The Politics of Symbols The Incorporation of Gadaa Symbols into State Constitutional Rhetoric in Oromia, Ethiopia

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Dejene Gemechu Chala
Jira Mekonnen Choroke


This article discusses the incorporation of Gadaa symbols into state political symbols in the context of the post-
1991 Ethiopian federal system. The Gadaa system is an indigenous socio-political system of the Oromo,
inscribed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2016. We employed a qualitative
research approach to collect data through interviews, observations, and document analysis. Thematic content
analysis is used for data analysis. The findings show that one of the Ethiopian federal units, Oromia National
Regional State (ONRS), has incorporated symbols and terminologies of the Gadaa system into its state
constitutional rhetoric to solicit popular legitimacy from the Oromo. However, the incorporation is often
criticized for simply promoting the symbols alone without regard for the basic principles enshrined in the
Gadaa system. In other words, Gadaa symbols have been used more for the public impression they create than
for any meaningful material or political benefits the people draw from their use. Thus, the use of Gadaa
terminologies and symbols has not brought about the much-expected outcomes in pacifying the grievances of
the people and ensuring peace and stability in the region. Political parties have used the same symbols to
contend for their respective political agendas and interests. Finally, this study shows the promotion of the
system and its symbols is part of the post-Cold War retraditionalisation endeavours common elsewhere in the
world and more noticeably in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, the retraditionalisation process entails the invention,
reconstruction, and politicisation of the meanings and symbols of the system .

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How to Cite
Gemechu Chala, D., & Mekonnen Choroke, J. (2022). The Politics of Symbols. The Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences and Language Studies (EJSSLS), 9(2), 3-18. Retrieved from
Author Biographies

Dejene Gemechu Chala, Jimma University

College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Department of Social Anthropology, Jimma University

Jira Mekonnen Choroke, Jimma University

College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Department of Social Anthropology, Jimma University