eastern Kenya: elected by the government, significant role where access to police and courts is restricted and control and record events of cases as elders chosen by the disputing parties make the final decision.
- Street committees, South Africa: aim to achieve settlement over reprisal. Security mechanisms are also used to ensure personal safety at home and in the community for example, the protection of battered women ( DFID, 2004 pp47-50).

However in contrast with the above idea indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms faces a lot of problems which affect their future sustainability. This is shown with the existing diminishing role of indigenous institutions for settlement of conflicts.

Closely related to the above issue is the fact that indigenous institutions of resolving conflicts among many communities are diminishing from time to time as a result of marginalization by formal dispute resolution mechanisms and civilization. As such, elders are increasingly finding it difficult to prevent and manage conflicts partly because their actions are not secured in any legal framework and also because they lack a coercive mechanism to enforce their resolutions. However, the institution of elders’ posses a potential in preventing and managing conflicts especially among pastoral communities provided it’s strengthened and backed by legal and policy foundations (Desalegn, et al, 2004).

Despite the imposition by the government and internal changes, many of the indigenous conflict resolution system have retained their basic structure for centuries. The majority of conflicts among the community are still handled at local level. Informal mediators who do not have connection with the modern governmental legal institutions deal with several cases including homicide, which is the gravest of crimes. In addition to local mechanisms, considerable members of a community also opt to government court for legal redress when need be (Degene, 2007).

This condition gives rise to the indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms to get less recognition from any formal institution. Despite its recognition by the majority of the members of the community, in their role in regulating interpersonal relations it is predominantly losing relevance due to the overall, state-imposed rules and regulations (Desalegn, et al, 2004).

Similarly Meron (2010), pointed out that the Ethiopian constitution has, however, limited the mandate of the customary and religious institutions to private and family matters. Nevertheless, these institutions are playing a very significant role in other domains such as criminal matters. The strong social tie existing in the community makes the significance of reconciliation, the key role of indigenous institutions, indispensable.

It is underscored that the state and the NGOs show a strong commitment to working with indigenous institutions as a means of achieving development. However, no pragmatic collaboration is being realized between the statutory and the customary institutions (Huyse, 2008).

Indigenously evolved approaches to consultation, mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution can be effective if social practices, local interest and knowledge are compatible with each other and their synergies contribute to make local conflict resolution mechanisms cost-effective, direct and inclusive of various interest groups. But, it is difficult to see how home-grown approaches have induced desirable change to respond to new conflict dynamics at a time when perpetuation of social and legal order is considered inimical to democratic freedoms, interests and empowerment (Dahal and Bhatta, 2008).

Failure of Existing mechanisms of dispute resolution such as the courts has failed to provide effective administration of justice with respect to certain conflicts such as inter-ethnic conflicts. Therefore, non-recognition of indigenous processes of conflict resolution under law has resulted in there being no clear and comprehensive system of justice to resolve conflicts. This has resulted in disputing parties relying on self help mechanisms that lead to violence and degeneration of relations between parties and their communities (Pkayla and Adan, 2004).

2.2.4. Enforceability of the Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism

Indigenous conflict resolution’s potential effectiveness is diminished where indigenous authority has eroded and the formal authority has increased, since these trends run counter to indigenous values and ways of social organization, including those of handling conflict (lowery,1995).

Enforcement of informal decisions presents some challenges on ground since enforcement actions occur when the terms of an agreement have been violated, and thus the institution employ coercive force including seizure of property. However, these mechanisms do have a considerable means of social coercion, which may be more effective than the courts. If parties need an informal decision to be enforced, they can either return to the informal sector or avail themselves of the courts. If the aggrieved party goes to the court, the court would only be able to enforce the decision if the parties had previously sought the approval of the court for the settlement (Pkayla and Adan, 2004).

Resolutions by local mediators may take the form of negotiation or arbitration and are generally reached with reference to the community’s norms and values. In theory, proceedings of mediation may be subject to manipulation by the different parties, including the arbitrators. In practice, however, such manipulations seem severely constrained by the elaborate and careful provisions of the community’s norms and prescriptions. As soon as guilt is proven, the indigenous law provides guidelines for the amount of compensation or fine to be paid (Yayneshet and Kelemework, 2004).

