Abbink, Jan. “The Elusive Chief: Authority and Leadership in Surma Society, (Ethiopia)”

Abbink, Jan
Published On
January 24, 2023
Original Date

Abbink,Jan. “The Elusive Chief: Authority and Leadership in Surma Society, (Ethiopia)”.In Rouveroy Van Nieuwaal, Emile Adriaan Benvenuto Van, And Rijk Van Dijk, African Chieftaincy in A New Socio-Political Landscape. (1999).

Abbink examines the aspects of changes in patterns of local leadership in 20th Century Ethiopia and argues that there is a growing interest in chiefs as they are perceived to be a medium of social and political change in many African societies. This change according to Abbink is problematic and contradictory because of a shift towards democratization and breakdown of central state power which is followed by change in autocratic elite rule. Abbink argues that within these two processes, there has always been the resurgence of local traditions of chieftaincy in varied forms. In southern Ethiopia, the local administration is an alliance of two types of elders - highland rulers and indigenous chiefs or ritual leaders who represent the ethnic communities. These local leaders have always been the carriers of real local authority. Once Haile Selassie introduced reforms for regional and local administration, the appointed chiefs (highland rulers) became government liaison men, who were conduits of government policies and schemes that were deemed unpopular. They did not have authority over the local populace but had more leverage among Haile Selassie’s administration. The Surma area was deemed both culturally and geographical remote and had limited economic value. These characteristics enabled them to be elusive and do away with state intrusions.

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