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Grass-roots Justice in Ethiopia

 | 
Alula Pankhurst
, 
Getachew Assefa

Regional Case Studies

2. Customary Dispute Resolution in Amhara Region: The Case of Wofa Legesse in North Shewa

Melaku Abate et Wubishet Shiferaw

Texte intégral

Profile of the Region and the selected study area

1Amhara Region is located in the northern and northwestern parts of Ethiopia. It shares borders with the regional states of Oromia, Afar, Benishangul, and Tigray. It also borders Sudan. The Region has an area of 161,828 square kilometers and a population of 17,205,000. The political center of Amhara is Bahir Dar, which is 565 kilometers from Addis Ababa. The Region comprises eleven zones of which three are special zones, namely Awi, Wag Himra and Oromia zones, where Agaw and Oromiffa are spoken, respectively.

2This study focused upon the specific area of Segat Kebele. This Kebele is located in the North Shewa zone of Amhara and was selected due the existence of an interesting CDR institution, accessibility, availability of secondary data on customary dispute resolution; and the fact that persons from different parts of the region and even outside of Amhara come to this area for the resolution of disputes.

Dispute resolution in Amhara Region

3In Amhara disputes that are not otherwise resolved may be taken to the formal: court. However, the government’s justice court does not erase from the disputants’ minds what may have been a long-running feud between them. For example, according to Assefa (1995:60), a murderer was sent to prison. Immediately after his release from prison he sent elders to the families of the murdered man to prevent the blood feud from continuing. The elders finally settled the dispute by deciding that the murderer must give four thousand birr to the victim’s family as blood compensation.

4Customary dispute resolution mechanisms are also used in Amhara to resolve disputes between individuals and groups. For example, when an individual violates the rule of Iddir or other social and economic organizations the wrongdoer is ordered to stand in front of the group and his case is discussed. Ultimately he or she will be fined or ordered to apologize.

Type of disputes

5CDR mechanisms have been used to settle disputes ranging from a simple insult to complex murder cases. Disputes include civil, criminal and commercial disputes arising between individuals and between groups. Marital conflicts, matters of insult and injury, theft and disputes over land and property rights are common in the region.

How disputes are brought for resolution

6When disputes arise there are two ways that they are brought to a decision maker. One way is for the injured party to appeal to the society gathered in the church. Then the relatives or neighbors of the parties convince the disputing parties to select a person to assist them in resolving the dispute. A second way is for the elders themselves to intervene directly to facilitate resolution of a dispute. This is often done in murder cases. Elders do this to avoid escalation of the conflict by the taking of blood revenge.

  • 117 Oral informants: Tassew Asresse, Melaku Gualle, Nekatibeb Kasa.

7When elders intervene they begin by convincing the families of the murderer and the murdered to seek compromise. Next the elders select experienced and influential persons to resolve the dispute117. In addition, sometimes the murderer enters the church and rings the church bell to symbolically apologize and ask the society for reconciliation with his enemies. The families of the victim, who may be chasing the murderer to avenge the death, never kill him/her once he/she has entered the churchyard. When the community hears the bell ring they gather and select respected persons to resolve the case. This form of symbolic apology was commonly used in the past according to oral informants it is still occasionally used in the countryside.

The providers and participants of CDR services

8The customary dispute resolution mechanism used in this region is operated by elders selected by the parties themselves. They are selected for their qualifications and experience and because both parties believe that they can help them. The criteria for the selection include prestige, popularity in the society, and maturity. Usually three are selected but in some cases the number will be five or seven. Women are excluded from participation. They have no right to select decision makers or to be selected to resolve disputes. However, in the informal, but institutionalized CDR system instated by the EPRDF government after it came to power in order to resolve outstanding disputes, the Dem Adirq (literally ‘blood dryers’ or Yeselam committee (peace committee), women were included. In the peace committee mediators are chosen by the people who rely on them to work properly and are recruited from elders, youth, women and religious leaders. They are five in number and in the earlier period, they were called the Dem Adirq committee, but are now called Yeselam committee.

