Gada Theory and practices

Part Three:

By Geremew Nigatu Kassa, M.A/Phil. in Gada institution, political process and system of conflict resolution. Oslo, Norway.

This article is a continuation of the the first and the second parts of Gada theory and practices which I privously posted on different websites.

1.8). The institutional structure of Gada System and its Composition

The complet composition of Gada institution is called Gooroo. This is called Gooroo Boraana in the Oromo-Borana. Gooroo is a name of a geographical location where Borana Gada institution is based and is located in Areeroo district of the Borana region in southern Ethiopia. This is where the headquarters of the Gada institutional components (Gada Arboora/adula, Medhicha, and Garba) are located. Gooroo Borana means the holistic Gada institution for both place and institutional composition of complete one gada term. Holistic Borana institution (Gooroo Borana) encompasses many different institutions such as Gadaa Arboora, Medhicha, Garba, five political lines (gogeessas), including one Gada spokesperson (Abbaa Bokkuu) and non-political institutions such as five branches of spiritual institutions (Laduu Qaalluu Shaneenii). It is the total of these interconnected institutions, their balanced integrations and separations that create together one Borana Gada term (see Fig. 5) known as Gooroo Borana. Every Gada has such established institutional formulation and rotate turn by turn among five gogeessas, every eight years (see Fig.5).

A complete (Institutional) Structure of Gada System and its Institutional Composition of one Gada term in Oromo-Borana (Gooroo Borana)

Fig. 5. The Institutional, Political, Spiritual, Defence and Power Structure of one Gada term and its Balancing System of Borana Gada System

The three institutional pillars of the Gada system continuously maintain each other through the principle of checks and balances. The Garba institution represents the interest of the remaining four political lines during an eight year Gada term of office. They share and represent the most diverse interests of different gogeessas. One of the advantages of this power sharing mechanism between the ruling political group and opposition gogeessas are: 1) members of the next gogeessa known  as raabaa Gada or nominees  which come to power for the next eight years will get enough leadership experiences. 2) the three different institutional pillars play an important role in checking and balancing the amount of power that could be used by the ruling gogeesa.3) they increase competition for the improvement of skills, fairness and wisdom. 4) The culture of power sharing among all five gogeessas helps to ensure the restoration of true unity, representation, transparency, creditability and solidarity which creates a social harmony. 5) Limiting the power duration with non-repeatable term of office t prevents the emergence of dictatorships and opens the access to power for the coming younger generations of the society.

1.9). The Complex System of Gada Institutional Power Balance (Sharing)

Power within Gada structure can only be acquired by passing through different social roles at different times as it is calculated and regulated within age-set and Gada laws. The access to formal political office or power is based on individual skill not on the kinship system.

According to Gada system, any position cannot or should not be inherited, except Qaallu (spiritual or religion position). Political power is separated from moiety and clan relations (kinship system), and the religious, social or economical status of the person. Power corruption is systematically avoided through the collective and triangular system of checks and balances.

The five kinship free political lines (gogeessas) rotate every eight years while the three-integrated institutional pillars of the Gada system are institutionally fixed and constant throughout (see Fig.6) but the central leaders (Yaa’a Gada Sadeenii) come in and go out in every Gada term.  It is among the five gogeessas that power, in Gada system, is peacefully transferred through the principle of a rotating presidency every eight years. We must be careful and remind ourselves here that in every Gada term, each gogeessa takes over the power as a ruling party for eight years period, acting as leading figure, but there is a power sharing and balancing system among the ruling gogeessa and other remaining four gogeessas. Various political, administrative and collective responsibilities are associated with the three constant institutions (Gada Arboora, Medhicha and Garba) in which the five gogeessas transfer power and leave office when their term is over. The system operates through the principle of political and power rotation. It means that Gada system is not necessary age-grading system. However, it is definitely political, judicial and system which is not only based on the person’s age. In Gada system conflict is avoided by limiting power duration, avoiding power monopolization, balancing institutional power occupation, differentiating or separating institutional roles, putting collective accountability on political and institutional leaders of Gada. The system by itself involves a system of avoiding the cause of conflicts through norms and institutional formulation. Gada approach is based on a system of promoting an institutional problem solving through various systems of cooperation between different institutions within a single Gada institution.

