Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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NIGATU Bekele Mengesha, Dilla University, Ethiopia

This paper investigates the drivers behind the dwindling of communal lands and the legal status of communal lands in Ethiopia, in light of the global commitments Ethiopia has pledged to observe. Until the recent past, the concept of the communal land tenure system was known mainly in academic discourses, not beyond, mainly due to the abundance of land compared to the lower population size until the first half of the 20th century. Since then, due to demographic expansion, especially in third world countries with their strong dependence on land, it has become imperative to craft policies and legislative measures aimed at recognizing and safeguarding land rights both nationally and internationally. In this regard, various scholars came up with their own theories, supported by empirical studies. Globally, even if enacting hard laws beyond national frontiers was unthinkable, soft laws such as guidelines and declarations were set in place for the recognition and protection of communal land tenure. On top of this, progressive steps in some nations showed a tendency to safeguard communal land tenure for the sake of the rural poor. In Ethiopia, to begin with the recent past, all the three regimes have never duly recognized communal tenure as a distinct type. The nation is comprised of an overwhelming proportion of agrarian communities, who in addition to their individual farmlands for crop production, are highly dependent on communal land and resources such as timber, firewood, traditional medicine, fodder and thatching grass; and most essentially, a place for ritual ceremonies. Nationwide, communal lands on which the rural mass is living on are admitted to be on the brink of disappearance. Empirical data from the study areas also show similar results. Even though the dwindling may be ascribed to a number of other factors, this study argues that denial of legislative recognition categorically adds fuel to an unfettered extinction. The writer urges government both at federal and regional level to accord sufficient legislative recognition of communal land tenure and protection of legitimate tenure rights of the rural poor.