The CDR mechanisms, processes, characteristics and rules

9There are different CDR mechanisms used in Amhara both institutionalized by government and operating privately. The former are less informal than the latter. Privately institutionalized CDR mechanisms include Yezemed Lijoch (literally ‘children of kin’) in north Wollo, CDR mechanisms operated by hereditary decision makers and Yewonz Lijoch (children of one river) in Gojjam in which jurisdiction is circumscribed by the path of the river. According to our informants, three terms are used to describe the conflict resolution mechanisms employed, namely, Shimgilina, Erq and Giligil. The terms Shimgilina and Erq are virtually interchangeable and describe following certain techniques and mechanisms to resolve disputes. But Giligil is simply convincing the two parties to abandon the conflict between them.

10On the other hand, more formal, institutionalized mechanisms for dispute resolution established by the government include Shari’a Courts, Social Courts, Dem Adriq or Yeselam comite and Administrative Courts which are sub-divided into an administrative tribunal, labour court, tax commission and lease board. This research focuses on informal institutions and not those institutionalized by government.

11The use of informal dispute resolution mechanisms is said to have a long history of successfully resolving disputes including those that could be described as civil, criminal, commercial, individual and collective disputes. The CDR mechanisms follow long-established but unwritten techniques and procedures. Decision makers receive no specific training. To begin with, the disputants, their witnesses, and the decision makers sit outside, under a tree. Then they listen to their witnesses and discuss the case at length among themselves. Frequently they listen to other opponents. This has the effect of discouraging the heated arguments and contradictions, which would occur if both were present at the same time.7 According to informants, if witnesses are not voluntary to testify, mediators neither force them to do so nor impose any sanction. But they ask responsible government officials at kebele level to force those witnesses to testify.

12There is no permanent place to gather for the purpose of resolving disputes. However, in most cases persons gather near the Orthodox Church and at public gathering places on Sundays and saints’ days. The place and time for dispute resolution is set by the selected decision makers but can be amended with the consent of the disputants.

13The decision makers may or may not represent the disputants. According to informant Ato Tadesse Alemante, there may be situations where people have to be represented by others in regard to women and children.

14There is no formal payment associated with the CDR mechanism. The services are provided freely. This means there isn’t scope for corruption. The decision makers serve in order to be blessed by God. However, although there is no payment for the service the disputants have to entertain the decision makers with food and drink when the dispute is resolved.

15Much time is spent resolving cases, in particular, murder cases. The selected decision makers discuss the case with the priests. The priests carry the tabot and are present when the families of the victim are asked for reconciliation. In most cases they agree to seek reconciliation. Thus the church plays a key role in CDR.

16The peace committee considers disputes that range from simple insults to murder cases. The members of this committee are selected based on their popularity with the society, and their influence on the local politics. They are untrained and how much time they give to CDR service is not fixed. According to informants, the difference between the peace committee and the other decision makers who are selected after the emergence of the dispute, is that the peace committee is a permanent body; peace committee members are selected with the advice of government officials, the members include women, they are ready before the dispute emerges and they focus upon criminal cases. On the other hand, those chosen after the dispute arises, either by the disputants or their neighbors and relatives, are selected on a case by case basis. Women are never included and the processes are less formal than those of the peace committee.

