Traditional African Conflict Resolution: The Case of South Africa and Ethiopia

Author:Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle - Macdonald Rammala
Position:Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle (LL.B, LLM, PhD); Associate Professor, Mekelle University, School of Law. Email: tsegai7@yahoo.com The earlier draft of this article was prepared while the author was postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa (IDRA), University of South Africa (UNISA). - Macdonald Rammala: BSW(hons) ...
Pages:325-347
SUMMARY

In Africa, traditional conflict resolution is based on values, norms, cultures and beliefs as practiced by the members of the community. Thus, traditional conflict resolution decisions are readily accepted by the community. However, colonialism had very serious impact on African values, norms, cultures and beliefs. It disregarded, undermined and weakened them. Cultural hegemony (as a result of... (see full summary)

 
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Traditional African Conflict Resolution:
The Case of South Africa and Ethiopia
Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle and Macdonald Rammala**
Abstract
In Africa, traditional conflict resolution is based on values, norms, cultures and
beliefs as practiced by the members of the community. Thus, traditional conflict
resolution decisions are readily accepted by the community. However, colonialism
had very serious impact on African values, norms, cultures and beliefs. It
disregarded, undermined and weakened them. Cultural hegemony (as a result of
colonialism) and legal transplantation (without adequate attention to traditional
systems) have adversely affected traditional conflict resolution in Africa.
Nonetheless, the continuous use of traditional dispute resolution mechanisms across
African communities clearly demonstrates that they still have a role to play. The
article aims to assess the institution of traditional conflict resolution in Africa with
particular emphasis on South Africa and Ethiopia. Both countries are multiethnic
societies with a variety of cultures, languages and religions. Ethiopia maintained its
freedom from colonial rule with the exception of a short-lived Italian occupation
and from 1936 to 1941. South Africa was a Dutch colony from 1662 to 1815, a
British colony from1910 to 1948 and under the Apartheid era from 1948 to1994.
Using case studies of South Africa and Ethiopia, the article examines some of the
successes and challenges faced by traditional conflict resolution institutions. The
opportunities offered to them by the two legal systems are also examined. The two
systems are not selected for the purpose of comparative analysis compared, but are
examined as self representative examples in their own historical, political and legal
contexts.
Key terms
Tradition · Conflict · Traditional conflict resolution · South Africa · Ethiopia
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/mlr.v12i2.4
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)
Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle (LL.B, LLM, PhD); Associate Professor, Mekelle University,
School of Law. Email: <tsegai7@yahoo.com>
The earlier draft of this article was prepared while the author was postdoctoral fellow at
the Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa (IDRA), University of South Africa (UNISA).
** Macdonald Rammala: BSW(hons) University of South Africa Intercultural Mediation
(Brdges Academy, USA) Social policy and Dispute Resolution candidate (University of
South Africa). Researcher at the Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa (IDRA), College
of Law, University of South Africa (UNISA), and a co mmunity engaged project leader for
the Lekgotla La Batho Research project in Makapanstad. Email: <rammamn@unis a.ac.za>
326 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 12, No.2 December 2018
Introduction
In actual life, no society is immune from conflict due to differences in interests,
goals, values and aims among people.1 Conflicts occur within families, clans,
villages or other small units.2 Most African communities have their own
traditional conflict resolution processes that enable them to prevent, manage and
resolve conflict. Most African States are moving towards incorporating
traditional conflict resolution mechanisms in their policies, laws and
constitutions. Even in countries where there is no formal state recognition, it has
remained resilient and continues to exist outside the areas of state influence.3
Thus, traditional conflict resolution mechanisms are crucial institutions for
conflict resolution in Africa.
Many African states (South Africa and Ethiopia included) are grappling with
conflict resolution. However, the institutions in African states are not able to
cope with the huge demands unleashed by everyday conflict. It is within this
context that the complementarity between traditional institutions and the modern
state becomes not only apparent but also imperative. The continuing role and
influence of traditional leadership in modern Africa is hard to miss.4
Even though the relationship between the state (formal) and traditional
(informal) institutions is a contested terrain loaded with complexities, the unique
features of traditional institutions, due to their endogeneity and use of local
actors, enable them to either resist or even sometimes challenge the state.
Traditional institutions continue to demonstrate their relevance in post-conflict
states. This is especially true in the context of weak states that are overwhelmed
with ongoing state-building processes. Though there is no clear-cut formula as
to the interactions between traditional and state institutions, a relationship exists
which is central in the promotion of sustainable peace in post-conflict Africa.5
In this article it is argued that not all traditional dispute resolution institutions
are worthy of legal recognition, nor are traditional institutions immune from
weaknesses. It is argued that there is a strong case for acknowledging the value
of certain traditional institutions, and the rights of people to make use of them in
legally recognized ways. Traditional conflict resolution mechanisms can
1 Fayemi Ademola Kazeem ( 2009), “Agba (Elder) as Arbitrator: A Yoruba Socio P olitical
Model for Conflict resolution-A Review of Lawrence O. Bamikole Journa l of Law a nd
Conflict Resolution, Vol. 1(3) pp. 60-67, August 2009.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Carolyne Gatimu (2014), Traditional Str uctures in Peace and Security Consolidation: The
Case of the House of Elders (GUURTI) in Somaliland, International Support Training
Center, Occasional Paper Series 5, No.7, Kenya: Nairobi, p.5.
5 Martha Mutisi (2012). “Local Conflict Resolution in Rwanda: The Case o f Abunzi
Mediators.” Africa Dialogue Monograph Series 2/2012. ACCORD.

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