Ye Shakoch Chilot (the court of the sheikhs): A traditional institution of conflict resolution in Oromiya zone of Amhara regional state, Ethiopia
Traditional institutions of conflict resolution play a very significant role in the day-to-day lives of Africans in general and Ethiopians in particular. In Ethiopia, a country that has adopted ethnic federalism as its policy, such traditional institutions help to blur political boundaries and bring people from different ethnic and regional backgrounds together. Furthermore, they serve as alternative institutions of conflict resolution in a country where the state legal system is failing to fully provide the judiciary needs of the nation. For instance, in Jille Dhmugaa district, where the research was conducted, there are only two judges for a total population of 102 936. Apart from the lack of capacity under which it suffers, the state legal system can also be criticised for a high degree of preferential treatment due to corruption, so that justice is provided only to a few. Furthermore, the ideology of the state legal system is drawn mainly from the western legal philosophy which is highly influenced by an individualistic orientation and does not fit the strong social orientation on the ground where it is being implemented. These reasons and more are raised by many as main drawbacks of the state legal system in Ethiopia. There were times in Ethiopian history when the state legal system officially incorporated elements from the traditional institutions of conflict resolution in the state courts (Carmichael 2003:122; Walker 1933:153–156). 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 traditional institutions, indispensable. The main questions this paper attempts to answer, on the bases of ethnographic data, are: What are the pull factors towards traditional institutions? And why do people prefer the traditional institutions vis-à-vis the state legal system?