The remedies

17Using traditional procedures, the decision makers usually work out a compromise agreement. Ordinarily the victim will be awarded compensation. Compensation ranges from a simple apology to monetary compensation particularly in murder cases. Some informants felt that the compensation in murder cases is often insufficient and unfair. However, it must be remembered that compensation is arrived at after discussion with the disputants and with their consent. To give an apology, the wrongdoer is ordered to carry the traditional stone of penitence and prostrate himself in front of the victim. In return, the victim lifts the stone from the wrongdoer’s shoulder and throws it on the ground. The disputants also swear an oath not to stand against one another forever. In complex cases, the wrongdoer is ordered to prepare a gan or big jar of local beer (tella) and to slaughter a sheep, a goat or an ox (determined on the basis of the type of dispute) to entertain the victim and decision makers in his/her own house. The provision of this type of compensation is understood and accepted, whereas direct compensation provided to the victim often results in complaints. This reflects the fact that the payment of direct compensation is unusual. Informants expressed the invalidity of compensation in the following couplet with a pun on the word for compensation ‘Kasa’ which can also be a name:

You call his name Kasa, Kasa, hut Kasa is not eaten except made.

18Another popular saying about how unnecessary compensation is:

Nobody becomes prosperous by consuming compensation or becomes intoxicated by drinking buttermilk

19In murder cases, after a long discussion with the parties and among themselves the decision makers may decide that the murderer should pay financial compensation to the family of the murdered person (about 3,000 birr is common) and the case is settled. Both parties are ordered to step over a gun and to shut the church’s gate to symbolically erase from their minds all grudges against one another.

20With regard to disputes between husbands and wives the male decision makers tend to side with the men against the women. According to our informant Shashe Demisse, the position of the wife is undermined during the investigating of divorce cases. Divorce cases do not get immediate attention since traditional/cultural decision-makers are very reluctant to admit women’s equality with men. This perception is in contradiction with article 35 of the Ethiopian Constitution which reads, in part, as follows: ‘1. Women shall, in the enjoyment of rights and protections provided for by this Constitution, have equal right with men. 2. Women have equal rights with men in marriage as prescribed by this Constitution...’

The appeal mechanism

21In consequence of the inequities they experience in cultural and traditional dispute resolution processes many women seek justice from the formal courts. However, since the formal courts take a lot of time to complete the case, the women often abandon their claim and return to accept what the local dispute resolution process decides. If the disputants do not accept the decision rendered through the local dispute resolution process they may apply to the formal court for a decision.

The making and enforcement of decisions

22After a long discussion with the disputants and among themselves, the decision makers announce their decision to the disputants. If the disputants accept the decision it will usually be reduced to writing. If one or more of the disputants refuse to accept the decision there is no direct mechanism to enforce compliance. However, traditional sanctions will be imposed on the disputants. The social and cultural sanctions available include prohibiting attendance at cultural and social festivals and prohibiting the community from collaborating with the disobedient disputant.

The case study: Wofa Legesse

Arrival in Seget

23It took several days to arrange transport to Seget. We travelled in Wofa Legesse’s lorry. On our arrival we were met by about fifty persons surrounding Wofa Legesse’s house and lorry. When everybody was sure that the Wofa was back, they joyfully presented thanks to God. Some raised their hands and heads, clearly demonstrating that they were presenting thanks, others threw themselves to the ground kissing the ground, the clothes and the shoes of Wofa Legesse. We arrived at the compound gate of Yifru, Legesse’s second son. He told us to enter the house, which was a big ‘ground plus one’ house with a corrugated iron roof. The only permanent thing that we found in the house was a sort of Komedino for the purpose of storing beer or soft drinks. The house serves as a reception to the dej teniwoch, those seeking justice. After we had been served drinks, we began to talk to Bekele, Wofa Legesse’s grandson, whom we asked if we could talk.to some of those seeking justice. He brought us a woman who was thin, poorly dressed and told us that she was 38 but seemed older. He told her to truthfully answer every question asked. She was happy to tell every detail of her life. During our interview, other people seeking justice gathered around us, some listening silently, others saying Οhe, Ye shanqo tank... ‘Ohe, the deeds of Shanqo’. (Shanqo ‘the black one’ is the name given to the spirit of Wofa Legesse). To our surprise we found that everybody around us was happy to tell his history and why he was found in the locality. After our interview, as it was getting dark we had some friendly conversations with the crowd. When they understood us to be researchers this generated some laughter as they had misunderstood us to be seeking justice or thought that we were officials.