This accommodating and cross-cutting system between the  five political lines (gogeessa shaneenii) provide a mechanism of limiting  the complex power structure by rotating power among these five gogeessas  through the three constant institutional pillars of Gada system. The following figure illustrates the complete forty (8×5 =40) years Gada political and power rotation and its complex system.

Fig. 6. The forty years of complex structural rotation of the three institutional pillars of Yaa’a Gada Sadeenii), googeessa shaneenii and their political, administrational, power sharing and limitation system

The relation between the institution of Gada Arboora (A) and Medhicha (M) on one side and of Garba (G) on the other side stand for “the principle of balanced opposition” (Legesse 2000:198). Therefore, (A, M) and G can be characterized as in opposition to each other. (A, M), and G are always engaged in competition acting as opposition, they may rebuke each other but they do not ‘rebel’ or ‘revolt’ in any way. Rather they challenge their opponent using the power of reasoning because culturally Oromo strongly believe in wisdom.  For this reason, Garbas are considered as the wisest people in the Yaa’a Gada sadeenii or Gooroo Borana (in the Oromo-Borana region)

The competition between the leaders of ruling political line (gogeessa) known as Gada Arboora and Medhicha, and the composition of the official opposition institution (Garba institution) are intensive but peaceful. They compete to best inst knowledge of Gada principles in the representation of poor and the weakest part of the society. Except for the debates over knowledge, they all stand for common ideology (see Fig. 7). More precisely, the competitions between these institutional angles are only to exercise opposite views, important aspects of democracy, rule of laws, but not to take over power from the ruling gogeessa. Thus, the role of the Garba institution, in opposition to the Gada Arboora and Medhicha institutions in every Gada term, can be understood as part of a system of check and balance of power. Asmarom Legesse has clearly described this as follows:  “A multi-headed or polycephalous organization is an integral part of many democratic societies, modern, as well as ancient, Western and non-Western. In such democratic societies, authority is split or differentiated and it is exercised by separate institutions that stand vis-à-vis each other in relations of mutual regulation. What makes these systems “democratic” is not merely the nature of the powers assigned to each institution and the constraints imposed on each type of leader but, most importantly, the manner that power is acquired and exercised by one institution in relation to other institutions” (Legesse 2000: 249-250).

1.10). Institutional and Ideological Foundations of Gada System, and its Power Rotation

In order to understand how Gada system is established, formulated and functions, we need to understand how the concept of, power, political ideology, tradition, culture, beliefs and political institution approaches are constructed, how  power hierarchy and duration are constructed, integrated, distributed and balanced within the main classical Gada institution.

Institutions are always established as a response to certain social needs. Law and order framework of Gada by itself rely on the principle of political, economic and social stability. Its ontological view springs from Oromo culture, tradition, belief systems and history in order to solve problems, avoid chaotic or violence and killing each other circumstances(Sahlu 2002:134-136).  However, Gada institution can be also considered as the outcome of Oromo cultural process and Oromo Qaalluu institution. Qaalluu institution can be viewed as one of the causes for the emergence and continuity of Gada system.

Institutions emerge out of people’s historical process, culture and belief system. Institutions once established, reinforce the societal norms and the ecological conditions that led to their establishment. With the same analogy that western institutions are based on western culture, ideology and moral values and aim at maintaining economy and power.

Gada system took it root and emerged from: 1) Oromo culture (development of ideas), 2) Oromo tradition (historical practice), and 3) belief system (moral and ethical principles). The system mainly aims at maintaining peace, stability and continuity.

The ideological foundation of Gada system is based on the principle of: 1) security and identity, 2) unity, 3) equality and 4) egalitarianism. According to Gada idology, all Oromos have the duty to protect those 4 principles, regardless of any political differens among the five gogeessas and different clan moieties.

