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Negotiating Law in the Peripheries of Southern Ethiopia

Project funded by the German Research Foundation

Project duration: May 2016 to April 2019

Researcher: Dr. Susanne Epple

(Photo: Susanne Epple)


This project will focus on the ‘negotiation of the law’
in the context of increased enforcement of the state law and continued
application of the customary legal forums in Southern Ethiopia.

The country was never colonized and introduced its modern
codified law in the 1960s, largely from Europe. In the study area, the
Bashada/Hamar lowland in the southwest of Ethiopia, until today
disputes/conflicts are handled through customary mechanisms. In recent years,
however, the government began to enforce the implementation of state law
throughout its territorial domain. On the other hand, the new Constitution of
Ethiopia allows to some extent the application of customary laws, and this
gives some leeway for negotiation between the local communities and the law enforcement
agencies on creative handling of disputes and conflicts.


The research will specifically focus on (1) the Bashada
and the Hamar people’s comprehension of and integration into the modern legal
system; (2) the decision making processes pertaining to the choice of legal
forums: state law vs. customary laws; (3) the way how law enforcement agencies
handle legal cases that involve contradictory values and orientations; (4) the
translation or application of international laws (especially the human rights provisions)
into the local contexts.

Ethnographic data will be collected through qualitative

methods: observation, structured and unstructured
interviews, group discussions, and extended case studies. In addition to the
general literature review, legal and policy documents will be reviewed. The
study is expected to uncover how clashes of values are negotiated to allow the
interaction of plural legal orders.