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Place: Southern Oromiya (Ethiopia)
Time: 1995-2007
Short description of the case
The southern part of the Ethiopian regional state Oromiya is a vast, semi-arid area, which is
marked by two long dry seasons per year. It was inhabited by various pastoralist ethnic groups,
such as the Borana, the Digodi, the Gabbra, the Garri and the Guji, which frequently engaged in
(violent) conflict with each other. There were various political, economic and cultural reasons for
these disputes, which often involved competition over water, land and grazing resources as well
as the raiding of cattle. These cattle raids were partially carried out in order to restock herds,
which represented the key livelihoods of the nomadic pastoralists, after severe droughts.
Competition around natural resources had intensified since the 1980s because of more frequent
and intense droughts, pasture degradation, population growth and the encroachment of pasture
due to land privatization and the sedentarization of pastoralists. More frequent or intense
droughts also forced pastoralists to carry their herds further away from their homeland, thereby
increasing the risk of clashing with hostile groups.
Violence: 1
While not all disputes about land and water resources were settled by means of violence, the
frequency of extreme violence (causing human fatalities and involving the use of advanced
weapons) was widespread in recent years. The reasons for this were the influx of (semi-)
automatic weapons from southern Sudan and the weakening of traditional institutions
responsible for conflict resolution.
External resource appropriation: 0.67
At latest since 1991, the Ethiopian government tried to open the southern periphery of the
country for industrial agriculture and national as well as international markets. Since the 2000s,
Ethiopia was well known as an important target of land grabbing. Around 24% of the land in the
Borana zone was under private property in 2004, while Temesgen (2010) is able to list seven
large-scale ranches in southern Oromiya occupying an area of around 684 km2. Some major
national reserves and national parks were also established in the area.
Power differences: 0
There were no significant differences regarding hard or soft power between the various ethnic
groups inhabiting the region.
Recent political change: 1
Between 1991 and 1994, Ethiopia experienced a transition from the communist Derg regime to a
democratic republic with a strong federalist system. This change contributed to the intensification
of pastoralist conflicts in southern Oromiya in three ways. First, increasing efforts to privatize
and commercialize agriculture in the region has increased resource scarcity and access problems
for pastoralists. Second, efforts by the state to increase its presence in peripheral lowlands led to a
weakening of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms without replacing them with proper state
institutions. Finally, the principle of ethnic federalism (i.e. the idea to assign every ethnic group a
fixed territory) implemented since 1991 led to increased territorial conflict between pastoral
groups, particularly around key water points and grazing areas.
Negative othering: 0.67
The various pastoralist groups inhabiting the study area engaged in (partially violent) conflicts
with each other since decades, if no centuries. There were established perceptions of each other
as out-groups, which are at least potentially threatening the livelihoods and culture of the ingroups due to resource competition and a history of violent conflicts and revenge attacks. The