Fig. 7. Gada institutional, ideological foundation, the five political lines (gogeessa) and power rotation in every eight years

The image of equality and egalitarianism among Oromo is essentially an image of political and administrational power, fair resources and economic distribution, majority participation and minority group rights or equality, but not gender equality. Except gender egalitarianism, there are all forms of egalitarianism in Gada system.  There is economic egalitarianism that every male members of the Borana society are equal in terms of economic and power. There are no class differences in Borana people. There is political egalitarianism because every male members of the society are equal standing in terms of political office regardless of their clan (kinship) and political belief. Borana legal egalitarianism principles consider every members of the society as equal under law. Borana moral egalitarianism also involves that ‘each person is of equal moral worth’, and as a democratic egalitarianism system, in Gada, each and every male person has an equal voice in public affairs. However, as an egalitarian society both men and women supposed or ought to be equal in all types of egalitarianism. Fairness for both men and women supposed to be for both sexes. This dimension is missing from Oromo democracy.

1.11). The Unique Characteristic of Gada System

The unique characteristic of Gada system is:

First, its political, administration and power timetable represent the order by which power is equally distributed, balanced, cheeked and respectively transferd from gogeessa to gogeessa in every eight years period. In addition to this system, the ethos of equality and egalitarianism among Oromo endorse to restore unity which in turn strengthens the social process of security and identity involved in the sequence of power transfer and coordinates a kinship free system within the three centralized Gada pillars. While the five political lines (gogeessas) are politically separated from each other, but they are institutionally, administrationally and ideologically integrated.

Second, non-repeatable political and administrational power cycle or rotates among five gogeessas to defend a single and unified common ideology, culture, beliefs and collective values (see fig. 7).  The ruling gogeessa and the other remaining four different gogeessas directly or indirectly work together. Even though, the four gogeessas are directly or theoretically out of one Gada term, but practically or indirect way they are sharing office and power with the ruling political line (gogeessa). To this end, institutional and political power transfers from one gogeessa to the next gogeessa every eighth year of Gada term peacefully. Some documents including the lists of the names of Abbaa Gadas show that this power transition system of Gada goes back to 14th and 15th centuries, may probably be before that (see appendix 3 table). The question is not in today’s context, but in the ancient time when people, in many parties the world,  were not advanced in performing a peaceful power transformation, how the Oromo realized the importance of peaceful means of political and administrational power transformation in the absence of  such ideas and mechanisms in many parts of the world?

Third, the unique feature of  Gada institution is that its dual organization (Sabboo and Goona) of their social structures that work as a source of identity and stability by creating a sense of family belonging across the clans and families of Borana society. This creates ever-lasting mutual right-obligations.

Fourth, the most important feature is its triangular structure of political and administration system, which is firmly, anchored on the basic unit of its one senior Arboora, one lateral senior Medhicha and one collectively junior opposition institution Garba which make Gada system cephalous headed  institution. The three institutional components work together to form uniquely social intricate and intertwined various political and administration systems designed to fit the various individual or groups’ interests, needs and values in the society.

Fifth, the uniqueness and complexity of Gada is that no matter which political line (gogeessa) is on  power, its common ideology (security and identity, equality, unity and egalitarianism) combined with the above three fundamental institutional approaches (the dual social organizational system, the three institutional pillars as a single governance system, and its pentagonal political lines system) together has left no room for power monopolization either by individuals or by one group of the society. These non-kinships based integrating institutions helped Borana to avoid the problem of tyrants or dictators in Oromo society.

Sixth, another fascinating character of Gada system is that in every fourth year of every Gada term, Borana build up a formal power check and leadership criticism assembly meeting to check the Gada leadership ability, or in case of power misuses by Gada leaders who are appointed on executive level. During this midterm meeting, criticism and complains of the Gada leadership including well expertise (konfii) are all possible on midterm assembly meeting.  On the political level, the assembly “meetings for postural coordination  allows the principles or norms, that regulate the inter-clan use of recourse(water and pasture) to be correctly applied, and they have the Gumii Gaayoo itself as a point of political-judicial reference which is in case of dispute or recrimination(Bassi 2005:255). The process might be characterized by severe criticism, blames or by expression of strong disapproval against the Gada leaders for one Gada term. However, the aims of the assembly are: 1) not to revolt against the authority of Gada office, but to rebuke the leaders in case of ‘frailty’ in that Gada term’s leadership or authority. 2) To resolve many other conflicting issues such as social, political, and resources concerns as well as if there is also a ‘frailty’ or moral weakness produced by the Gada leaders.

