Intangible Heritage for Peace Building in the Horn of Africa


In Conversation with Dr Kusum Gopal, UN Technical Expert

Q: Thank you very much for the fresh insights into our cultures, it gives us hope; we are from various countries of the Horn region. You lay great emphasis on the critical importance of intangible heritage, our region’s indigenous cultural traditions for removing poverty, for security of personhood and for peace-building. Please state again for our readers what is intangible heritage?

Certainly. The UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage and protecting cultural diversity 2003 is extremely relevant for our times.  For millennia, the Horn of Africa has nourished exceptionally rich and powerful traditions of conviviality, hospitality and tolerance, a template for embracing its intangible heritage, for peace building. We need to learn from, to appreciate and to disseminate such understandings for resolving innumerable disputes which torment humankind in various regions of the world. I am inclined to believe that an ethnographic blue print can be prepared for a pilot project with interventions to initiate dialogues and employ successful measures for conflict resolution, thereby supporting sustainable development, building local trust for good governance. To paraphrase the ICH Convention, Intangible Cultural Heritage constitutes the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. Thus, intangible cultural heritage can be recorded but cannot be touched or stored in physical form, embodied through self-expression and beliefs transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.Thus it includes, oral traditions and expressions; languages, symbols and behaviours;Performing arts; Social practices, rituals and festive events; Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe as also, traditional craftsmanship—all these aspects of human expression are regarded as vehicles of intangible cultural heritage which must be safeguarded in the interests of sustainable development.It must be mentioned that the democratic socio-cultural system, Gada of the Oromo has been inscribed on the UNESCO representative list last year, recognising the importance of indigenous knowledge.

Q: And, please give us other examples from the Horn Region.

Examples of intangible heritage? Well, for instance, let’s discuss, finaa,an important pre-colonial social institution, integral to culture of the Afar clans who have integrated with other communities in the Horn region and who like the Oromo’s Gadahave successfully relied upon of their traditional authorities for customary dispute settlement and, governing all other aspects of the social system including financial and livelihood support systems. As it is the unit that executes or enforces sanctions passed by clan leadership, it strengthens the authority of traditional leaders, the customary law (Afar-madaa) and Afar values guaranteeing peaceful relations not just within the communities herebut with all other communities. Also, what springs to mind is Erecha an ancient ritual ceremony witnessed recently performed by the High priestess on the shore of Lake Hora Arsedi, under a female Sycamore tree; it is said to renew spiritual energies – the environment, habitat of the ayana, the Waka, source of the indigenous life as we were informed. By the periodic enactment of the Erecha ritual, oral traditions/memory transmit ancestors’ wisdom and values; remembering and accessing, preserving, and transmitting ancient knowledge of etiquette farming, fishing, cattle rearing, weaving, and self-reliance from one generation to the next.  Most importantly, the Erecha ritual is inclusive, indeed, iterative, building on events through which Ethiopian devotees remember their histories of oppression in order to envisage a better life in the future experiences embodying knowledge of customs, of humanistic values for the preservation of region,the sanctity of personhood, communities and the environment- all of which is an embodiment, being Ethiopian. Similarly, another important indigenous form of learning is the Somali custom of Wadaado for priests, folk astronomy based on seasons for migration, but with instructions on timing of rituals to avert not just calamities from jinn and iftrit (spirit possession), but also applied for prophecies and healing. And, as in Ethiopia, the sophisticated forms of governance included financial institutions such as Iquib and Idir among the local communities which guaranteed security of livelihood and sharing of scant resources. There are innumerable examples shared by the communities, indeed, in every kebele!

Q: Yes, we do. Could we discuss specific understandings of our region with reference to Heritage? By our region we wish to include the entire Horn region.

