An Assessment of Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism of Mezard in Rural Alamata Woreda, Tigray National Regional State, Ethiopia

Master's Thesis, 2012

74 Pages, Grade: Very Good





Acronyms and abbreviations

Chapter One: Introduction
1.1 Background of the Study
1.2. Statement of the Problem
1.3. Research Questions
1.4. Objective of the Study
1.5. Significance of the Study
1.6. Scope and Limitation of the Study
1.7. Definition of Concepts.

Chapter Two: Review of Related Literature
2.1. The Concept of Conflict
2.2. Indigenous Conflict Resolution
2.2.1. Advantages and Disadvantages of Indigenous Conflict
Resolution Mechanisms
2.2.2. Actors in Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism
2.2.3. Sustainability of Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism
2.2.4. Enforceability of Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism
2.3. African Traditional Institutions of Conflict Resolution

Chapter Three: Research Methodology
3.1. Site Selection and Description of the Study Area
3.2. Data Type and Source
3.3. Research Design and Strategy
3.4. Sampling Technique and Procedure
3.5. Data Collection and Instruments
3.6. Data Analysis and Interpretation

Chapter Four: Results and Discussions
4.1. Sources and Type of Conflicts in Rural Alamata Woreda
4.2. Historical Foundation and Development of Mezard Institution
4.3. Procedure of the Mezard Institution
4.4. Enforceability of the Mezard Institution of Conflict Resolution
4.5. Relation between Mezard and Formal Court
4.6. Sustainability of the Mezard Institution of Conflict Resolution
4.7. Strengths and Weaknesses

Chapter Five: Conclusion and Recommendation
5.1. Conclusion
5.2. Recommendation




I am grateful to Gebremedhin Yihdego (, my advisor, for his scholarly enlightening supervision in carrying out the research work. His scholastic insight and the genuine classroom reflection have also influenced me positively in the course he offered me during my study. In line with this I deeply appreciate my co-advisor Abraham Worku (MA) for his constructive comments he gave me throughout the research work.

My warmest and honorable thanks also goes to Abreha Hailezgi, lecturer in Mekelle University, for all the encouragements and his honest and constructive preliminary piece of advice he gave to me regarding the topic of the research.

Moreover, I would like to thank to all my informants without whom the research would have borne no fruit. I especially thank Ato Mesfin Andarge and Ato Rezene Hagos for their cooperation in meeting and convincing the resourceful informants. I also thank, Alexander Berhane, Mentsegeba Girmay and all my friends who have their own shares in the accomplishment the research work.

Thanks to GOD!!!


June 2012


This study deals with indigenous conflict resolution mechanism in Rural Alamata woreda specifically in the institution called Mezard exercised by the Raya people. The study was aimed at examining the Mezard indigenous institution of conflict resolution. The research design employed for this study was case study research design. To this end purposive sampling design was used, employing 24 total sample sizes. Its composition was from indigenous judges, court leaders, to explore the sustainability of the institution, the enforceability, strengths and weaknesses and its role in maintaining peace and stability in the area. This study was conducted using unstructured interview as the main data collection instrument along with focus group discussion employing open ended questions to supplement the data gathered from the key informants. Accordingly, the study finding shows sustainability of the institution is being in formidable challenges, this is mainly because of its less attention on transferring the practice to the young generation and some forces of modernization, etc. With regard to enforceability, the decisions passed by the institution are found to be high in being accepted by the community of the study area. In order to integrate Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism with the formal court legalizing their role and defining their jurisdiction is so important. In addition advancing affirmative action, increasing the income of women by creating new job opportunities, give chance the youth to decide on their matters continually, raising finance generated from the community, etc can help the sustainability of the Mezard institution of conflict resolution.

Key words : Erq, indigenous conflict resolution, Mezard, Tabia, Wonz

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

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1.1. Background of the Study

Conflict is not a new phenomenon in the history of human beings. It always exists as long as human beings live together and it is an inescapable human experience. Conflict can be understood as engagement in a fight or possible confrontation between two or more parties as aspiring towards incompatible or competitive means or ends (University of Peace, 2005). According to Francis (2006), conflict is by definition natural and unavoidable part of human existence, i.e. a nature disagreement resulting from individual or groups that differ in attitude, beliefs, values or needs.

