Beyond the Canon of Liberal Democracy A Lesson from Gadaa for Consensual Democracy

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Zelalem T. Sirna


For Africa, consensual democracy is a custom than an alien concept. Consensus is an art and performances rooted in the African culture that awaits cultivation. This paper aims to uncover the fundamental limitations of the Western liberal democracy; and the vitality of African consensual democracy. It makes use of the primary data collected through in-depth interviews with Gadaa (an egalitarian political system in Ethiopia) leaders and councilors. The researcher has conducted field work among the Guji-Oromo of south Ethiopia and collected primary data through non-participant observation of the Gadaa General Assembly. This assembly takes place regularly once every eight years, for the period of seven consecutive days. The final day of the assembly is often marked with power transfer between the incoming and the outgoing Gadaa leaders. Analyzing the limitations of the Western liberal democracy, the paper proposes a ‘communitarian democracy’ – a move from an aggregate to consensual democracy. In particular, drawing lessons from the Gadaa system, the paper recommends seven procedural imperatives for the efficacy of consensual democracy in Africa and elsewhere: scaling, timing, social capital, adverse-inquisitive approach, structuring, duty first-rights second, and gender sensitivity. Finally, a concluding remark is also forwarded.

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How to Cite
T. Sirna, Z. (1). Beyond the Canon of Liberal Democracy. Gadaa Journal, 2(2), 89-104. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Zelalem T. Sirna, Salale University

Lecturer in Law at Salale University, Ethiopia