The Gubae Council

24The next day Bekele woke us up and told us that the ‘Wofa is going to have a Gubae’ (literally ‘meeting’ or ‘council’) in the compound. He told us that everyday from 7:00 - 8:00 Α.M (9:00 AM on Sundays) and from 5:00 to 6:00 P.M, there is a Gubae held in the compound. Every deg tegni would participate. and during our stay we found that they adhered punctually and properly to the scheduled times. Issues such as health, development, HIV/AIDS, education, and religion are addressed in every Gubae. During one session, we observed, more than 150 persons attending. Before the commencement of the Gubae one of the two main Agafaris (gatekeeper assistants) will: first ask the Adis gebiwoch ‘newcomers’ to be seated together, so that registration of names could be done more easily. The list of those present will serve as a calling list to enter into the inner room of the Wuqabi (shanko) later on. From the tone of the Agafari it was clear that there are always newcomers. Secondly, the agafaris call Yeteferedelachew Sewoch ‘persons who received judgment’ and inform Wofa Legesse what kind of Fird ‘judgments’ they received.

25Those ordered to undergo shimgilina or giligil are ordered to present their cases to the persons they chose. The parties ordered to undergo Shimigilina select the shimagiles from the dej tegni and go on with their shimgilina literally ‘the dispute resolution process’. The report of the shimgilina will be presented in the afternoon Gubae. The remainder will be dealt with according to the meftihe literally, ‘solution’ which we did not have time to investigate.

26We observed that the age of the disputants is not precisely known. The Agafari who registered names did not ask and register ages. Other than first and father’s names, there is no detailed registration. The list is thrown away after everybody on the list has got the necessary service. During the gubae the wofa is constantly uttering such words as wetatoch, setoch, shemagelemch, gebere and seweye (literally, the young, women, elder, farmer and man, respectively) to get the attention of a particular group in attendance. We also observed that there is no age or gender qualification to obtain service from the Wofa. While we were there a 15-year-old girl was given shemgilina concerning a case of inheritance. Persons who have a common interest can bring a group action. For instance, we learned that in 1995 a total of more than 40 persons including a priest and hizbu ‘his people’ came seeking fird justice, after a tabot was stolen. The group was advised to go back and proceed with the fird through their representation. The people went back and the stolen tabot was found.

27As far as local jurisdiction is concerned, there is no geographic limitation to the authority of the Wofa. Ato Bayu (one of the agafaris) told us that people from all over the world could conceivably use the service of the Wofa. Even though he did not witness it personally, he told us he heard of a Ghanean recovering his gold and wallet in this way. We witnessed persons from Tegulet, Menz, Merhabete, Gojjam, Arba Minch, Gonder, Dembidolo, Wello, Sidamo, Jimma, Addis Ababa and others allegedly from the borders of Sudan attend the Gubae. We were told that all of these people came to Seget to wait for the Wofa to return to assist them in resolving their disputes. Others had to return home before he arrived, having exhausted their supplies waiting. It was expected they would return again. During the first Gubae we attended a very long list of these absentees was recorded. Though the majority of those who participate are Christians, we also met Muslims. A religious leader, peasant, trader, town planner and a college student were also there to get the service. Everyone seeking judgment is registered by the Agafari in the order of their attendance at the compound and will get the fird (judgment) or the meftihe (solution) based on the principle ‘first come, first served’. They are each expected to pay one birr and fifty cents to get their fird or meftihe. Payment is to be made after the decision is rendered. As there is no systematic way of collecting payment people can leave without having paid.