As there is the notion of society and the very existence of peoples, there is obviously conflict no matter the extent as well as the source of it. In fact, one cannot separate conflict from humankind. It is impossible to see them independently; they are always together making two faces of the same coin. It is unconceivable to think a society without conflict (Assefa, 2005).

Conflict appears to be an integral component of human performance in diverse activities. The term could be classified based on different criterias and variables, and this creates difficulty in formulating an operational and exact definition. According to Slabbert (2004), conflict is a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affects, something that the first party cares about. Hence, attempting to avoid conflict is not only going against nature but it is also going against development. However, conflict should be wisely resolved before it turns to be destructive.

What especially makes conflict normal and natural is its very existence at different levels and walks of life of people in a given society. In fact, conflict takes different forms to occur. It may come to happen at intrapersonal, interpersonal and inter-group levels. It may also be within and/or between communities (Befekadu and Diribssa, 2005).

The practice of conflict resolution is dominated by the assumption that conflict can at best be managed but hardly possible to solve it. Particularly, conflict management theories see violent conflict as an ineradicable-viewing resolving a conflict as unrealistic and the best that can be done is to manage and contain them and occasionally to reach a historic compromise (Reilly.L and Bloomfield.T, 1998).

On the other hand Conflict Resolution theorists argue that it is possible to transcend conflict if the parties can help to explore, analyze, question and reframe their position and interest. Conflict resolution, therefore, emphasizes intervention by skilled but power third party to foster new thinking and new relations (Miall, 2003). Thus conflict resolution involves process oriented activities that aims to address the underlying causes of direct, structural and cultural violence (Walters, 2000), while simultaneously finding a way to respect their underlying values and identities (Spangler, 2003).

There are two ways of conflict resolution methods, i.e. the formal and informal. According to Macfarlane (2007), the formal one is conducted in the court through litigation with official recognition of the government and tends to be more strictly examined and monitored whether there are signs of impartiality, entrenched inequities and lack of due process. Indigenous or sometimes called informal conflict resolution mechanism is the ancient set of practices in almost all the societies in the world with an ultimate application of third party arbitration and mediation (United Nations, 2007).

According to Kennedy (2011), the concept of ‘indigineity’ connotes institutions, mechanisms and practices predating colonialism and the Westphalia state that derive from the sociological, historical, demographic, environmental and geographical contexts in which they exist.

Kennedy, (2011) suggested that the role of indigenous-based institutions and culture in conflict prevention and resolution as well as peace building is becoming increasingly prominent in most countries.

Dahal and Bhatta, (2008) also confirmed that indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms are used to organize a discussion to mediate several types of conflicts within the societies by recognizing the identity and interests of the conflicting parties. Here its main aim is to come up with a solution and justifying it by the duty of the mechanism based on recognized customs and morality of the society itself.

“Indigenous Dispute Resolution processes,” are intuitive, time-tested and pre-colonial forms and systems of dealing with community problems by coming up with a consensual, communal solution (Osi , 2008) .

‘Indigenous Institutions’ include structures, mechanisms, methods or techniques and practices that incorporate indigenous principles such as conciliation, discussion, negotiation, mediation and arbitration. Indigenous approaches cannot be compartmentalized into “political” or “juridical” or other, rather they are holistic; comprising also social, economic, cultural and religious-spiritual dimensions

This implies that the sum of indigenous lifestyles and world views in which the different spheres of societal life are hardly separated. In addition the conflict parties can directly engage in negotiations on conflict resolution and in the search for a solution, or a third party can be invited to mediate.

In this case Kennedy, (2011) suggests that the process of conflict resolution is public and the participation in the process and the approval of results is voluntary.

The process is carried out by social groups in the interest of social groups such as extended families, clans, village communities, tribes, brotherhoods, etc.; individuals are perceived as members of a kin-group, they are accountable to that group, and the group is accountable for the deeds of each of its members (Boege, 2006).

The above idea implies, every society has its own culturally deep-rooted mechanisms of conflict resolution. Accordingly, Raya is one of the cultural communities in Tigray and northern Wollo, has its own indigenous mechanisms of conflict resolution. Thus, this research paper exhaustively deals with how any sort of conflicts are settled and resolved by the Mezard and how its sustainability and enforceability is in the study area.

