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  • Adem Aman

The Gada System: An Indigenous Oromo Preliminary Democracy System in Ethiopia

Introduction The Gada system is a system of “indigenous democratic socio-political basis of the Oromo people” in East Africa, particularly in Ethiopia. The gada system was registered in the UNESCO Organization for cultural heritage protection related to its unique contribution to human beings in terms of good governance and peaceful leadership changing every eight years. The Gada system is an institution within the accumulation of knowledge and experience gained over a generation of the Oromo people since the early sixteenth century to the present in Africa. A system is a basis on socio-economic-political aspects of regulated dimensions including ritual (religious) activities at large. The system actually deals with various issues like conflict resolution, reparation, protecting women’s rights, and others. In particular, the system is the basis of social cohesions and builds and serves to rely on moral values and ethics that are strong in social structures and cultural-based mechanisms.

Gada system is classified into various classes (luba) and each class consists of numerous functions assuming the ruling party is composed of a chairperson, officials, and an assembly in terms of military, economic, political, and ritual responsibility. Each category is elected and served through a series of inspections until a power or an authority of such class leadership changing periods ceased based on a rotation basis every eight years. In this sense, the Gada system is a holistic approach in terms of good governance to humanity including “history, laws, rituals, time reckoning, cosmology, myths, rules of conduct, leadership, and good governance as well as democratic election” for leadership in the function of the gada institution. In this fact, the indigenous tradition Oromo gada democratic system illustrates classical African civilization. This paper is an attempt to explore the classical indigenous system in Africa in various colors and sounds relying on social structure, cultures, and values including leadership, good governance, military, conflict resolution, and moral values (i.e., women's rights and other creatures rights) as a whole.

Ethiopia - Oromo Nations Overviews Currently, in Ethiopia, more than 80 nations and nationalities live. Oromo is one of them and the largest nation estimated to be more than 35 percent according to the Ethiopia Federal Rebuplic Census Statistical Agency (CSA) report of 2007. In contemporary periods, the new Ethiopian government system based on ethnic federalism and political decentralization was intended to guarantee the rights of ethnic-linguistic groups to secure regional self-administration. Therefore, the Oromia Regional State, which is found in the central part of Ethiopia's Federal Rebuplic border with Eastern Somalia, Southern Kenya, and Western Sudan countries is a self-ruled regional state out of the other ten self-administrate regions and two city administrations existing in the country.

Historical development suggested that the Oromo nations are broadly divided into two categories: Borana and Barentumma based on biological kinship, while the Oromo family reorganized their descent was not limited to biological kinship but also extended to social descent basis kinship as well. Oromo people speak Afaan Oromo. Afaan Oromo is the most populous language spoken in Africa estimated to be more than 50 million people and it is ranked 3rd in Africa next to Swahili ('kiswɑˈhili) and Hausa language. Afaan Oromo is spoken of other than Ethiopia in the countries such as Kenya, Somalia, Egypt, and nowadays in the USA within significant numbers of communities as well. The Oromo habitant land referred to as Oromia is very fertile and a source of abundant minerals like gold as well as several natural resources including fertile agricultural land, tourist areas, good landscape and beautiful views, Coffee, forests, endemic plant and animals, among others.

Gada System (Classical Oromo Democracy) The Gada system is not only for humans but also is designed and organized in ways that protect animal rights (i.e., Horses, cats, dogs, etc.) and plants, particularly trees (the Oda tree is a symbol of the Oromo people in the gada system) to have better ecosystem environment protection. The Gada system emphasizes all duties and responsibilities of men and women and the role of children in the different age groups as well. The system is very holistic and comprehensive for social structure, social organizations, and social relations in terms of socio-political institutions and economic aspects. Thus, in the sense of the current social contract, we observe that the Gada system is a kind of modern democratic system prototype model in its entire aspects. Particularly, in the gada elections system process, candidates' criteria, and power transitions are absolutely peaceful every eight years rotating from one leader to another between leadership. However, in today's modern period in numerous countries across the globe including mainly in Africa a free and fair election like the gada system is still not met yet during power transfer, and democracy is still luxurious for the globe's politics.

The Oromo nations were independent and organized in terms of both culturally and politically using the gada system (traditional Oromo democracy) to enhance their welfare and to emphasize their security and sovereignty against external power. Major Principles of the Oromo Gada System The Gada government comprised various stages of government structure. The government hierarchy relies on triple levels the national, the cultural, and the local. The Gada system national government was led by elected leaders (luba council) referred to as Father of Gada (Abba Gada/Bokku). The Abba Gada/Abba Bokkuu is the leader known for his duties as a father/keeper of Gada/Bokku in power. The Abba Gada (Bokkuu) has an element of the Gada system called Caffee Gadaa (Gada assembly/councils) which consist of five or in the majority nine assembly (Caffee) members. Gada councils/assembly includes the father of Gada - Abba Gada/Bokkuu, the father of the Army- Abba Dula, the father of the Economy - Abbaa Sa'a, the father of the spiritual - Abba Muudaa, the father of laws, rules, and regulations as well as moral values and codes of conducts people- Abbaa Seera, and various assistant for classified gada classes as well. In this context, the gada system has the principles of checks and balances in entire practices in all aspects, particularly between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

