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The Gadaa system is an indigenous egalitarian democratic system practised among the Oromo nation of East Africa.The system regulates political, economic, social and religious activities of the community dealing with issues such as conflict resolution, reparation and protecting women's rights. It serves as a mechanism for enforcing moral conduct, building social cohesion, and expressing forms of community culture.
Gada is organized into five classes with one of these functioning as the ruling class consisting of a chairperson, officials and an assembly. Each class progresses through a series of grades before it can function in authority with the leadership changing on a rotational basis every eight years. Class membership is open to men, whose fathers are already members, while women are consulted for decision making on protecting women's rights. The classes are taught by oral historians covering history, laws, rituals, time reckoning, cosmology, myths, rules of conduct, and the function of the Gada system.
Origins and Development
It is difficult to tell when exactly the Gadaa system began since is seens as an intrinsic element of the indigenous Oromo's everyday lives and not an 'institution'. However, counting back the Gadaa leaders in power, now at its 71st Gadaa leader and multiplying it by eight years, one can reasonably conclude it has been practised since at least the early 1400s. Gathering under a sycamore tree known as Odaa is part of traditional Oromo culture. Today, the sycamore tree is a symbolic representation of dialogue and consensus, where the local community comes together to make new rules and resolve disputes. Given the vastness of the Oromia (369,136 square kilometres) and its population (50 million), assemblies take place in several places and assemblies are named after the place of gatherings. For instance, among the Borana-Oromo it is known as Gumi-gayo (Gumi means assembly and Gayo refers to a place of water well); among the central Oromo it is called as Chaffe (meaning, assembly at the edge of prairie grass); among the Guji-Oromo it is known as Yaa'ii Me'ee-Bokuu (Yaa 'ii means multitude and Me'ee-Boku refers to the place).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In principle, every person can attend the Gadaa general assembly. Differences in terms of age, status or political affiliation may not bar a person from taking part in the assembly. However, it is mandatory for all living former Abba Gadaas (presidents), former and incumbent Gadaa Councilors (not less than thirty in number), and clan elders to convene to the assembly. The assembly was led by a speaker - ex-Abba Gadaa. In a new development, women were allowed to attend the general meeting - something previously not permitted for them.
How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making
The power of the Gadaa general assembly is to exercise supreme legislative authority. Its functions include (but are not limited to) reviewing laws at work, proclaiming new laws, impeaching the men in power, and settling major disputes that could not have been resolved at the lower levels of its judicial organ(s). Any decision passed by the general assembly is final and cannot be reversed by any other assembly. The legislative and adjudicatory supremacy of the general assembly is historically conditioned and culturally deep-rooted.
Nowadays, among the Guji-Oromo, the adoption of any laws by the Gadaa general assembly follows a strict procedure starting with the speaker (ex-Abba Gadaa) opening the agenda for deliberation by all. Then, discussion on the proposed agenda takes place in a traditional and orderly manner which privileges those with seniority. Following this, the speaker of recounts the proposed agenda and the main points of discussion. Finally, upon completion of the series of deliberations he asks: "would there be anything but peace if we said 'these are our laws'?" and the assembly responds unanimously.
The speaker requires every assemblyman to take part in the Gadaa general assembly calmly and actively engage in the deliberation. In the middle of the deliberations he intervenes to make sure that a topic is meant to be in the meeting for discussion rather than debate. Above all, he holds that the assembly is not the place of showing one's talent of speech or a place to judge a speaker's mind but it is the place for seeking solutions to societal problems. Hence, he seeks to balance the individual freedom of expression on the one hand, and the orderly environment of deliberation on the other.
Following this, the speaker opens the space for all participants, in particular for the Gadaa councillors, to deliberate on agendas encompassing environmental, social, political, and cultural matters. Then, the next speaker says kophise! (meaning, the chance is mine!). The person who says "kophise!" ahead of others is accorded the first chance to speak. Each speaker is required to repeat the fundamental moral values before proceeding to the discussion before voicing their opinion on the issue. When finished, the speaker says toggise! (meaning, I am done!) and the next person who wants to deliberate says qophise! and continues to speak. Each speaker may support or oppose the view of their predecessor and, in doing so, the views of the minority are eventually swallowed by the majority consensually.
Consensus through dialogue
Whoever asks for the chance to speak first is granted the ability and the deliberation does not come to a close until all ideas and voices have been heard. In other words, until a "consensus" is reached, the deliberation continues. No one interrupts while someone is speaking, a speaker need not stand to speak, and once they have spoken they may speak again. Dialogue is thus based on respect - in recognition of one another's views - proceeding from the iteration of 'the general moral values' and continuing on to agree with the previous speaker's words or respectfully deviating and voicing one's own opinion. The only thing that gains automatic consensus are ideas that are close to the commonly accepted moral values.
Gadaa has five parties of at least six Councillors each - four from past administrations and one from the incumbent. In total there are 30 Councillors with very rich experiences who together shape the success of the deliberation. The other most important thing is that the 'past, present, and future' are in the assembly. A lesson from Gadaa shows the value of the past, since future possible leaders are included in the assembly to learn from their superiors. Each Gadaa represents a kind of 'grading' of the candidates who take part in the assembly - representing the "future". Women also take part in the assembly but do not deliberate - they arrive at the assembly last and leave first - last in, first out!
The Gadaa society was structured into peer groups based on chronological age or genealogical generation called Luba. Each luba consists of all of the sons in another particular class. The entire grade progresses through eleven different grades, each based on an eight-year cycle, and each with its own set of rights and responsibilities.
The grade passes from one stage of development to the next every eight years.
Gadaa Grades => Age => Characters