The Raya people have their own varieties of customary practices. Among these practices they have traditional conflict resolution mechanisms which are more than helping the people to build solidarity and peaceful coexistence among them. It has a gap filling role for the state made laws. In Raya, offices of elderly are known by variety of names, but they do have common goal i.e. resolving the conflicts especially personal and family peacefully through mediation, conciliation, and arbitration mechanisms at local level customarily. Mezard, Zewold, Kefco, Gebremedhin, Mergeta, senayseged, are some of the most known indigenous mechanisms with local judicial jurisdiction. There are various indigenous institutions in Ethiopia that have their own customary methods of settling conflicts. For the purpose of this paper the researcher was dealt with the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism which is practiced in the rural Alamata woreda. This institution was chosen for its unique characteristics in form, procedures and content. In addition it is predominantly exercised by the residents of the study area.

1.2. Statement of the Problem

Africans, as any other people elsewhere, have their own philosophy of life. They have a distinct culture by which they see and interact themselves. For instance, individualism is a philosophy of life in the West as communality is in Africa. Collective mode of living is a peculiar identification of Africans in general. In fact, this mode of living is a different version of life rather than connoting backwardness and/or primitiveness which might be wrongly perceived by some westerners. The communal life in Africa, on the other hand, has an implication in conflict and its resolution. The issues of security, peace and conversely conflict are communal matters in Africa, unlike in the West. Thus, the priority of African traditional conflict resolution mechanisms is to bring about collective social stability and harmony. They do not simply focus on the punitive measure nor do they merely settle the conflict. They rather strive to bring about sustaining peace among the disputants thereby the prevalence of enmity and hatred within as well as across communities would permanently be vanished (Tsega, 2002).

Conflicts in Ethiopia could easily be handled at the grass-root levels by the societies themselves without the direct intervention of the government. After all, Ethiopia is believed to be the home of more than 80 ethnic groups. They have their own distinct languages, and cultures. These various ethnic and cultural groups for so long years have developed their own unique political or administrative, economic, social and judicial systems. They had been able to sustain themselves without necessitating to have copied the Western modes of governance nor is their mechanisms of conflict resolution (Assefa, 2005).

Indigenous laws have been “de-facto” recognition in Ethiopia and has been applied both in formal courts and traditional justice processes and in relation to interpersonal and community based conflicts. Under the Constitution, its application is however, restricted to matters of personal law and therefore its application in other matters relating to conflict does not have any legal recognition and enforcement, as the indigenous institution of conflict resolution is subordinate to the formal court (ibid,2006).

Several researches are done on several indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms in Ethiopia in among nations, nationalities and ethnic groups of Ethiopia. These among others include such as Gereb in Wajerat (Tigray) and Mablo in Ab’ala of Afar (Kelemework, 2000); Abagar in Southern Wollo (Netsanet, 2006), Michu in Metekel (Tsega, 2002), Awassia in Walayta (Mellesse, 2008), Afocha in Harar (Biruk and Jira, 2008), Jarsumma and Haffi Hamee in Oromia (Assefa, 2005), Guma in Waliso Oromo (Dejene, 2007) and so on and so forth. However the above researches were predominantly relied on the process, role of the elders, as well as the actors in the indigenous conflict resolution mechanism. However, this study is intended to search the issues dealing with the sustainability and the enforceability of the decisions passed by the indigenous conflict resolution which is not well addressed by the previous researches.

Similarly, the Raya community living in the southern part of the regional state of Tigray in Alamata woreda practice their own way of conflict settlement. Customarily they have their own indigenous way of conflict resolution mechanisms aiming to address the cause of conflict and seek to build solidarity and belongingness for themselves and for peaceful and good relationship within themselves and their neighboring societies.

In recent years the indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms have been weakened partly because of the failure of the members of the community to strengthen their role of resolution of conflicts at the community level (Asnake, 2010). Therefore, the undermined and eroded status and functions of the elders give rise to the absence of well performing institutions which is a sufficient condition for violent conflicts to arise.

The conflict resolution mechanism called Mezard plays a complementary role in keeping the peace and stability among the people in the study area. Despite the role it plays and legal recognition it has, the government of the state gives less regard to it. Members of this indigenous tribunal perform their duty permanently at least two days a month but without any allowance and budget from both the people as well as the administration for the activity they conduct. As a result the elder traditional tribunals sometimes become less sensitive to the cases brought before them. This condition leads them to some irregularities in their activity among themselves and the conflicting parties. Therefore the general purpose of this study is to assess how the Mezard institution of conflict resolution mechanism handles any sort of conflict in the study area and how is its current status.