Obtaining Justice

28We observed that everyone seeking judgment attended the gubae, both in the morning and in the afternoon. After the usual timihirt ‘lecture’ by the Wofa, and much elaboration by the elder Agafari, another Agafari calls the names of those whose cases are to be seen on that day. Those called present their warm salutations to the Wofa, whom they call Abatachen ‘our father’, by bending down and kissing the ground. They then pass through one gate and silently sit down in front of a large closed entrance gate. During our stay between ten to eighteen people were permitted to enter into yeWuqabi bet, the ‘house of the spirit’ each day. We were told that eight to twenty-seven people could be seen each day and each would get their fird unless the wuqabi ‘spirit’ departed. Once the agafaris have determined the number of people who can enter, then the Wofa goes into the compound. Following him, the silently seated waiting clients go in and the gate is closed behind them. Those who were not permitted to enter return to their routine business of dej tinat, leaving the big compound behind. The Wofa calls this big compound Tinchaye ‘my stone’. We heard the elder Agafari calling the compound wenfite (literally, ‘my sieve’) whose ultimate purpose is revealing the truth. Once they enter the big compound the people again sit down in front of a small gate. At the back of the gate is the Wuqabi bet (which is a gojo or house with a thatch roof). The Wofa’s fierce, strong voice comes from the house. There was about three meters’ distance between the small gate and the house. People’s names were called. They then went to the corner of the gate where communication with the wuqabi was easier. Wuqabiw eskiwerd, literally ‘until the fall of the spirit’ everyone remained silent, some praying, others murmuring, and others constantly kissing the ground. During these periods, the wife of the Wofa would invite us to dinner. The wuqabi talks in a language not familiar to an Amharic speaker for not more than five minutes. The clients and their family members would in the meantime say in praise esay, esay, elil, elil,.. and Yimulalih Getaye... may you be successful’ Yene worq gelata Yegibh ‘My gold praise be to you’. After the completion of this ceremony, the wuqabi would utter a single word in same manner and the Agafaris call a client from those waiting to appraoch and presents his case.

Types of Cases

  • 118 Group interview with the Agafaris (Ato Bayu, Bekele, Metaferia), March 15, 2004, Seget.
  • 119 Interview with Ato Befekadu and W/ro Aberash, March 15, 2004, Seget

29Apart from cases in need of medical and other meftihe or ‘solutions’, all types of civil and criminal cases are brought to the Wuqabi.118 One Agafari Ato Metaferia, stated that one exception is homicide in the first degree, which cases are referred to the government. As far as civil cases are concerned Yadera Genzeb (debt cases), Yebeteseb Guday (family cases), Shirkana (partnership) Yenegade Guday (cases of traders) and Yemeret guday (cases of land) are entertained.119

30With respect to criminal cases of ye Gidya guday (homicide of less than the first degree), Ye qimya (kidnapping) YeSirqot (theft), Kebt (cattle theft), Zirfia (robbery), Qatelo (arson), Kimir Qatelo (burning of harvested crops), Ye tabot sirkot (theft of tabot), and ke-zemed mewled (having incestuous progyny) will be entertained.

Some Case Examples

Ato Befikadu

  • 120 Harold Aspen, Amhara Traditions of Knowledge Spirit Mediums and Their Clients, 2001, p. 176.