This is indeed a rather challenging let’s consider, in parts. Firstly, it is critical to draw from the composite elements that have shaped the cultures of this region for over three thousand years; seek to understand their distinctive histories, belief systems, languages and communities,their sense of time, of the many calendars, of customs of social interaction, traditional medicines, of attire, of music, of dance, of literatures, proverbs folklore, and of cuisines. But above all, by recognising the diversity and untrammelled spirit of co-existence we will begin to see so many similarities that span millennia that constitute a shared Biblical Hebraic Orthodox heritage.As the scholar, Dr Ayele Bekerie quotes an ancient Amharic proverb, ‘Ishehye yebeltal kesheh which he translates as “to be agreeable is better than a thousand” illustrating how various communities and traditions coalesced, co-existed. For millennia Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been profoundly influenced by the indigenous philosophies, spiritual representations in these cultures underpinned by the region’s syncretic foundations. Take for example, the shared calendars which inform the pilgrimage of Zïqwala. Indeed, as Pankhurst has noted, these two pilgrimages occur side by side on the same occasions on different sides of the crater lake. The Oromo mainly attend the ceremony in the forest by the Sida stone, while the Amhara and some other groups including Guragé and Tigraway are devotees of the Tewahedo Church in the monastery. Although the two pilgrimages are in a sense distinct, in fact there is a remarkable degree of connectedness since they occur on the same mountain in close proximity on the same two annual days dedicated to Saint Abbo. Moreover, many adherents of the traditional Oromo religion also revere the Christian church, have children baptized on this occasion, follow the tabot round the Lake, buy tapers for the Church, receive blessings from priests, take home holy water, etc. Many of the Christian pilgrims likewise visit the stone seat and bed, some of them bowing to the stones and kissing them since they believe in their powers in a similar way to the Oromo worshipping of the Sida stone. in that two religions exist side by side, sometimes at close proximity and on the same occasion, with some mutual influences, but also that this co-existence in no way precludes rivalry and competition.

Expressively, it was to here, a Christian kingdom that Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) in 615 A D instructed his followers among whom included eminent personages such as Uthman and his wife, Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Ruqayah, Zubayr ibn Awwam, Mus’ab ibn Umayr, Abdurrahman ibn Awf, Abu Salama and his wife Umm Salama, to seek refuge from persecution by the Qurrayish in Mecca because the Aksum Empire was reputed to be a land of righteousness where no one was wronged. This flight of the Prophet’s followers was followed by more, thus Islam in Ethiopia is as old as the Hejaz region. Indeed, the sacred Negash Amedin Masjid is regarded as the second Mecca. The King gave land and protection to them upon arrival; he refused repeated requests from the Qurraysh who had pursued them to the return the followers. Indeed, it is believed that as a result the Prophet Muhammad declared exemption of this region from jihad–Utruku-al habasha ma tarakukum. Al-Habasha is the name applied in Arabic to the land and peoples of Ethiopia.

Recent scholarship discussing the Sahaba episode by Muhammad Sa’id Nawad’s Iritriyd, Tariq Al-Hijrdt, records the names of more than a hundred companions who emigrated in three successive waves.

Elsewherein the south, the settled communities helped the followers to transform a long winding limestone cave – Holqa Sof Omar caves near Oriomia region into a sacred site of Islam. To this day, Muslims in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia attach unique symbolic importance to what is known in early Islamic Tariqa as the hijra al-ula (first emigration) celebrating the inter-connectedness with the Hejaz.

Also, the Judaic Falashas helped to build Orthodox Christian places of worship; they shared a common culture, spoke the same languages and indeed, shared livelihoods; they also chant from the holy books written by Orthodox Christian scribes. Such millennial associations and collective experiences have created memories and valuable traditions. Thus, when the late Emperor Haile Selassie stated, “Ayer YE GAVA new hajjmanot ye gel new,” the nation is for all, religion is a private affair, he drew upon such critical episodes which remain reposed in the regional narratives.

Q; We are extremely proud to belong to this shared heritage and we appreciate the unique role of the Orthodox church. Can we discuss this more?