1.3. Research Questions

The study addresses the following research questions:

- What are the types and sources of conflict in the area handled by the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism?
- How is the procedure of Mezard conflict resolution mechanism practiced in the rural Alamata woreda?
- What is the enforceability of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism?
- How is the sustainability of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism?

1.4. Objective of the Study

1.4.1. General Objectives

- The general objective of the study is to assess the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism in rural Alamata woreda Tigray region of Ethiopia.

1.4.2. Specific Objectives

- Identify the types and sources of conflicts in the area with regard to the Mezard conflict resolution mechanism.
- Describe the procedure o f Mezard as conflict resolution mechanism in the Rura l Alamata woreda.
- Examine the enforceability of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism.
- Examine the sustainability of the Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism.
- Examine the strengths and weaknesses of Mezard indigenous conflict resolution mechanism.

1.5. Significance of the Study

Conflicts occur among individuals, within families, between clans, and communities across ethnic borders. The study shows indigenous conflict resolution method’s (ICRM’s) relevance in settlement of conflict especially as family, inter-ethnic, etc across regions. Hence indigenous laws are made by the people and not the state and also drive its legitimacy from the participation and consensus of the community and its recognition by the government. This study has the following relevance;

- Serving as an input for policy makers in relation to conflict resolution and peace building.
- Serving as a reference for other researchers to conduct research on similar topic region-wide or nation-wide.
- Contribute to a better understanding about the indigenous conflict resolution method ‘ Mezard’ to the community.
- Help to specify the factors that hinder the indigenous conflict resolution methods from application and contribute for further strengthening the institution to the extent that it go line in line with the formal court.
- Additional contribution to the few works that have already been done on conflict resolution in the region. It serves as a useful input for those individuals interested to carry out in-depth studies on similar topics.

1.6. Scope and Limitation of the Study

The Raya people have a number of indigenous practices with interesting socio-cultural and economic practices. The study is only limited to Tigray region in general and Raya Alamata woreda in particular on the indigenous mechanism of conflict resolution in rural Alamata. Comprehensive evidence can be obtained only by working within the institution or taking a longitudinal research method. This will be one of the methodological limitations of this research. In addition to this the research only employs a convenience sampling procedure.

1.7. Definition of Concepts

Abahaga : the one who is in charge and of something; care taker of one social issue

Anebabro: bread like food

Duberti : a group of women in the community who beg the conflicting parties to come in to negotiation then to arbitration

Erq(i) : resolution or reconciliation.

Ketena : an administrative structure found below woreda and above the tabia

Mak: a black thick cloth

Mereba : a traditional request made by the elder women to beg erq

Meyazna : an agent as a guarantee

Mezard: is an indigenous or informal way or method of conflict resolution which is practiced around the rural Alamata woreda in southern part of Tigray region also kefko, gebremedhin, mergeta, senayseged, zewold

Millisha: one who is armed from the members of the community, mostly doing his civil matters too

Raya : is a name specifically given to both the area which is found on southern Tigray and Wollo as well as the people who reside in those areas

Rond: night guard

Tabia : is one of the Government structures within the regional states which is smaller in unit as well as less powerful than the woreda

Teskar : ceremony conducted for commemoration of the deceased

Wanza : an acacia tree

Wonz: literally in Amharic means house of elder fathers

Woreda : is an administrative structure which is equated with the District

Yerejat: close relatives of the murderer


This chapter exhaustively deals with the theoretical framework of the nature and essence of conflict and types of conflict, conflict resolution mechanisms with special reference to the indigenous dispute resolution. Only some of the most prominent African traditional institutions in general and the Ethiopian in particular which are currently being practiced and used in resolving conflicts of any sort are also pointed out and reviewed from different sources.

2.1. The Concept of Conflict

The term conflict refers to a situation of hostility between individuals, groups, or states resulting from competition over resources, power, or opposing interests in other areas (Francis, 2006).

Individuals need each other for survival; along the way conflict is unavoidable. What is important for all parties is that differences be reconciled without resort to violence. Goodhand and Hulme (1999), note that ‘conflict is only a problem when society cannot represent, manage or resolve its different interests in a productive manner, thus initiating a degenerative or destructive cycle of physical violence.