31Ato Befikadu came from Arba Minch. He traveled more than 750 kms to seek judgment. He had come to this area once before in 1993 because his Balagara ‘opponent’ destroyed property worth thousands of birr. At that time, when he first appeared, he was ordered to call the opponent to appear on a date appropriate to him. He adjourned the case for 19 May 1993. The opponent was absent on the appointed date. Ato Befikadu reported the fact to the Wuqabe. The Wuqabe replied: ‘Let her not come, I will intervene’. Ato Befikadu, as is usual in such cases, fulfilled the requirement of siqlat, literally, ‘hanging’. This is a mysterious way of invoking powers to ‘bind’ or ‘tie’ the wrongdoer until they correct the harm caused by their acts, and the siqlat can eventually be released or untied.120 The person who carries out the siqlat could use a tilet literally ‘decorated cloth border’, or any piece of clothing. As is customarily believed, the balagara ‘opponent’ faced ‘hardship and disease’ and when these become too great came to the Wofa in 1996 and asked why these problems were occurring. The wuqabi told her that it was because of the siqlat and that the solution was to call the seqay ‘the person who did the hanging’ once again, on a date appropriate to her. Both of them came on 20 October 1996. They appeared before the wuqabi. After an interrogation of the balagara the wuqabe said: Qetafi, afer lagbasb, literally, ‘Liar, may I send you to the earth’. She then confessed. The wuqabi concluded: ‘It is no use telling you the details, go out and make agreement’. The next day each protagonist selected two Shimagiles and together selected one, from among the dej tegni. The case was then brought before these five Shimagiles. The opponent confessed to the allegation. The value of the destroyed properties was estimated to be two thousand four hundred and fifty birr. She agreed to pay this amount to Ato Befikadu. The agreement was reduced to writing and signed. The result was brought before Wofa Legesse in the afternoon session of the Gubae. Wofa Legesse heard the decision and said that in spite of the bedel ‘harm’ she inflicted, as she was a woman, she should be forgiven the four hundred and fifty-nine birr and Befikadu should accept two thousand birr to settle the dispute and she should pay an additional 100 birr to Befikadu for costs incurred. Then the members of the gubae commented on the decision saying it was correct. The decision was reduced to writing. Then both parties went through the simple procedure of untying the siqlat. The disputants ate injera together with their shimagilles to signal that a lasting peace had been established. In this case the opponent was required to pay a fee of twenty-one birr and fifty cents to the Wofa. Befikadu had to pay the usual fee of one birr and fifty cents. The combined fee is called yetuaf masfecha, literally for ‘untying the taper’. Additionally, as is expected, they each voluntarily contributed one birr to the nearby Gulit Gebeya ‘small market’. The 100 birr WAS paid immediately. It was agreed that the remainder would be paid by a set date. In fact, payment was made prior to that date. In March 2004 Ato Befikadu was again at Seget seeking justice in a debt case. He told us that during his stays at Seget, he had noticed cases worth up to one hundred thousand birr being settled in this way.

W/ro Mashila Sime

32W/ro Mashila Sime is a woman from Menz, aged 38. She had previously taken two cases against her husband to the wereda and social court of her locality. She lost both cases. She alleges that the reason for her failure was corruption. The ‘men having drinks all together made me lose the case’ she said. She brought these same cases to the Wofa. Her husband did not deny either claim. Settlement was achieved in a short period of time. Afterwards she wrote the following poem to express her happiness:

Le Zemed Binegrew Zemed Adalabegn
Le Dagna Binegrew Dagna Adalabegn
Ye Wofa Legese Binegrew Fetalign
When I told relatives they sided against me
When I told the judge he sided against me
Whe I told
wofa Legesse, he solved the problem for me.

33The poem expresses the view that while both the relatives and the judges were biased Wofa Legesse has resolved the issue satisfactorily.

Ato Getu

34Ato Getu is a man from Bugna, in north Wello. He identified himself to us as a person who has repeatedly used the services of the Wofa since 1993. He came this time to recover more than two hundred and ninety thousand birr that had been wrongly ‘snatched’ from him. He added that he has seen the wuqabi expose a person who killed and buried his son in his barn He had also witnessed the restoration of seven tabots stolen by a deacon and the handling of a crime of incest.

W/ro Aberash

35W/ro Aberash is from Arba Minch. She came to Seget this time because she suspects that her husband had sexual intercourse with her sister. All three were waiting their turn to see the wuqabi. She said that the wuqabi would reveal whether her suspicion is true. Previously she had brought a debt case to the Wofa. In that case offender confessed and made restitution before they appeared before the wuqabi. She also has a case currently before the formal courts. It is a civil case for recovery of a five thousand nine-hundred-birr debt. She lost the case at the higher court of the Southern Region. She unsuccessfully appealed to the supreme court of the Region. Despite the fact that her lawyers have taken the case to the cassation bench, she intends to abandon the formal courts and bring the case to the attention of the wuqabe.

