The Gada System – Why Denied Recognition to Be a World Heritage?


The Oromo Gada system is a system of generational classes that succeed each other every eight years in assuming political, military, judicial, legislative and ritual responsibilities. Each one of the eight active generation classes–beyond the three grades–has its own internal leadership and its own assembly, but the leaders of the classes become the leaders of the nation as a whole when their class comes to power in the middle of the life course at a stage of life called “Gada” among the Borana.

The class in power is headed by an officer known as Abba Gada or Abba Bokku in different Oromo areas.

Gada is an existing system in Borana Oromo. It is still able to preserve its structural values though various external challenges tested it to abolish or decline it through time. Scholars and researchers argue that it is the best model for the modern democracy of the world. The existing Gada system in Borana today witnesses the reliability and creditability of the scholastic argument.

Teferi Nigusse is a PHD candidate at Addis Ababa University and is also a writer. According to him, the Gada system is a typical example of popular democracy that a world must learn from and gain invaluable substance from it mainly in today’s politics. “It is a complete system and fully characterized by democratic values that undergone centuries without any internally disruptive actions and managed to get here especially among Borana and Guji Oromos,” Teferi says.

“Basically the system is democratic and endowed with overall social, economical and political developments that pass through necessary and possible stages. Power transition is smooth and free from any conflict. It is also inexpensive; it does not need any high cost, but other political democracies do,” he added.

According to Teferi, Gada remained behind the curtain due to knowledge gap. The West want Africans to see themselves the same way they see Africans. This has been a challenge for centuries and still remained to affect efforts exerted on African affairs by Africa. Researchers, academics, scholars were all foreigners who used to study historical, anthropological, geological backgrounds of Africans and these people tried to write and interpret facts about Africans according to their interests. So, it takes time to disprove all what was written then. They even never thought there were democracies or equality in Africa, they thought all in terms of virtues of Europeans or Westerners. But Gada was and still is a vibrant and workable system; of course existed in Africa for centuries.

“In my view, the Gada system should have been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage years back, but due to unconvincing reasons UNESCO still seems reluctant to recognize it or may be there has not been adequate push from home side by concerned bodies including the government of Ethiopia,” Teferi said.

Professor Tesema Ta’a is a historian with Addis Ababa University. The writer has asked him whether the Gada system deserves inscription as an intangible socio-cultural world heritage. Tesema started his answer citing various views of writers on definition of Gada.

“The Gada system has been an egalitarian socio-economic, political and cultural system which had been practiced by the Oromo for a long time in Northeast Africa in general and in Ethiopia in particular. It had been guiding and _regulating the life of the Oromo in relation to other peoples and their environment. The system has several institutions as studied by social scientists_including prominent historians and anthropologists. These scholars include Asmerom Legesse, Mohammed Hassen, Baxter, Gemetchu Megerssa, Anissa Kassam, Almagor, Lewis, Haberland and many others,” said the professor._

The Oromo have over years different institutions within the Gada system. Some of the institutions are Gudifacha and Mogassa as well as democratic governance. The Gada system follows democratic procedures such as periodic elections after every 8 years and smooth transition of power. As stated by scholars although the system of age-grade_ is followed by several Kushitic population such as the Sidama, Somali, Konso, Gedeo and others, the Oromo Gada system had attained the highest level of complexity reflecting their identity. It is the innovation of the Oromo people which has its own unique contribution to the world democracy,_ in fact, similar to _or even better than that of the Athenian democracy, which was more exclusive than inclusive. For example slaves were not part of Greek Democracy, Tesema indicated.

“As a historian who has widely read and written a few works on the Oromo,_ I fully and unequivocally recommend that the Gada system deserves to be one of UNESCO’ world heritages. It is quite long overdue to register Gada as a world heritage.

According to him, there are several reasons for Gada to fully be recommended to be a world heritage. Due to the fact that the Gada system is necessarily democratic and egalitarian, people can learn a lot from it in shaping the growth, building and developing modern democracy. The procedures of the system are attractive and trustworthy among many peoples of Northeast Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular.

The shifting of leadership and transfer of power from one to the other is periodic falling within a maximum of 8 years_like the American Democracy and the power transfer is very smooth. It respects_ individual human rights as well as that of minorities.

“If it is inscribed as UNESCO’s world heritage it will be the source of historical pride not only for the Oromo people but also for_ all peoples of_Ethiopia, Africa and the whole world at large. It will also be a center of attraction to the world tourists who would come to see and enjoy the Gada system’s tangible and intangible values. Tangible heritages are the age old Gada centers like; Hora Arsadi, Oda Nabe, Oda Bulluqi, Oda Bultum, Oda Makoo Billi, Gumii Gayyoo in Borana_and many others in western, central, eastern and southern Oromia._ It also includes reverences and ornaments of rituals, the Bokku, the Caaccu and Kalacha. Intangible heritages are ideas, thoughts and the worldview of Abba Gada elders, women, men and the youth as members of the Gada system,” he stressd.

“Some people and particularly those in UNESCO claim that the Gada system does not involve Women. This is _not at all true. The various Gada rituals and celebrations can never be conducted without the full participation of women. Assemblies cannot be held without their knowledge and consent. Decisions passed by the assembly necessarily must protect the rights of women. Even war and peace deals cannot be decided upon without the participation of women. There are institutions recognized by the Gada which are_solely run by women. These include Sinqee, Ateetee and others. Those who say the Gada does not include or involve women have not read or studied about the system. Here, I shall ask such people: Was the Athenian Democracy inclusive? When did the West_start considering the rights of women? As far as I am concerned women were part of the Gada system and they remain so wherever it has survived fully among the Borana and the Guji,” Tesema added.

Heritage and tourism destinations research expert with Oromia Bureau of Culture and Tourism Dr. Solomon Degefa on his part said that draft proposal that demands Gada system to be inscribed as the world intangible heritage was sent to UNESCO years back. “Obviously, there are certain bodies who recommend the acceptability of the proposal: the academics, the jury, among others are these bodies. As a result, the academics recommended, but the jury didn’t because of the absence of Ethiopian government representative to defend or persuade the jury at that time,” Solomon said.

He further said that it is a national affair, but as Oromia state government in general and as a bureau of Culture and Tourism in particular are concerned, there is a plan to urge both the Ethiopian Heritage Development Authority and the UNESCO to reconsider the case of the Gada system .

“It is to be recalled that Bale Mountains National Park, Dirre Sheik Hussein Religious, Cultural and Historical Site and Holqa Sof Omar: Natural and Cultural Heritage (Sof Omar: Caves of Mystery) were included in the Tentative List of UNESCO,” he said.

Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (AARCCH) General Director Yonas Desta said to register Gada system as a world heritage, efforts have been exerted though minimal. However, there must be adequate and persuasive articulation to get it registered. It needs to be demonstrated in a way that others perceive it as a value worth of due regard.

“Regional government, elite in the Oromo community who articulate it very well, researchers are all required to further strengthen their effort and then will hopefully present the agenda to UNESCO and once again in the modest fashion we will manage the issue and make it well perceived and succeed the target of world heritage value,” said Yonas.

Whatsoever, the Gada system deserves recognition as both tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the world that the Oromo as the owner and Ethiopia as a country will benefit a lot from it. Adequate and telling researches have been conducted and many tangible evidences are in place that manifest that the Gada existed over centuries being democratic system of administration and a source of a guiding life principle.




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