Conflicts are as old as human societies themselves. Historically, individuals, social groups and societies have disputed and competed against one another over scarce commodities and resources land, money, political power, and ideology. They have even fought one another and bitterly sought the elimination and/or subjugation of rivals, in order to control these resources and commodities (Reichel, 1998). Similarly conflict is defined as a situation in which two or more parties strive to acquire the same scarce resources at the same time. It occurs between people in all kinds of human relationships and in all social settings. Because of the wide range of potential differences among people, the absence of conflict usually signals the absence of meaningful interaction. Conflict by itself is neither good nor bad. However, the manner in which conflict is handled determines whether it is constructive or destructive (Deutsch & Coleman, 2000).

In addition, Conflict refers when two or more values, perspectives and opinions are contradictory in nature and have not been values and perspectives are threatened; or discomfort from fear of the unknown or from lack of fulfillment. Conflict is inevitable and often good, for example, good teams always go through a "form, storm, norm and perform" period. Getting the most out of diversity means often contradictory values, perspectives and opinions (McNamara, 2007).

Nathan (2007) on the other hand asserted that conflict is also a nature consequence of major reform and of popular pressure for fundamental political or economic change. Furthermore, (Spangler,2003) stated that conflict tend to arise over non-negotiable issues such as fundamental human needs, intolerable moral difference or high stakes distributional issues regarding essential resources such as water or land. Accordingly, conflict is inherent to all societies. Differences in interests and opinions between groups are natural, but the method by which such differences are expressed and managed determine if conflicts manifest themselves in either non violent or violent ways.

2.1.1. Types of Conflict

Conflict exists mainly in two forms. There are direct and indirect depending on their magnitude and manifestation. Direct conflict is the most outward, visible and easily identifiable sort of conflict. It is just like a direct physical confrontations or clashes between individuals. It could also be manifested in a form of war between nations or groups of different interests. On the other hand, indirect violence, which is synonymously referred to as structural violence, appears to be in a form of invisible and relatively unidentifiable societal structures. Such violence is built deep in to the social, economic and political structures. These structures deliberately prohibit every people from enjoying equal social status and equal access to economic opportunities as well as involvement in one’s own political matters. It is all about discrimination and marginalization, suppression and exploitative world order. And all these in turn would result in human suffering and life misery in general as the consequence of impoverishment to overwhelmingly majority of the people (Jeong, 2005).

Hence, violence or conflict of any kind needs to be peacefully managed and resolved. If not so, it would result in human destruction. There might be constructive conflict but only if it is properly managed and harnessed as to be supporting and driving force for humans in their development.

Macfarlane (2007), outlines that, there are two forms of conflict management and resolution mechanisms as formal and informal conflict management and resolution that the best result often are achieved by combining the two methods.

The formal way of conflict management and resolution is conducted through litigation as the conflicting parties are subject to court procedures and final judgment thereby the parties become binding to the court decisions, where as the informal one is accompanied with major components such as mediation, arbitration, and negotiation among the others (Brainch, 2006).

2.2. Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism

As long as people live in society or group, there are conflicts arising from differences of interests, prejudice, needs and ambitions. Therefore, the approach adopted to prevent or resolve such difference of interests determines its resolution. In other words, when a conflict happens, the crucial point should be the effective adoption of the necessary principle of the resolution. Indigenous mechanisms are grass root approaches to solve conflicts by the society. The most important elements involving in this mechanism include the tradition of forgiveness, respect for elders because of their symbolic authority to enforce decisions and transfer of resource as compensation (Zartman, 2000).

Indigenous conflict resolution typically incorporates consensus-building based on open discussions to exchange information and clarify issues. Conflicting parties are more likely to accept guidance from these mediators than from other sources because an elder’s decision does not entail any loss of face and is backed by social pressure. The end result is, ideally, a sense of unity, shared involvement and responsibility, and dialogue among groups otherwise in conflict (USAID, 2005).

Some authors trace the genealogy of what is now known as mediation to early Greek and Chinese cultures. Sri Lankan antecedence dates back to about 425 years before Christianity while Chinese mediation goes back to the Zhou Dynasty which predates the Christian era by 1,100 years. Other scholars characterize pre-colonial forms of mediation as a familiar face of early Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian religions as well as Indigenous cultures. Ethnic groups and aboriginal tribe’s people have been practicing these forms of mediation long before newer settlers arrived (Osi , 2008) .