I am not a scholar of religion yet the relations between different traditions remain ebullient. It is clear that the belief systems and rituals of the Orthodox church rooted in the syncretic traditions made possible inclusive literary and oral methods of transmission; entire texts and translations came to be assimilated through local motifs just as the Scriptures themselves. Ethiopians were profoundly influenced by the Hejaz and Egypt, even writing their state and geography into Bible stories. The source of the Blue Nile became the Gihon, one of the four rivers that flowed from the Garden of Eden. The 14th century C.E. narrative of origins connected Ethiopia’s rulers to the Old Testament and repeated in the Kebra Negast. We know how the deep rootedness of the syncretic traditions within Tewahedo Church from historical evidence; Tewahedo means Union –the complete union of the Divine and Human Natures into One Nature to accomplish the divine salvation for individual believers and also, for humankind. Opposed to these Immanent tradition precepts, during the 16th centuries the Portuguese actively sought to enforce their Catholicism for half a century. However, the conversion of the Atse Sussenyos led to mass uprisings and his abdication-  European Christian Missionaries were banned for 350 years; there remained a deep mistrust of the ferenj or foreigners– gold was paid to the coastal communities to prevent missionaries from entering– illustrating the strong attachment to the immanent tradition in this region. Indeed, this was what prompted the Solomon Empire’s expansion to the Red Sea which began in earnest for greater protection of their heritage.

Interestingly, the linguist Zafer has elaborated on the East African influence in Biblical-Hebraic Orthodox Christianity and early Islam the Christological vocabulary in the Holy Qu’ran, for instance, he observes is in Ge’ez, an ancient language which has retained its pristine form and has not changed over time.So many common customs are shared by the three great religions such as lefafa sedeq by tying a parchment scroll to guide the body after death; or the tradition of wearing of amulets or hanging them on walls for protection by Muslims, Christians and Falasha Jews. Certainly, the distinctive lyricism and lexiconical expressions of the human condition—stages of love, of friendship and life itself reflect in the phonetics of Tizita, and of sacred ethos contained in  bati, ambassel, and anchihoy forms of music cherished widely in the entire Hornregion; devotional  expressions of sene qal sene tsehufy kine tibeb, senezema, and sene akal  Eskista dancing styles in Gojam, Gondar and Menjar,jumps of the Oromos, the chefaras of the Guarges, Hamars walking over bulls; great literary and aesthetic traditions, such as Zemma, Qene, and Semena Worq, oral traditions and so forth. Indeed, the guarded erudition of Temhertä Hebu’at or secret knowledge where the experience of the sacred and belief in magic is even today privileged over prosaic understandings of ‘religion’ founded upon the sacred doctrines of the Tewahedo Church;its profound hermeneutics in the exegesis and transmission of authoritative scripture cannot be underestimated. Such an immeasurably valuable shared syncretic heritage must be acknowledged as it contains the wherewithal for promising dialogues for unity, for co-operation, good governance and for prosperity.

Q: These connections make us confident about solutions for the Horn region on account of our shared heritage Dr Gopal, what other connections do you see?

I am impressed by the diverse reckoning of time, indeed as diverse as the Ethiopians the many calendars and the juggling of time systems. Ethiopian chronographers, it appears from scholarship managed to keep all these scales of time consistent with each other throughout the centuries. Most ancient cultures such as those of the Indian Subcontinent were guided by the moon and seasons- daily, weekly, monthly and yearly activities with a schedule of work, dietary restrictions, prayers, festivals, fasting as also to calculate, astronomical event of abeqte, a lunar cycle. Indeed, since 300 BC the Oromos have Gada system: A lunar-stellar calendar which relies on astronomical observations of the moon in conjunction with seven particular stars or constellations. Oromo months (stars/lunar phases) are Bittottessa (Iangulum), Camsa (Pleiades), Bufa (Aldebarran), Waxabajjii (Belletrix), Obora Gudda (Central Orion-Saiph), Obora Dikka (Sirius), Birra (full moon), Cikawa (Gibbous moon), Sadasaa (quarter moon), Abrasa (large crescent), Ammaji (medium crescent), and Gurrandala (small crescent).  And, in the south and northern regions of the Horn primacy is given to the Islamic calendar.