Documentation on the effectiveness of grassroots conflict prevention mechanisms is inconsistent, yet indicates that indigenous mediation may be powerless to address some of a conflict’s root causes centrally-instigated conflict, predatory behavior linked to exploiting economic advantage, external meddling. Indigenous mediators often bring important social influence but may lack the power and the means to enforce the resolutions adopted. Advice is only accepted when both parties agree to it, and both parties must feel their concerns were properly addressed. Traditional structures’ power to prevent the occurrence of violence is limited (USAID, 2005).

Indigenous institutions do not impose or enforce outcomes. The only means of coercion available to the community would be shunning or exiling a party that refused to compromise. Thus its major aim is to restore community harmony, which is generally achieved by arriving at an equitable settlement that corrects harm done to honor and/or property (Huyse , 2008).

This system thus works best in small communities and can sometimes be extended to different communities within an ethnic group. It is most problematic when disputes arise between communities of different ethnic groups, particularly if they have an antagonistic relationship. The body of customary law varies from place to place, and impartial mediators may be impossible to identify. Given these weaknesses, failures to resolve serious problems, particularly those involving threats of bloodshed, have historically prompted state intervention to prevent disorder (Blench, et al, 2006).

Pospisil (1990), proposes if the sanctions made by the indigenous institutions really more important and binding, appealing to functional approach that what actually qualifies sanction is its effective social maintenance. He further discusses that though psychological sanctions such as ostracism, ridicule, avoidance or denials of favors are, sometimes very subtle and informal, they are effective sanctions.

Indigenous conflict resolution is rooted in the respect that parties have for the authority and opinion of the community. Only if the disputants see themselves as part of a common community can this form of dispute resolution be effective and its rulings binding. Because communities must first get the disputants to agree voluntarily to mediation or arbitration, the legitimacy of the outcome is determined at the outset when the parties agree to take part and be bound by the results of the process (Barfield and Nojumi , 2004).

This implies that, the community has its own goal of not only coming to a solution for the issues at hand but of reconciling the parties and ending divisions that may generate further conflicts. The closer the community bonds the greater legitimacy of the process. While enhancing effectiveness and legitimacy, this requirement for social cohesion also limits the viability of customary mechanisms in the current environment.

2.3. African Indigenous Institutions of Conflict Resolution

The last decade has witnessed an increasing resort in Africa to indigenous mechanisms of justice, peace, and reconciliation. For example, in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Somaliland, northern Uganda, and several other countries, indigenous mechanisms have gained in appeal as possible alternatives or supplements to approaches to conflict resolution that are largely Western designed. To some observers, these approaches may on the surface appear to be a desperate return to the past optimism of the ‘traditional’, or nostalgia for the good old days, when things worked. To others they represent a community’s realization that the way out and forward lies within it, in its choices, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of its experiences of war and peace Criticisms of this romantic view merit attention, especially when they warn against the uncritical use of traditional mechanisms blind to changes that may have occurred during the colonial and postcolonial eras. Nevertheless, these criticisms do not necessarily offer a conclusive answer to the debate on whether indigenous ideas of the social have value in promoting understanding of war and peace in Africa. The second view is the point of departure here addressed through a focus on the concepts of flexible gender, ubuntu, and design for exploring the significant advantages that indigenous mechanisms offer in understanding war and peace in Africa (Mensah, 2002).

To this end, African societies unanimously have their own cultures of civilizations. It is believed that Africa is the cradle of mankind. As it might also be witnessed in many archeological excavations, there is nowadays a tendency to believe that the first men had probably lived in Africa. Indeed, Africans, at least like any other people elsewhere, certainly have for long time developed their own unique system of administration and governance. As part of their strong and viable system, they had also, and still remain to have, effective and practically workable conflict resolution mechanisms which sustained and solidified them together within their respective communities (Francis, 2006).

This is particularly true of Africa before colonialism ravaged it along with the destruction and erosion of its norms and precious inner most values all over the continent. Western colonizers have not only exploited the African rich natural and human resources but they have also corrupted and poisoned its long time and deep-rooted systems of self governance. It is a common knowledge that Africa had existed with its unique civilization and thereby philosophy long before the intrusion of colonialism to generally disrupt the indigenous knowledge systems (Singleton and Shingler, 1987).

In spite of the fact that traditional societies in Africa are reputed to settle conflicts long lastingly and for that matter to handle their administrative cases in their own, the European colonial powers rhetorically justify colonialism to have a civilizing mission. In fact, colonialism did not only downgrade the indigenous methods of peacemaking but it also had virtually destroyed the democratic institutions in many African societies (Bahru, 2002).