Observations of the elder Agafari, Ato Bayu Mengiste

  • 121 Interview with Ato Bayu Mengiste, March 15, 2004, Seget.

36Ato Bayu Mengiste, aged 64, is the older Agafari in Seget. He came from Gamo Gofa. The first time he came was in May 1963 seeking meftihe for his personal reasons. Since 1995 he has been serving as an Agafari. During this time, he has witnessed all kinds of cases settled. He himself has been a tsehafi ‘writer’ of shemiglena worth large amounts of money. He described a case of a person from Hagere Mariam who claimed his partner owed him one hundred and fifty thousand birr. He came to Seget and within three days the matter was resolved, he received full compensation and returned home. He added that people often come from Dessie and Addis Ababa claiming losses in excess of thirty thousand birr. Ato Bayu noted that at times claimants might not know who the balagara is. For example, once a rich trader from Dessie came to find out why he was insolvent. He was ordered to call his best friend. He hesitated before politely informing his friend, that the wuqabe had called him. When they appeared before the wuqabi his friend confessed that he had stolen rolls of textiles. The matter was resolved by immediate payment of one hundred thousand birr121. Ato Bayu has seen many criminal cases settled. The procedures and the remedies are not that different from those in civil cases. He recalled two specific cases. In one the wuqabi reinstated a pistol stolen by a friend from a police officer and government authority. In another stolen tabots were returned to their churches. During our stay in the kebele cases of cattle theft, theft of gold, and incest were entertained.

Assessment of the CDR institution

37CDR is preferable to the formal courts on account of its low expenditure, flexibility, ability to restore harmony between the disputants and its informal nature. CDR mechanisms are perceived as able to get to the truth of the matter and to get the disputants to choose to abandon their differences (Mulugeta 1993:2). Information relevant to the dispute is not easily hidden from the decision makers since all are members of the same community. The existence of this relationship enables the decision makers to bring all necessary information into the process of resolving the dispute. This can also be a disadvantage where the decision makers are not influential or mature, or where there is a kinship tie between a disputant and decision maker. This can inject bias into the process.

Strengths of the wofa institution

38During our interview, it was not uncommon to hear phrases like Yesu Teamir... His miracle’... and Ya shanqo yametaw gud, ‘the amazing things he (Shanqo) discovered’. One significant advantage of Wofa is that settlement is usually reached very quickly and compensation is paid rapidly, usually within six months and often with only one appointment. As adjournment is ‘short’ and ‘direct’ no one runs out of provisions while staying there. With respect to cost, the only cost the disputants bear is the cost of transportation and accommodation.

39The process is perceived as a pursuit of truth. Those who come seeking judgment are expected to come ‘with clean hands’. Ato Befikadu elaborated the principle as follows: ‘He who comes should be free from fraud, should have had no sexual intercourse for the past seven days, and should be free from other misconduct. If this is the case the case will be seen by the wuqabi clearly. Resorting to the Wofa’s justice it is said avoids Elih (grudges and unnecessary tit-for-tats), and establishes a lasting peace between the parties The fird rendered is said to be sir neqel ‘radical’. A person would not be a victim for his being poor or for his level of knowledge. In this respect Ato Befikadu noted that at Seget everybody is equal and there is ‘absolute democracy’.

40The independence of the institution is secure. However, people might confess guilt for fear of the power of the spirit, as we saw in some of the cases, though litigants can then argue their cases in the shimgilina proceedings after the spirit’s verdict. The service is available every day throughout the year. Women can appear on their own behalf before the Wofa.

Weaknesses of the wofa institution

41Potential weaknesses include the lack of written records of the proceedings. The registration for newcomers is thrown away after the decision is rendered. The accusations and defences are not recorded. However, two copies of the shimgilina are prepared, one for each party. There is no ability to call witnesses. The evidence is the sole responsibility of the Wuqabi (shanqo). The same procedures and remedies are used in civil and criminal cases. Whether this results in a lasting peace, particularly in criminal cases, needs further study. Finally, there is no ability to appeal against the decision.