While the church determines the terrestrial and the spiritual rhythm of life, it choreographs ceremonial, and organisation of time continually which is seen to guarantee the longevity and strength of spirit of the Ethiopian nation. As I have also learnt, the Tewahedo conscription of time, Amate Mehret or Year of Mercy remains tied to the Zemene Firit Era of Creation established the Ethiopian calendar as both religious and civil. Interestingly, this region ‘s stubborn attachment to its own received truths is an aspect that distinguishes its culture, celebrating Christmas on 06 January; the small but extremely well integrated Ethiopian Catholic community celebrates Christmas at the same time as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  Some theologians believe that the Ethiopian way of counting time of the Incarnation is more accurate than the Gregorian Calendar. Rather than being seen as exclusively Christian, it is regarded as inclusive –sharing this “uniquely” Ethiopian time, a source of pride for the importance of the plurality of traditional institutions in peacemaking and governance. There may be numerous other ways of time reckoning in the country and they appear to have become incorporated into the collective sense of time. It also brings to mind what an Ethiopian scholar noted on the Millennium, Amaat or Isra Meet which embodied the ability of a people to define and control their time; those who control time, control their past; and those who control their past control the present and have vision for the future. There is a general consensus that what is being done is reasserting the honour (keber) of the community by honouring time. Honour complex, known in Amharic as keber includes patronage, hierarchy, affiliation, ceremonial behaviours such as homage, and maintaining spiritual purity, and a pride in ancient civilizations of the region, tentawi new.

Q: There has been for over three thousand years as you have rightly pointed out, uninterrupted” syncretic co-existence. We are not in agreement about colonial ethnic divisions which have caused separatist groupings based on religion, race and languages.  We say, qwanqa bəča bäqi aydälläm, one language is never enough! Could you discuss diversity continuing with insights into our heritage?

Yes, I agree. I am averse to using terms such as tribe or race- so much interbreeding of human populations makes it redundant usage and unscientific! Indeed, imposition of ethnic zones and other similar classifications in this region as also, the presumption of ethnicities, of tribes has been catastrophic. Undoubtedly such categories are rooted in Cartesian/Utilitarian logic derived from strains within European philosophies, as also, categories of race—anthropometry and narrow understandings of religion which imposed European ways of seeing, not just here but also, in rest of Africa, MENA region, as also, the Indian Subcontinent, indeed in all colonial territories.

Although lacking both local knowledge and the linguistic sensitivities, the intent of the colonial draftsmen/magistrateswas to promulgate a European demand for sameness/homogeneity which   invented taxonomies and separate identities while making these out to be natural differences. Denominations establishing typologies of inhabitants were formally institutionalised as Ordinances with their varying and controversial provisions. When we reflect upon these terms/denominations, the way they were produced, and how they were co-opted into official laws and the administrative infrastructure, the raison d’être for the ongoing conflicts originate here! Gaim Kibreab in his perceptive study notes that in Eritrea, the British government aimed at establishing states on the “basis of conscious affinities of ethnic similarities and economic interdependence. This was expected to result in “a notably homogeneous and compact unit of population…”But this was not possible because as Kibreab notes, the population in the Northern hills comprised a complex variety of groups of people which defied any attempt of classification based on livelihood, religion, ethnicity, etc. They included the Habab, Mensa, Maria, Béni Amer, and several other Tigrinya and Arabic speaking groups immersed in a synergetic, complementary, inter-dependent relationships and also, of livelihoods- communities adapted and interacted to share resources; there was also in the past no definitive pastoral sedentary divide or a fixed community. Thus, interchangeability, the amorphous nature of linguistic, religious identity, of community has been a feature of the Horn region.

Q: Could you give some examples please for the entire region?

