Blood Feud in North Shäwa: Exploring the Contradiction Between the Customary and State Criminal Justice System

  • Zelalem Tesfaye Sirna
  • Eshetu Yadeta Temesgen
Keywords: Blood feud, criminal justice system, gumaa, North Shäwa High Court


The objective of this paper is to explore the contradiction between the customary and state criminal justice systems under the rubric of the Ethiopian criminal justice system by taking the case of blood feud induced homicide cases tried at North Shäwa Zone High Court of Oromia Regional State. It examines the practice of blood feud induced homicide cases tried and adjudicated in the High Court vis-à-vis the gumaa system. To address the objective, the paper employed in-depth interviews with key informants. Review of court cases, relevant laws and literature was also made. The paper finds that revenge killing is a common phenomenon in the study areas and its mitigation requires a different approach than reliance on the formal criminal justice system alone. It also finds that the gumaa system has the capacity to discontinue the vicious cycle of blood feud induced homicide, and in areas where the gumaa system is intact, the rate of revenge killing is low. Thus, it has indicated that the councils of elders and the gumaa system play an indispensable role in restoring and sustaining social harmony and peace to the community. However, there is a lack of legal framework that integrates and/or accommodates the gumaa system into the formal justice system. As a result, the relation between the judiciary and the gumaa system in relation to blood feud induced homicide exhibits competition as well as cooperation. And yet, a legislation that recognizes customary criminal justice system alone may not fully complement the criminal justice system. Therefore, legal actors such as judges, prosecutors, legal counselors and police officers should consider the gumaa systems in their jurisdictions.