Period: 22 September - 9 December 2003. Country: Ethiopia
(1) Activities of Indigenous Organizations to Form Public Spaces in Modern Ethiopian Society: A Study on the Gurage Road Construction Organization and Burial Associations
NISHI Makoto  (Division of African Area Studies)
Key Words: Public Spaces, Indigenous Organizations, Civil Society, Social Development, NGOs

Former headquarters of the Gurage Road Construction Organization

A bridge and part of a road constructed by the organization

Agenna High School, constructed by one of the clan committees
(2) Past and contemporary studies on public spaces in Africa tend to delineate the inarbitrable antagonism between the state and ethnic groups, and thus assert that the installation of strong civil societies is inevitable for making societies in Africa more stable. Through my study on indigenous organizations in Ethiopia I have tried to understand their activities as people's projects to form and maintain public spaces premised on their own historical experiences. The experience of the Gurage Roads Construction Organization (GRCO), which has been active since 1962, is the center of my study, and I examine its relationship with iddir (burial organizations), the most pervasive form of indigenous organizations in Ethiopia.

(3) Through interviews with active members of GRCO and through a review of primary and secondary documents, I have been able so far to reconfigure its activities as follows;

  1. GRCO was established by successful fano or Gurage immigrants to Addis Abeba who established themselves as bureaucrats or merchants. In addition to making their own financial contributions, fano leaders lobbied government institutions for technical support for road construction and called for political support by traditional clan leaders.
  2. GRCO has a modern administrative structure based on written regulations. The organization is supported by seven committees, each corresponding to one of the "seven clans" that constitute traditional Gurage society. Clan committees in turn are supported by many iddir.
  3. In recent years GRCO has tried to establish links with NGOs working in Ethiopia. The organization itself is adopting a typical NGO form by employing young project managers who pursued development studies at foreign institutions.

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