Beyond the Individualization of Punishment: Reflections on the Borana Oromo’s Collective Criminal Responsibility

  • Aberra Degefa Nagawo
Keywords: Borana, clan, collective responsibility, crime, Guma


The article mainly looks at the role collective responsibility plays in the prevention of crime among the Borana Oromo of Ethiopia. Borana is a clan-based society where every member of a clan enjoys privileges and is given protection by his (her) clan. The clan provides support to its member when it is needed, and assumes responsibility when a member commits crime. If a member of a clan commits homicide, Guma is paid by the perpetrator’s clan to the clan from which a member has been killed. The objective of this article is to examine the underlying philosophy for the principle of collective responsibility and the merits of the principle in preventing crime among the Borana. The philosophy differs from that of the formal criminal justice system, where crime is individualized and the individual is answerable for the crime he commits. The article is based on the interviews the author has made from 2012-2014 with Borana elders during fieldwork to the area and review of the relevant literature. As it is part of the cultural values of the society and suitable for the clan-based and pastoralist Borana society, the practice of collective responsibility cannot easily be dismissed by forcibly imposing individual responsibility.