Contested land rights: Oromo peasants struggle for livelihood in Ethiopia

Thesis by Abebe Abate Gizachew

The questions of land rights, identity and power are related to what constitutes nation-states, the relations between nation state and their constituent peoples and territories. These questions are debatable in artificial African nation states emerged in the wake of European colonialism. The notions of territoriality defined in context of African nation states are more likely sources of frictions and contests than `imagined community` notion of (Anderson 1991) used to reflect on historical origins of nation. This is due to the fact that international boundaries of African nation states were grounded on the denial and subjections of rights, cultures, world views and existence of indigenous peoples. Based on the contemporary ethnographic and historical data from Oromia regional state of Ethiopia the study examines complex relationships and contradictory processes of the effects of resource based-development policies of the Ethiopian regimes on land rights related to Oromo peasant livelihoods, environment and development. The thesis discusses the rights to define; allocation and use of resources have been related to the fundamental questions of land rights, identity and power. The compressive analysis focuses on how the power to define resource use and rights are socio-culturally and historically constructed and ideologically driven. In concern to this humane issues students of society and culture have studied social and cultural changes unfolded related to the integrations of indigenous nations or peoples into nation-states, colonial regimes, and world capitalist economy. Indigenous peoples suffered from the asymmetric power relationships and assimilative packages of those forces. Some of the works view indigenous people as passive victims of those forces. However, this study suggests that indigenous Oromo peasants and pastoral communities resist and sometimes obstruct encroachments of those forces into their livelihoods. II But given the asymmetric power relationships, the question is how indigenous people with different views of rights encapsulated into modern nation states enjoy cultural continuity and their rights to existence as a people maintained within this framework, where their views of land rights connected to ethnic identity and development is not `legal `? Analytically , a new ethnographic paradigm of approaching the notions of land rights, power and resistance that problematize custom as static culture vs. dynamic understanding of culture opens up a more dynamic, practical , contextual and relational understanding of ` rights`. The analytical paradigms that focus on historical context of cultural and legal processes of indigenous relations to their land and nation state-indigenous people relationships allows looking into the constraints and limitations of actions and practice of the governance of land rights .This thesis has selected four conflicts of interests over the use of land and natural resources among different stakeholders in Oromia with particular focus on the two recent court cases: the case of Inxoxilsh and Hidha Gamme in Alam Gana to examine the continuity of challenges of land rights of the Oromo peasants in Ethiopia.

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