Take for example Djibouti-the Afar clans of the north followed transhumance migration into largely Afar and Issa areas ofMäräb Melläsh (now Eritrea) and Ethiopia, while the Issa Somalis grazed into present-day Somalia. They were loosely grouped into several Sultanates whose combined territory ran from the shore of the Red Sea in the east to the foothills of the escarpment in the west, the Dire Dawa region in the south, and the vicinity of Massawa in the north. Incidentally, Märäb Melläsh region was bound by the Marab, Balasa and Muna rivers comprising the Kabasa which consisted of three provinces Hamasien, Saraye and Akkal Guzay along with the great port of Massawa– all shared the rich culture including common religions and political organisations which they shared with Ethiopia for over three thousand years.Thus, prior to Italian rule, highlanders speaking Tegrenna identified with their kin in the south in Ethiopiatravelling to other parts.“Ta Netjeru, Land of the Punt original name for Djibouti have traded with these neighbours as well as those across the Indian ocean and the Arabian Peninsula for centuries. Also, the bilad al-Barbarregion, now known as Somaliaencompassed the geographical area between the Bab el Mandeb and Cape Guardafui. Here, the  Darod and other clan families, the Isaaq (Dir), the Hawiye, and the Rahenweyne, part of the Adal and Mogadishu Sultanates, indeed, Gulf of Tajdoura had  established very sophisticated forms of governance with successful trading posts, for instance, Seylac and Berbera on the Gulf of Aden and Marka, Baraawe, and Mogadishu.

The extent of inter-dependence of the inhabitants of the Plateau, highlands and the lowlands with the south and the coast was so intimate and powerful it was difficult to distinguish between the various groups who utilised resources and territories in common. Customarily, all communities sent their sons in all directions from their region; their children were received without any difficulty and sometimes children and strangers surpass them in numbers as a contemporary traveller, Muntzinger noted of the Afar. There was no need amongst the communities here for boundaries and social mobility of the inhabitants made for fluidity of identities; other communities who moved into these areas such as Menafere and Hazowerta learnt local dialects and assimilated. Alsonomadic herders, pastoralists and agriculturists change livelihood status at will. The Rasahida who were from the Yemen came to the Sahel region and east Sudan where they graze as pastoralists and speak Arabic. Co-operation and social interaction were and still are sine quo non for survival requiring the development of intricate informal institutions and enforcement mechanisms not only to ensure sustainable use of scarce resources but also to avoid conflict over such resources or to solve such conflicts. The institutional development process regulating access to, and use of scarce resources between neighbouring groups resulted from complex and dense formal and informal negotiations, as well as long-term interactions. Importantly, people’s explicit recognition of all human conditions and the intimacy with their environment, their beliefs and their existence are woven into these physiological associations and cultures.

Q: Currently all our governments have ethnic zones and it remains a burning issue–as you say catastrophic! And, such divisiveness has been co-opted into our Constitutions.Can we discuss this?

Yes, there are very strong parallels with the ancient cultures of the Indian Subcontinent and its immanent syncretic tradition, the divisive legacy of the Utilitarian/ Cartesian Ordinances. The late Emperor Haile Selassie was a nationalist and wanted the entire region to unite and worked for agreements with Djibouti and, Eritrea. He opposed ethnic and racial classifications and nurtured Ethiopia’s unique cultural syncretism. Indeed, he has become the symbol for Ethiopia’s social and psychological integration as a nation, also inspired the African continent on account of his identification with the anti-colonial cause, his critical role in the founding of the OAU; indeed, also his promotion of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as a cultural bridge between Ethiopia and New World. And, he had lived through two world wars; he belonged to another era and, at the end was too frail to address the enormity of economic suffering which led to his overthrow ending 2000 years of the Solomonic dynasty which, given the Mengitsu regime that took over has not improved matters. We can begin with the Dergue regime which I think was forced to succumb to European classifications as the other regions surrounding Ethiopia were governed thus—political theatre and strategies! The 1992 Constitution for example, Article 39 of 1995 states explicitly: A ‘Nation, Nationality or People’ for the purpose of this Constitution, is a group of people who have or share large measure of a common culture or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identities, a common psychological make-up, and who inhabit an identifiable, predominantly contiguous territory. Thus, these divisions: Afar, Amhara, Benushangul- Gumuz, Gambela, Oromia Somali Southern Nations and Nationalities, Tigray Harari and two cities of Addis Ababa and   Dire dawa, all this contained within 68 zones and 550 woredas classified  as eighty ethno-linguistic groups, the four largest deemed officially as Oromiffa, Amhara, Somali, and Tigrayans. Indeed, as one scholar has noted, it was indeed a paradox that when the Dergue decided to revitalise ‘ethnicity’, it was the Southern region that refuted outright such policy and resistance remains strong here; their role in the daily challenge to the politics of ethnicity can hardly be over-estimated.  He notes further, this region is the glue that has kept Ethiopia from falling apart.  We can discuss later with reference to recent developments.