Links to the formal justice system

42By and large, CDR settles most disputes arising within the region. According to Ato Tadesse Alemante, CDR mechanisms have played an important role in resolving disputes in collaboration with the Wereda justice courts. While the formal courts do not recognize the decision taken in CDR forums, in some cases government officials assist in bringing witnesses to testify before the CDR decision makers. The efficient operation of the CDR system has decreased the number of peasants coming before the formal courts. CDR mechanisms have been successful in establishing longstanding peace between the parties

Potential for Integration with the Formal Justice System

43The formal justice system is founded on logic, reason and principles. Wuqabi dispute resolution is based on the spirit world. As such, the decisions taken are not rationally based. Consequently, it is difficult to see how the two systems could be integrated.

List of Informants

Name

Place of Interview

Title

Date of Interview

Remark

Melaku Guallu

Bahir Dar

Ato

February 21-26-2004

Mediator in Bahir Dar Zuria Wereda

Melaku Yitayew

Bahir Dar

Ato

February 21-26-2004

Head of Bahir Dar Municipality legal division

Mihret Zerihun

Bahir Dar

Ato

February 2126-2004

Head of Bahir Dar Zuria Wereda Justice Department

Neqatibeb Kassa

Bahir Dar

Ato

February 21-26-2004

Mediator in Bahir Dar Zuria Wireda

Shashe Demisse

Bahir Dar

W/ro

February 21-262004

Associate coordinator of Ethiopian Women lawyers association Bahir Dar Branch.

Tadesse Alemante

Bahir Dar

Ato

February 2126-2004

Presiding judge of Bahir Dar city Wereda court.

Tagegne Kebede

Bahir Dar

Ato

February 21-26-2004

President of the regional supreme court.

Befekadu

Seget

Ato

March 12 &15 2004

Disputant

Bekele

Seget

Ato

March 14, 2004

Wofa Legesse’s grandson and Agafari to the mission in Seget

Bayu Mengiste

Seget

Ato

March 15 & 16, 2004

Eldest Agafari

Bayu, Bekele, Metaferia

Seget

Atos

Group Interview March 15

Agafaris

Mashila Sime

Seget

W/ro

March 14 & 16

Disputant

Wofa Legesse

Seget

Ato

March 16

Spirit Medium

Engochit

Seget

W/ro

March 14

Disputant

Getu

Seget

Ato

March 14

Disputant

Tagegne Kebede

Bahir Dar

Ato

February 21-26-2004

President of the regional supreme court.

Aberash

Seget

W/ro

March 17

Disputant

Befekadu

Seget

Ato

March 12 &15 2004

Disputant

Bekele

Seget

Ato

March 14, 2004

Wofa Legesse’s grandson and Agafari to the mission in Seget

Bayu Mengiste

Seget

Ato

March 15 & 16, 2004

Eldest Agafari

Bayu, Bekele, Metaferia

Seget

Ato

Group Interview March 15

Agafaris

Mashila Sime

Seget

W/ro

March 14 & 16

Disputant

Wofa Legesse

Seget

Ato

March 16

Spirit Medium

Engochit

Seget

W/ro

March 14

Disputant

Getu

Seget

Ato

March 14

Disputant

Aberash

Seget

W/ro

March 17

Disputant

Notes

117 Oral informants: Tassew Asresse, Melaku Gualle, Nekatibeb Kasa.

118 Group interview with the Agafaris (Ato Bayu, Bekele, Metaferia), March 15, 2004, Seget.

119 Interview with Ato Befekadu and W/ro Aberash, March 15, 2004, Seget

120 Harold Aspen, Amhara Traditions of Knowledge Spirit Mediums and Their Clients, 2001, p. 176.

121 Interview with Ato Bayu Mengiste, March 15, 2004, Seget.

© Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 2008

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

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