Following a 2018 spate of inter-communal violence, which has so far displaced 800,000 people in the Gedeo-West Guji Zones of Ethiopia, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency has succeeded in bringing the warring parties and their officials together for a discussion on statutory peace building.
According to IOM, Aba Gedas are highly respected “cultural leaders” in the Oromia region and Gedeo Zone in Ethiopia. The talks focused on how future conflicts could be prevented and improving social cohesion in Gedeo-West Guji and familiarising community actors with components of statutory peace building.
It is already being said that after the situation improved, and some peace was restored, both were due to cultural reconciliation led by the Aba Gedas. Many of the displaced persons have returned to their hometowns.
However, despite the peace and reconciliation process, concerns are still mounting on how to prevent such internal displacement from recurring.
The IOM peace building meeting which took place on August 24 in Shashemene, Ethiopia, was funded by the UN Peace Building Fund (PBF). The event may be considered historic as it brought together both sides, with six Aba Gedas (three from each zone) alongside four Hadha Siqes (respected peacemaker mothers) who sat at one table to discuss ways to strengthen the peace initiatives that began five months ago.
The head of Aba Gedas from Gedeo Zone, Denbobe Mare, speaking on the timeliness and significance of the meeting said, “this workshop is a platform that has brought children of the same father under one tree for discussion. Such initiatives could help us to iron out challenges which could prevent our peace building efforts.”
Challenges discussed were highlighted by the Aba Gedas from both sides, while emphasizing the need for integrated efforts from both Aba Gedas and the Zonal Attorney Offices. The Aba Gedas confirmed that they are willing to counsel one another on mutual issues, and co-chair meetings when conflicts arise.
One of the Aba Gedas, affirming their continuous commitment to this, even after their terms end said, “what we agreed here together should be followed through by the Aba Gedas when our eight years of leadership are over, and we are replaced by our successors.”
The government of Ethiopia requested IOM’s participation through the Ministry of Peace to support peace building initiatives. Consequently, the UN agency organised these talks through a project known as Inclusive Governance and Conflict Management Support to Ethiopia. Traditional conflict resolution involving respected community figures is one approach the organisation is actively supporting within the two zones.
IOM continues to support affected populations in both areas with humanitarian assistance. Such assistance includes the construction of transitional shelters, the distribution of reintegration kits, improving water and sanitation facilities, alongside the provision of health services.