Accepted paper:

Age-sets as institutions of social control among the Bashada, Southern Ethiopia


Susanne Epple (Goethe-University Frankfurt/Main )

Paper short abstract:

In the West, social order is mainly maintained through law enforcement institutions, while in Africa, parallel to the formal system, other institutions enforce social order. This paper sheds light on the role of age-systems in East Africa in exercising social control and rehabilitating offenders.

Paper long abstract:

Many values underlying African conflict resolution mechanisms differ from those in the West, where punishment of a wrongdoer and protection of the society are prioritized. In many African contexts, the rehabilitation of a wrongdoer through the reconciliation of conflicting parties are most important, as peace is considered a precondition for the well-being of the whole society. To achieve these, local mechanisms and institutions have widely continued to exist parallel to the formal judicial systems imported from the West. Among the Bashada of Southern Ethiopia, one of such institutions is their age-system. One of its central functions is social control: members of the same age-set are accountable for each other's behaviour and responsible to sanction any wrongdoer among them. The emphasis of peer group responsibility has proven to be very effective in Bashada for two reasons. First, young men seem to respect but also to accept the sanctions of their age-mates more than those imposed by elders. Second, when age-mates publicly scold or whip their friend, they also urge him to return to socially accepted behaviour and to contribute to the good reputation of their age-set. In this way, group-solidarity is enhanced and wrongdoers given the chance to improve. The significance of peer groups for the socialization of adolescents has been widely recognized also in the West. However, their potentials to serve as more responsible agents in the socialization of adolescents, in social control among young adults and the rehabilitation of wrong-doers, deserves more recognition.

panel P203
Uncovering the merits of African approaches to foster democracy, human rights, and conflicts resolutions in Africa