Traditional Criminal Procedure in Ethiopia
"'No modern legislation which does not have its roots in the customs of those whom it governs can have a strong foundation."
Haile Sellassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia DOWNLOAD FILE
In the decade 1955-1965 the Ethiopian government completely revolutionized its legal system by promulgating comprehensive legal codes and a new constitution.1 These laws have a predominantly Western flavor, and seem to bear little relation to the traditional patterns of life which still prevail in the Empire-one of the least "developed" areas of Africa. This state of affairs has led some to characterize the new codes as "fantasy law," which may serve to put a modern "face" on the country but, at least for some time to come, will not have any serious impact on the conduct of its affairs.2
Ethiopia's policy in regard to customary law does seem to have been remarkably negative. The codifiers apparently made no attempt to review existing written sources on the customary legal systems in operation throughout the Empire, much less to initiate or en courage systematic studies to supplement the scanty information available. Post-hoc justifications of this policy have been published
by some of the code drafters as well as by scholars. They range from denial that customary law really existed in Ethiopia, to negative comments on its changeability, lack of uniformity, incompleteness, obscurity, and low status. These commentators also point out that some customs have been incorporated into the new laws, or otherwise permitted to operate within the new legal framework, that uniformity of laws is necessary and desirable for a country as heterogeneous as Ethiopia, and, finally, that the abandonment of custom is not a serious worry because for a long time to come the codes will not be applied in large parts of the Empire.3 These circumstances raise two important questions: first, what was "the customary law" of Ethiopia which the codes changed, and, second, how have the new codes changed it, both "on paper" and in practice? In this article we shall attempt to answer only the first of these questions, with regard to the law of criminal procedure. Drawing mainly upon scattered secondary sources,4 we shall attempt to construct a model of Ethiopian customary criminal procedure.
This model will hopefully provide some basis for future research assessing the Ethiopian Criminal Procedure Code of 19615 in the light of this background