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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KAIREDIN Tezera, Addis Ababa university

The Siltie legal landscape consists of three parallel legal systems, namely the religious, the customary and the state legal systems. The religious legal system comprises Sharia courts, courts of local Mashayik/Waliyes, and the recently developed Salafi Social Committee is favoured mostly by young educated Muslims. The state legal system consists of the state imposed modes of dispute resolution as well as some public institutions and associated rules, while the customary legal system comprises the norms, and values of the respective local communities. This paper explores the responsibilities of the three legal systems, and shows how actors from different courts interact and compete for local power positions among the Siltie people in southern Ethiopia. All the three legal systems are characterised by intra-system plurality. In the religious realm, Sheiks and young Salafi Imams who are not part of the Sharia courts, for instance, enjoy wider legitimacy than Qadis, who have been installed by the state. This is so due to the respect they earn as men of integrity and with deep knowledge of Islam. They often do not agree with the Qadis because the latter are usually aligned with political power, which indicates the existence of an intra-faith conflict between the Sufi based dispute settlers, young Salafis and the Qadis over legitimacy.The state legal system includes not only courts but also a number of tribunals including the ‘Good Governance and Appeal Office’ that informally looks at dispute cases. The customary legal system includes the clan, the local legal experts (raga) and the elders’ courts (Baliqes).The findings of this study show that the interactions of the three courts are both cooperative and contesting.It could be shown that dispute settlers from the three courts borrow norms and legal concepts from each other to pass verdicts in their respective courts which points to the emergence of a hybridized legal practice in the area.
Many State and Sharia court judges favour the customary courts due to their effective functioning and handling of legal cases and their great acceptance in the area. As the customary courts handle large number of civil cases this helps the state courts reduce their case loads, promotes Siltie culture and helps resolve cases in constructive and restorative ways. Elders, on the other hand seek the assistance of State court judges when they handle domestic violence.On the other hand, elders and religious figures (Sheiks and Imams) use their mediation services not only to settle conflicts, but also to accumulate local power. Finally, the inefficiency of the state and Sharia courts worsened due to an acute shortage of staff (30 state judges and seven Qadis for a million people) seems to render the courts irrelevant in the eyes of many local people, who often question their legitimacy and jurisdiction. This is evidenced by the seemingly higher number of people who prefer taking their cases to the local religious and customary modes of dispute settlement rather than to the Sharia and State courts.