Gadaa: An Oromo Democracy and the Symbol of Oromo Civilization

By Anga’a Dhugumaa     |  September 11, 2012


In this section, I will attempt to give a summary of the Gadaa System as revised by Makoo Bilii about five hundred years ago.


Gadaa is an Oromo social, political and economic order. It is a symbol of Oromo unity, and love among the Oromos. It is a democratic system of government that symbolizes Oromo civilization. Gadaa governs the beliefs of the Oromos. It controls the religion (Qaalluu) institution, too.


The Oromo people grouped themselves into five parties. These parties are: RoobaleeDuulooBirmajiiMichilleeand Horata. They are named after a phenomenon or whatever occurred during the governance of one particular party. For example, Roobalee was named after rain. The fact that it rained heavily is indicated by the phrase “theRoobalee and its bountiful rain” (Yaa Roobalee ya roobashii)Duuloo was named after preparation for war. The fact that the Oromos prepared a big war is indicated by the phrase “Duuloo and the preparation of war” (Duuloo qophessa duulaa)Birmajii was named after happy festival and dance. The Oromos had happy time and phrased this as “Birmajii and its happy dances” (Ya Birmajii ya sirbashii)Michillee was named after war victory. Oromos had great victory over their enemy and showed this by the phrase “Michillee the best friend of war” (Ya Michillee nichuu duulaa)Horata is remembered and was named after years of excellent cattle breeding. These good years were phrased as “Horata and the feeling” (Ya Horata maal godhataa). The names of the five Gadaa parties are indicated in the below figure as supplementary to the above description.

Each party takes power from one another after every eight years. Nevertheless, the Gadaa parties overlap with each other for four years before transfer of power. Hence, new comers are in office alone only for the last four years of their term. The outgoing party stays with the incoming party for the first four years, as an advisor. However, the advisors have no power of decision-making whatsoever. The same tempo cycle repeats itself whenever a new party takes over after every eight years. From the above statements, it is understandable that one party stays in office for a total of twelve years. This is to say that a party stays in office for eight years with power, and for additional four years without power as an advisor.

At the same time, as one Gadaa party leaves office, the peoples’ militias are promoted to the next Gadaa grade. This action automatically eliminates the power of the outgoing party. Thanks to the formula of Makoo Bili, there is no possibility of coup d’etat.

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