Similarly, in Djibouti, the remarkable scholarship of Bezabeh and Imbert- Vier has shown how the emergence of ethnic identification, its use was created by French rule– colonial administrative chronology. The French established through Ordinances fixed ethnic identities and, shaped the divide between the communities. Afar who comprised 40% of the population were privileged over the Issa Somalis and other Arabic speaking clans who were 60%; their sophisticated forms of governance by Sultans and cultural institutions by Sultans was wiped out by French in 1883 who also tricked the Emperor who had been promised Obock. Certainly, it was very difficult for the local populations; there was resistance to their rule and the Somalis were marginalised further. At the threshold of independence in 1977, Djibouti wasembroiled in bitter strife between the three main ethnic communities, namely the Afar, the Arabs, and the Issa Somali. Various claims were put forward as to whose nation this was, who constituted the majority, and who should be in power: it proved impossible to achieve a political and organisational consensus! Thus, French rule had successfully divided the Afar, the Issa Somalis and others. These representations establish the access rights to the country’s resources. Encouraged by France’s favouritism towards one ethnic group, the gradation of citizenship in what was then referred to as the Côte Françoise des Somalis started as soon as politics was introduced in the domain of the sujet Françoise. Throughout the territory’s colonial history France supported first the Arabs and then the Afars, and this eventually led to discourses of expulsion by those who were marginalized. This practice of calling for the expulsion of those who are favoured started with the first election for the conseil représentatif in 1946. Bezabeh notes that the sovereign power of the Djiboutian state through the Nationality Law allows the marginalization of its citizens; graduated citizenship emerges both from the practice of ethnic discrimination and also as a result of the Nationality Law. But as the scholars have argued, these two elements should not be viewed as separate, as they overlap considerably. An experienced Issa politician, Hassan Gouled, became President, but despite his calls to abandon ethnic differences in the early months of independence his government actively discriminated against the minority population. Notably, the national representation built within the single governing party explicitly includes representatives of different national groups the same way the colonial administration did.By the time of Djibouti’s independence in June 1977, 3,000 Ethiopians of Issa Somali ethnic origin had already fled into the country from villages along the railway between the border and Dire Dawa. Within six months the number of refugees had grown to 8,000, three-quarters of whom were accommodated in primitive camps near the towns of Ali Sabieh and Dikhil. By the middle of 1980, when the Ogaden conflict had flared up again, the refugee population totalled 42,000, over 10 per cent of the country’s inhabitants. These tensions continue, the Frud revolt of the 1990s mirrored the enormity of people’s suffering. As Bezabeh notes further, another application of identity categories occurred in 2003 with the expulsion from Djiboutian territory of 80,000 refugees called foreigners in irregular situation, nearly 15 percent of the country‘s inhabitants. The Djiboutian identity, djiboutienneté invokesa national, and not ethnic, identity, but it is window dressing; the expulsions continue and the initial attribution of Djiboutian citizenship continues to be determined on the basis of criteria elaborated during colonial times. Clearly there is a persuasive need to resuscitate traditional forms of governance and conviviality, co-opt these customs into inclusive Nationality Laws.

Q: As Somalis we are particularly distressed by the current label of failed state. Also, piracy in the high seas and the bad press we get. What solutions can be offered to improve this situation in keeping with our heritage?

It took three hundred years for nation states to evolve naturally in Europe and even today the Westphalian state is still being negotiated. In Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and the MENA region moral fault lines were drawn by Europeans within weeks without consulting people by dispassionate cartographers fragmenting people and alienating them from their genealogies and their shared heritage; indeed, the way people related to each other particularly of livelihoods and sharing of resources. Professor Asiwaju’s for example, shows that 103 international African boundaries cut through a total of 131 communities; Some of these groups are partitioned by more than one boundary. Undoubtedly, the destruction of the heimat of this region is the root cause for not just perennial conflicts and militarisation, but also for the grinding poverty, loss of livelihoods and governance.