Indigenous conflict management and resolution mechanisms use local actors and traditional community-based judicial and legal decision-making mechanisms to manage and resolve conflicts within or between communities. Local mechanisms aim to resolve conflicts without resorting to state-run judicial systems, police, or other external structures. Local negotiations can lead to ad hoc practical agreements which keep broader inter-communal relations positive, creating environments where nomads can graze together, townspeople can live together, and merchants can trade together even if military men remain un-reconciled (Lowry, 1995).

While Western forms of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) were generated as a response to the difficulties and deficiencies associated with court proceedings, Indigenous Dispute Resolution processes were not an “alternative” to anything. There were no courts or highly formalized procedures and institutions to speak of when they were first developed and practiced. Generally, Indigenous Dispute Resolution processes were all that the communities had in common. Although they seem very ADR-like, they were truly indigenous and unique to these peoples (Brainch, 2006).

Indigenous societies have varied institutions and personnel that function as agents of conflict resolution in their respective locality (Degene, 2007). In spite of this, Ember (1977), cited in Degene (2007), argued that, these agents lack coercive force to support their decisions.

There is a little evidences from the literatures that a settlement of conflict within the indigenous institutions is in any way encouraged by the governments, rather the indigenous institutions of conflict resolution impose sanctions which are of two types, the secular and the sacred from which the later is more effective and often used(Hamer,1987).

Indigenous societies in all parts of the world have featured variations of third-party arbitration and mediation. Western societies saw these practices subsumed by the rise of modern judiciaries. The increased complexity of these processes, however, saw reduced satisfaction with legal outcomes among disputants (United Nations, 2007).

In fact, the indigenous forms of conflict resolution have been practiced by peoples and communities for centuries. The older forms of dispute resolution, particularly those practiced by the Indigenous or Aboriginal peoples around the world, challenge the originality of present-day court system (Osi , 2008) .

Indigenous conflict resolution offers not only alternative means of resolving conflicts but an entirely more efficient way of doing business with each other. It’s the term in advance of justice all over the community but remains widely misunderstood which is likely to be the reason it is often initially treated with less recognition by the state (Brainch, 2006). According to Open University of Nigeria (2010), these institutions were mostly characterized by public will and associational trust especially as they are conducted truthfully and pragmatically.

Indigenous conflict resolution comprises a range of processes fashioned structured to meet the specific needs of parties in a conflict; each process being an alternative to litigation but commonly ‘mediation’ and ‘arbitration’. The key principle is that the means used in seeking to resolve the conflict must be proportionate to its nature in terms of value, complexity and importance to the conflicting parties (ibid,2006). This implies that Indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms refers the set of mechanisms a society utilizes to resolve conflicts outside litigation or the formal court (Osi , 2008) .

Indigenous or Aboriginal communities in the present day practice three forms of conflict resolution their own Indigenous processes, Western forms of ADR, and the Indigenized Western ADR systems. They sometimes resort to court litigation, whether because it is expensive, time-consuming, highly complicated, and judge and counsel-dependent, or simply because it is not innate for them to do so. Of course, certain exceptions have to be made for a few communities (Brainch, 2006)

2.2.1. Advantages and Disadvantages of Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanisms.

Some of the advantages of indigenous conflict resolution, in contrast with the court litigation or formal way of conflict resolution are given as it has low cost, speed, accessibility, cultural relevance, and responsiveness to the poor people’s concerns(DFDI,2004). According to penal reform international (2003), also indigenous is advantageous as the conflicting parties are active participants, raising public interest and awareness, gives rise to permanent resolution of conflict as well as it employed non discriminatory approach on its conduct.

Indigenous conflict management and resolution mechanisms aim to resolve conflicts locally, preceding or replacing external conflict resolution and thereby reducing reliance on external structures. Indigenous mediation helps the community keep control over the outcome of the conflict. Implementing this approach does not require sophisticated party structures or expensive campaigns; it provides a low-cost, empowering means of resolving conflicts within a relatively short time frame. In many societies, elders have indigenous jurisdiction in facilitation, arbitration, and monitoring outcomes (Paul, 1994).

Indigenous conflict mediators typically possess moral status, seniority, neutrality and respect of the community; they are acceptable to all parties and demonstrate leadership capacity. Resolutions are generally accepted and respected by all concerned parties (USAID, 2005).

According to Lowery (1995), some indigenous conflict resolution efforts may be weakened by age or gender bias for example, in cases with no women elders, some women may believe that male elders are biased against women and that this will be reflected in their decisions. Therefore the above idea can imply that the Indigenous authorities are predominantly not progressive elements of social change.

