State Intrusion into Customary Dispute Resolution Mechanisms in Ethiopia (1991−2018)


  • Desalegn Amsalu Addis Ababa University


Ankober, Customary Dispute Resolution Mechanisms (CDRMs), state intrusion, state-affiliated institutions


Based on fieldwork largely conducted in 2017 at Ankober Woräda of Amhara Region, this paper shows the intrusion of the state into the jurisdiction of Customary Dispute Resolution Mechanisms (CDRMS). Studies on CDRMs in Ethiopia have mostly focused on documentation of different institutions practiced among different ethnic communities. They have also focused on legal pluralism and the cooperation or competition between the state courts and CDRMs, as well as how the 1995 federal government constitution limited the jurisdiction of CDRMs to family or personal matters only. This paper shows how the role of CDRMs, such as Šәmgәlәnna of the Amhara community in Ankober, in resolving disputes of family and personal matters was even further constricted by the ruling party of Ethiopia which introduced a national reform agenda called "change army" in 2011. Through the framework of the "change army" that lasted until 2018 when Abiy Ahmed came to power as the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the government used existing local government offices and the ruling party lines, created new committees, and co-opted local elders to make them handle disputes that are the jurisdiction of Šәmgәlәnna. The paper suggests this kind of intrusion will weaken CDRMs, and therefore the state should respect the role and practice of these institutions. If any cooperation between the two is necessary, it should be in a way it does not further narrow down the role of the customary institutions upon whom the community for a large part relies for their dispute resolution.