In my view the nation state cannot be thrust onto people or populations especially when sophisticated, indigenous institutional forms of governance have gradually evolved and thrived for over three thousand years from the Red sea to northern Kenya. Let’ s begin with the various Sultanates during the 16th century – Ajuran Sultanate, the Adal Sultanate, the Warsangali Sultanate, the Sultanate of the Geledi and the Majeerteen Sultanate.The populations of Afar Somalis, Beja, Gallo, Dir, Hawiye and other communities were mainly engaged in pastoralism, agriculture with very successful trade both in Berbera, Gulf of Aden and other parts. They enjoyed great freedom, under this governance with communities assisting each other. The scholar Ebraib mentions the most important mechanism for post-crisis herd recovery is called iribu, a permanent gift of any species and of either sex, although female stock is usually preferred for the regeneration of the herd. It would be unusual for an Afar to fail to find such assistance, failure to provide assistance to others in turn can be severely sanctioned. As an ethnographer has noted — Elders are responsible for enforcing the rules of iribu and ensuring that the appropriate assistance is provided from the appropriate donor. We give help to the people who are poorer. What a man doesn’t need for his house, he shares with the poor man . . . We punish people who don’t give help. We tie them up and also we kill his cattle … If he refuses, we punish him. The punishment is called dinto seeasan. Ayrana is the slaughtering of his cattle, Dubukiria, Bargile.

Also, it must be stated that the influence of Islam was marginal among the nomadic pastoralists, they valued warrior like qualities although they venerated saints.  Here the main influences had been  Daraawish  inspired Sufism  derived from Ash’ariyah theology, Shafi’i jurisprudence. The  oldest being the Qadiriyah, the Idrisiyah, and the Salihiyah tariqas; within the Horn region Oromo and Afar and other communities were followers belonging to the jama’ah of one or the other of these orders; Daraawish or Dervishes wandered through the region singing and preaching mystical  beliefs, veneration of saints and also helping with agricultural practices. Thus, interpersonal linkages between communities existed in the Horn region. We know with the purchase of Assab by the Italians and the creation of Djibouti by the French and the British occupation of the Gulf of Aden the forms of polity introduced were coercive and discriminatory of the local populations who were pitted against each other. It was not surprising thator  Hajji Hafiz Sayyid Muhammad `Abd All?h al-Hasan  of the Salihiyya brotherhood spearheaded a twenty year  guerrilla war against the British and called for a united Somalia. His father was from the Ogadeni clan, and his mother was Dhulbahanta. Indeed, he was a poet and regarded today as a nationalist stating that the British “have destroyed our religion and made our children their children.” His wife Hasna Doreh was also a commander of his Daraavish army. Another one of his poems which I have been reading and here it is—I have no forts, no houses, no country. I have no cultivated fields, no silver or gold for you to take — all you can get from me is war, nothing else. I have met your men in battle and have killed them. We are greatly pleased about this. Our men who have fallen in battle have won paradise. God fights for us. We fight by God’s order. If you wish war I am happy; if you wish peace I am also content. But if you wish peace, go away from my country to your own. If you wish war, stay where you are! Such sentiments remain and urgently need to be reflected upon and peaceful solutions found for this region.

British Somaliland, (like Eritrea), had a colonial origin that was separate from that of Italian Somaliland, both of which constituted the Republic of Somalia at independence in 1960. The problems lay largely in the abysmal failure to consider the practical problems posed by an amalgamation of British and Italian administrative styles and methods, in areas such as taxation, judicial activity, local administration, and even the language of government. Thus Somalia from its conception as a nation state inherited an appalling fragile political structure which sealed its fate. How could a nation state ever take root? President Siad Barre’ s scientific socialism attempted to improve matters; he argued it was in keeping with the Holy Qu’ran and religious sentiments. But as there were no changes done to the colonial infrastructure, none of the serious issues could be resolved. In a critical way, the collapse of the Barre government and the genocide which followed adversely affected the UN peace mission. UN Security Council Resolution 733 and UN Security Council Resolution 746 led to the creation of UNOSOM I, the first mission to provide humanitarian relief and help restore order in Somalia after the dissolution of its central government. United Nations Security Council Resolution 794 approved a coalition of United Nations peacekeepers in 1992. But in 1995 UNOSOMII had to cease operations. There is an imperative need to re-investigate the past colonial enterprise in the region—and its pernicious legacy needs to be discussed publicly and consensus from the local populations on the forms of governance that would be agreeable to them. There is also an even more urgent need to address matters of livelihood and security of personhood- resuscitate indigenous pre-colonial institutions that had worked well for good governance.