International agencies’ efforts to build local capacity and enhance participation should question whether indigenous structures are being undermined, what their role is in keeping the society intact and managing conflict, and whether it is important to make efforts to retain such structures. Indigenous mediation has a dynamic of its own and does not always respond positively to external prompting. Indigenous mediation requires delicate and knowledgeable management, and external actors must bring an intimate understanding of local conditions (paul, 1994).

Indigenous conflict resolution processes will allow community members to pursue remedies and resolve conflicts outside of the courtroom and still within their own cultural confines. Practiced in Indigenous communities since time immemorial, they are culturally more appropriate than litigation because they are based on the customs and traditions of the group concerned. They may also pursue remedies through state-formalized ADR. Litigating in court is normally prohibitive; with long case queues, intermittent delay in the resolution of motions or claims is quite common. More importantly, litigation with its basic rudiments of confrontation, fault-finding and judge made resolutions, coupled with its adversarial nature (Osi , 2008) .

Assefa (2005), has summarized only some of the advantages of indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms as they quickly respond to crisis in terms of time, they contribute to the reduction of regular court case loads, they contribute to saving of the public money, it also minimizes the problem in shortage of judges who work in the regular courts, and budget constraints, they are complementary to modern government structures and are not substitutes or competitors as some government officials think and worry about, They give access to many people who do not find modern system of conflict resolution comfortable, affordable or suitable to their needs, Disputants are satisfied with their operation and view their outcomes as fair, and the like.

According to DFID (2004), the disadvantages of indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms are among the others, it may led to the abuse of power, may lack accountability, and not consistent with International human rights as it practices inhuman and degraded punishments. The center for Democracy and Governance (1998), also suggested that, indigenous conflict resolution mechanism has limitations such that it is not appropriate taking cases as public sanction, with extreme power imbalance, may undermine other judicial reform efforts, and have no any educational, disciplinary, or restriction effect on population. Therefore the decisions that can best describe court proceedings are adversarial, thorough, rigid, strict, evidentiary, rights-oriented, unbiased, impartial, and generally appealable unlike the indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms. On the other hand Boege (2006), noted that, indigenous conflict resolution is targeted at problems in relatively small communities in the local context. It can work well within a given community with regard to the members of that community. Conflicts within and between families, between neighbors, within and between villages or clans lend themselves rather easily to traditional approaches.

There are several problems with using Indigenous Dispute Resolution for more advanced cases such as patent challenges concerning Indigenous communities.

Firstly, Indigenous populations have different fundamental conceptions from mainstream society, resulting in only a handful of people who actually understand the culture indigenous to them. This condition can lead to misunderstanding, mistrust, abuses and marginalization. Secondly, Governments may hesitate to organize or uphold Indigenous Dispute Resolution infrastructures, whether in traditional conflict areas such as land disputes and employment discrimination to newer conflict prone subjects such as patenting of traditional knowledge, nonconsensual commercial use of indigenous symbols or art, and the unauthorized recording/reproduction of ancient chants, songs, movements and dances (Osi , 2008) .

Accordingly Boege (2006), identifies the following potential advantages and disadvantages of the indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms as follows.

Strengths of traditional approaches to conflict transformation can be identified since the indigenous conflict resolution approaches;

- fit situations of state fragility and failure;
- are not state-centric and hence credited with legitimacy;
- take the time factor into due account and are process-oriented;
- provide for comprehensive inclusion and participation;
- Focus on the psycho-social and spiritual dimension of conflict transformation.

The five major strengths of indigenous approaches to conflict transformation are matched by five major weaknesses. Indigenous approaches;

- do not terminate violence in the long term;
- often contradict universal standards of human rights;
- have a limited sphere of applicability;
- are geared towards the preservation of the ‘good old’ order;
- are open to abuse( Boege, 2006, pp.22-27)


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An Assessment of Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism of Mezard in Rural Alamata Woreda, Tigray National Regional State, Ethiopia
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assessment, indigenous, conflict, resolution, mechanism, mezard, rural, alamata, woreda, tigray, national, regional, state, ethiopia
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Yonas Berhe (Author), 2012, An Assessment of Indigenous Conflict Resolution Mechanism of Mezard in Rural Alamata Woreda, Tigray National Regional State, Ethiopia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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