Gada is a form of institution that serves for national development and consist of five Gada class and also classified more into gada grades that rely on social structure anthropologists referred to as age-sets. All gada officials were elected for eight years periods. The five Gada are; Gada Birmaji, Gada Horata, Gada Bichile, Gada Dulo, and Gada Robale. The gada power to the ruling and lead society transfer from one gada class to the other depending on the gada structure as well as the fair and free electoral system. And also, gada grades or their phases as classified as follows; children- Itti Makoo/gaammee xixxiqqoo (age 0-8), Junior Gaammee -Daballe (age 9-16), senior Gaammee -Follee (age 17-24), Junior Warriors -Qondala/Kuusa (age (25-32), Senior Warriors -Raabaa/Doorii (age 33-40), Gada/Luba (age 41-48). Then the next phase was the father of gada official advisors who were referred to as junior advisors and senior advisors. The Junior advisor is known as - junior advisors one -Yubaa I ( age 49-56), Junior advisors two - Yubaa II (age 57-64), and junior advisors three - Yubaa III (age 65-72) as well as Senior advisor -Gadamojjii (age 73-80) and the last grades or phase were “old age” -Jarsaa (age above 80) respectively. The old age phase needs to care for, whereas Gada rules force close relatives and society to care for individuals of old age (Jarsaa) members of this group, in fact during this period biologically they might not be strong enough and productive.

The phase of children -Itti makoo/daballee comes from the “god added them to the people”. The second grade was referred to as Junior Gaammee at ages 9-16 where they started to practice some roles like looking after the castles. Junior Gaammee-Foolle -third grade at an age between 17-24 which is a crucial stage and officially they are engaged in military training. The fourth grade referred to as Junior Warriors -Qondala/Kuusa between the age of 25-32 and the stage of maturity enrolled in formal military service under the direction of the father of the Army in the Gada system (Abbaa Duulaa). The fifth grade - Senior Warriors -Raabaa/Doorii between ages 33-40 was a candidate for the next Gada period and the members of this grade were identified as senior warriors as well as the remarkable stage at which individual Oromo gained the art of leadership and philosophy. The sixth grade referred to as Gadaa /Luba between ages 41-48. This is the most significant stage in the political life of Oromo males is the optimum age of having maturity, skill, and capacity of shouldering and discharging societal responsibilities. The next stage is referred to as Yuuba and Gadammojji -those experienced and knowledgeable individuals enrolled as juniors and senior advisors of the gada officials respectively.

During the gada power transitions from one gada class to the other gada classes the ceremony held is referred to as Butta. Consequently, in the same manner, in each grade or phase period, various ceremonial celebrations were conducted. In contemporary times Irrecha festival is held at triple lakes (Har-sadee) found at Bushooftu town from Addis Ababa in South East 60 km annually relying on the traditional indigenous gada Oromo democracy system. For example, in 2019 year and after it is estimated that on average more than 5 million – 10 million people attend the Irreecha festival ceremony each year first in the capital Addis Ababa and next week at Bushooftu town within a one-week time interval in the third week of September on Sunday. The main aim of this ceremony is to show the New years celebrations for the end of rainy times and the passing of dark times as well as welcome the offspring which is a very green environment and flowers with a sunny period.

The Gada System and Gender Issues The Gada system is emphasizing a balance between both gender women and men in order to maintain their interdependence through promoting moral and ethical order (safu). A woman has a right and high power under the gada institution. Married women have a right to organize and form the Siinqee sisterhood and solidarity. In the gada system, the comprehensive power represented by males is referred to as the father of Gada -Abba Gada/Bokkuu, while the side of women right's protectors called Mother of Siinqee- Hadha Siinqee (i.e., Abbaa means father and Haadhaa means Mother in Afaan Oromo).

Oromo women practice siinqee mechanisms to maintain their rights; such mechanisms included the law of soften wood (muuka laaftu), the curse (abarsa), scream (iyya siinqee), and trek (godaana siinqee). Men, therefore, try to avoid their curses and seek their blessings. In Oromo culture women, in general, are symbolically and politically liminal and correspondingly enjoy special sacred power as a class.’ . . . people respect and revere a woman because God (Waaq) made her be respected and revered. According to the gada institution, interference with a woman’s sacred authority is regarded as violating the law of the creature/God and moral values (seera Waaq and safu). Conclusion and Remarks Gada is a traditional indigenous Ethiopia-Oromo democracy system longstanding time basis over a generation. This institution involves all aspects of the sociopolitical activities of human beings throughout their lifetime. It gives several rights for various creatures beyond human beings both gender men and women, animals, for example, horses, cats, and dogs as well as plants and ecological environment protection systems for real sustainable development of humanity. Democracy, security, peace, and stability are crucial for human well-being across the globe. Since sixteen century the Oromo nation practice the gada system which is Oromo democracy highly secured leadership transition and fair and free elections.

In this context, the lesson we learned to develop and built a great Africa again from such classical and indigenous practices of African civilization as a new generation of the technological revolution era no need to look far while referring back to our ancestors' experience and knowledge was crucial. Therefore, to raise African civilization again African leaders, businessmen, entrepreneurs, innovators, policy-makers, reformers, academicians, researchers, and various stakeholders can be benefited from such a huge resource of Africa-based civilization.

Reference Asmarom Legesse, Gada Three Approaches to the Study of African Society, The Free Press, 1973. Hinew, Dereje, “History of Oromo Social Organization: Gadaa Grades Based Roles and Responsibilities” (2012). Science, Technology and Arts Research Journal, July-Sep 2012, 1(3): 88-96 Jalata, Asafa, "Gadaa (Oromo Democracy): An Example of Classical African Civilization" (2012). Sociology Publications and Other Works.

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