Q: The high influx of refugees into Ethiopia and neighbouring regions from Eritrea continues. As an Eritrean I feel disturbed by the politics in my country? What solutions can there be?

We need to recognise how the artificial creation of Eritrea by the Italians after their defeat at Adwa, a battle that inspired the resistance to colonization in many parts of the world in time has separated Eritreans from their own millennial syncretic heritage, their ties to other Ethiopian communities and, the Horn region. By the end of Italian rule Eritreans were divided into two main camps – those who sought unconditional union with Ethiopia under slogan of “Ethiopia or Death” and those who campaigned for unconditional independence, with a minor group in between opting for conditional union. During the thirty years’ war (1961-1991), many Eritreans found themselves torn between the Ethiopian identity that they had either inherited from their parents or had been imposed on them by the Ethiopian ancestry, a matter that cannot be easily unresolved.

The British Military Administration’s military infrastructure which Eritrea has re-activated. Despite its small population Eritrea hosts largest militaries on the African continent Kibreab notes in active duty, with another 200,000 in militarised work and 120,000 strong reserve army; it is the highest producers of refugees as a percentage of the population. Since 1991, the meanings of self-reliance, scholars note has become integrated with militarisation, forced conscription and servitude to the nation; all citizens have to participate in order to identify themselves as a people and a nation. As Rignall observes, it has led to encampment, enclosure and mass imprisonment, in the face of waning sovereignty. The forced conscription of all able bodied men and women since 1994 explicitly combining military training, developmental labour and political “education– including the shaping of other institutions,” hierarchies, identities, and narratives in ways that legitimate military action. “All citizens work for  pittance to fulfil the labour needs of government-directed development projects, from the building of roads, to the digging of trenches at the contentious Ethiopian and Djiboutian borders. Kibreab states that since 2002 the Warsay-Yike’alo Development Campaign (WYDC) preoccupation with building walls and barriers has increased the refugee influx. This narrative of “self-reliance” and associated policies were core elements of the nationalist framework for self-determination throughout the struggle for independence

This goes against the  lifestyle and belief systems, the Orthodox regard Aksum as their spiritual home and,  the Muslims, Negash. Eastern Eritrean Muslim traditions recall and still venerate Faqzh Muhammad, the Hijazi cleric responsible for the initial spread of Islam among their societies; there is  the upsurge manifested itself in the activities of Sufi brotherhoods deepening Islamic practices and piety. But none of these are allowed to be expressed. In all instances, there has been a gross violation of human rights abuses and, poverty and loss of livelihoods has caused immeasurable suffering. An increasingly militarised world magnifies the challenge of inculcating the values of non-violence and effective problem-solving.

The  border tensions need to be addressed urgently, Indeed, the government has isolated itself as it fiercely protects its territorial status with a discourse that runs against history contending that Eritrea had a separate and independent history of its own even prior to its creation by Italian colonialism, Nevertheless it has appropriated the Ethiopian victories against Egyptians in 1875 & 1876 Italians in 1887 on what was then Märäb Melläsh; they are now seen as Eritrean victories by General Ras Alulawho was Ethiopian. Thus, politics of attrition needs to be resolved through dialogue that would benefit not just Eritrean government and the people but also Ethiopia with whom they share the rich millennial heritage, communities, indeed, strong ties.

The conversation with Dr Kusum Gopal took place in London and those who took part in it, include Zaidyn Sikainga, Aamiina Faarax Caydiid, Bekele Habtom, Garem Afewerki, Abisimil Khalif Ghedi and Chanday-Gladness Warsama

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Dr Kusum Gopal

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