Colonizers did this as part of their purpose to homogenize the world in such away as their values and perspectives would be dominantly flourishing at the expense of vanishing others. In doing so, they replaced the African indigenous practices and institutions which for centuries had upheld the societies by their own imported customs of rule. It is because this would ultimately serve their colonial interests (Mensah, 2002).

In a similar fashion, Wilson-Fall (2000), has also written about how effective the traditional institutions to manage conflicts were in the pre-colonial Africa. According to him and other authors, however, these were intentionally degraded and paralyzed by the colonial governments.

Withstanding all the influences and attempts of destruction, there are still traditional institutions in Africa many of which are coordinately working with the imported modern institutions. In spite of the effect of modernization, the existing indigenous institutions are yet serving to keep harmonies and solidarities among people of a certain society (Zartman, 2000).

Although sufficient attention is not given to the indigenous institutions even in the post-independence era, however, there are to a little extent tendencies to incline to use them applying in the contemporary issues. An example in this regard is the application of gacaca to resolve “modern” conflicts in Rwanda. The Rwandan societies have been using gacaca customarily for so long years at a grass root level to handle any sort of conflicts and/or disputes. The Rwandan government has also recently been able to apply it in dealing with the most deadly and worst crisis of 1994 which had eventually led to genocide reportedly claimed near to a million people(ibid, 2000).

Tongeren et al. (2005) on the other hand, states gacaca as it meet not only sanction over the violators of norms but also the violators are accepted as fully members of the community. That is the reconciliation process is the core objective of the gacaca system of conflict resolution.

Another African traditional institution of this kind, to add, is ubuntu which is also an effective conception of peace making institution. The role of ubuntu in conflict resolution and its very notion is reconciliation and peaceful co-existence based on the principle of reciprocity, inclusivity and a sense of shared destiny between peoples and communities (Ibeanu, 2006).

There is, therefore, a need to promptly revitalize the African indigenous conflict resolution institutions so that conflicts for a long-term are resolved.

Ethiopia as one of the African states is believed to be the “museum of peoples” with more than 80 ethnic groups constituting and forming one nation state. It is a country of diversity harboring varieties of languages, different religions and faiths as well as quite many nations and nationalities with their own philosophical perspectives and unique cultural practices. History also tells us that Ethiopia is as ancient as 3000 years back. It is, therefore, definitely true that it had experienced strong and cohesive systems of administration with its world top leading civilization, namely Axumite civilization. Indeed, every Ethiopian ethnic groups as their African counterparts have customarily age-old and time-tested administrative and conflict resolution institutions at the grass root levels. In fact, exhaustive and thorough studies about these institutions are not bulky enough and so are limited literatures in this area. Be this as it may, however, there are some literatures on only few cases elaborating the importance and strength of these multipurpose institutions. For instance, Bahru (2002), has written about the indigenous political and judicial institutions in Gurage. He pointed out the Yajoba Qicha and Gordanna sera practiced in the society. These institutions are responsible for legislative as well as judiciary functions.

To add one more indigenous institutions of Ethiopia, there is also another such similar multipurpose institution of the Kambata, South nations, nationalities and peoples region. This indigenous institution as to Yacob (2006), is known as seera. Seera is everything to the kambata society. It is everything such that it serves as a basis for the political administration, social interaction and means of conflict resolution within the territory of the society.

Elders in this regard, according to the rule of seera, are considered to have the most esteemed and graceful status. It is believed that it is with the lifelong experiences and accumulated knowledge of the elders which seera would appropriately function (Yacob, 2002). Gada is also the most known political, social and judicial indigenous institution widely practiced among the Oromo people. Much is said and written in different sources about the democratic nature of the Gada system. Hamdesa (2000), and Assefa (2005), also have written that it is an effective institutional system to manage any source of conflicts among the Oromo so that harmony, peaceful co-existence and smooth relations would be maintained in the society. As to Hamdesa (2000), there are thirteen steps on the way to the whole process of conflict resolution through the use of the Gada system to finally arrive at reconciliation.



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Title: Mezard, indigenous conflict resolution mechanism in northern Ethiopia: Assessing rural alamata woreda, Tigray regional state, Ethiopia