The ultimate standard ideal expectations of leadership perfection and the desire to be free from feud are embodied in Oromo culture.  The concept of how certain people solve their leadership problems created by ‘frailty’ as the ‘conflict between the ideals of leadership and the weakness of the leader’ has described by anthropologist Gulckman. ”In certain types of society, when subordinates turn against a leader thus, they may only turn against him personally, without necessarily revolting against the authority of the office he occupies (Gluckman 1956:28).

According to Aristotle’s distinction of rebuke, rebellion and revolution, the rebukers do not attack the system itself or the political authority. Instead, they aim to turn the leaders out of that office and replace by another preferred one. Gluckman asserted that the ideals of office required that the leader should be impartial and judge or act without bias, that he be wise in applying the general rules of law justly to the particular circumstances of dispute.  If he failed to act by the ideals of his office, he lost in general repute. In Borana case, such rebuking the leaderships through the power of reasoning take place in two ways:  the first rebuking system  goes throughout eight years Gada term by the mechanism of check and balance system between  the official opposition institution (Garba) and  the two ruling institutions (Gada Arboora and Medhicha)(see fig.4).

Looking at the imperfection side, checking, finding the fault or error of Gada Arboora and Medhicha institutions’ leaders and challenging them is the main task of the Garba institution leaders. This aspect of rebuking mechanism follows every day leaderships’ activities challenging and pressing the Gada leaders to work in a fair way under the Borana custom and Gada laws. It is a constant rebuke system in opposition to the ruling political line (gogeessa) and the Gada leaders through institutional approach. Another rebuking mechanism, in Gada system, also takes place in the form of midterm check and balance through assembly meeting which is always held in every fourth year of one Gada term.

Seventh, the unique characteristic of Gada system is that there is no chance of second, third or more terms for a single leader to be in office. This is one of the characteristic that makes the Oromo democracy unique from some of the western democracy in which there is no second term in office limitation, and in many case, there is no a mechanism of check and balance system once the political leaders are elected. In this way, Gada system implicates that how  conflict prevention system through institutional approach can be possible by integrating, distributing, balancing, cheeking and limiting different needs, interests such as power, psychological, resources, values of human and non-human being in a single accommodative institution.

Eighth, and last one is that Gada political process employs both participatory and representative democracy systems. It involves representative democracy on the cabinet level through its triple institutional pillars or Yaa’a Gada Sadeenii (Gada Arboora, Medhicha and Garba), and both representative and participatory democracy such as Gumii Gaayoo assembly (Borana general assembly). This makes Gada democracy system a holistic democratic system.

Ninth, Gada system of conflict prevention and resolution. Gada system of conflict prevention and resolution operates neither through the institution of ‘feud’ nor through a single person. The institutionalized and multi-head leadership Gada political system makes its conflict prevention and resolution system  completely different from both traditional societies  and modern  world’s problem solving system in which Gada conflict resolution operates in ‘ordered anarchy’ system. In constract to its political system, Gada conflict resolution mechanism is highly hierarchal involving nine steps and its process is unique or different from other traditional and modern system of conflict resolution.

Gada System of Conflict Prevention and Resolution will follows this article as a second prespective of Gada Theory and practices.



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Oromo-Borana by translated by Cynthia Salvadori. Trenton, N.J.: Red  Sea Press

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Schlee, Günther 1998. Gada System on the Meta-Ethnic Level: Gabbra/Boran/Garre Interactions in the Kenya/Ethiopian Borderland in Conflict, Age & Power in North East Africa: Age System in Transition edited by Eisei Kurimoto & Simon Simonse. Eastern African Studies, oxford: James Curry, Ohio University Press

Author’s Previous Articles

  1. Gadaa Theory and Practices Part One
  2. Gadaa Theory and Practices Part Two

One Response to Gada Theory and practices

  1. Baroodaa July 3, 2016 at 2:32 am #

    God bless you. Please continue searching the truth.

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