Indigenous Management System (IMS) – Insights from the Ethiopian Qero Management System


An “indigenous management system” (IMS) – in reference to the Ethiopian Qero management system over the Gaussa-Menz – is a collaborative and participatory form of environmental sustainability and conservation practice led by local indigenous groups within a state. It involves the creation of an inclusive indigenous regulatory framework for environmental and food governance, over a presiding resource or biodiversity system. While the basic framework of an indigenous management system is generalizable, it is context dependant and conforms to local historical, social-cultural, political-economic, and ontological contexts. Not to be confused with “resource co-management,” IMS involves the institutionalization of indigenous governance and direct indigenous collaborative deliberation over land-use, practice, and distribution by effected community members. It builds off of longstanding traditional cultural practices, knowledge and ‘adapts’ them to the contemporary realities of the resource in question and the communities involved to create a more non-antagonistic, inclusive, and effective environmental regulation.

Problems and Purpose

There has been renewed interest in indigenous led forms of resource management and environmental conservation by policy practitioners and as outlined in the background papers for the United Nations post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. This has coincided with an increase in visibility – largely through the efforts of independent media, scholars, activists, and NGOs – of indigenous led social movements to re-appropriate resources and trusteeship, from corporations and governments, over the environments in which they live and depend. Given the realities of indigenous sovereignty within states, methods that allow indigenous communities to deliberate and form regulatory controls/institutions based on local knowledge, tradition, history, social-cultural, and political-economic contexts, become necessary for effective democratic and environmental governance.

In the case of Ethiopia, parties traditionally involved over the management of the Guassa-Menz under the Qero system, unanimously appointed a headman to act as a regulatory overseer (Ethiopians refer to as the Abba Qera or Afero). Resource usage was sub-divided amongst ‘parishes’, each of whom had a representative whom consulted with the headman. Both socialism and the liberalization of the Ethiopian economy resulted in ineffective regulatory land tenure and environmental framework, leading to degradation, corruption and large scale land grabs. Responding to these contemporary developments, the Qero system – as an IMS – has evolved into the representative Conservation Council Committee – comprised of women, elders, youth, and religious/spiritual leaders – with nine peasant associations. Each position is subject to immediate democratic removal. Through this indigenous management system they collectively implement regulatory bylaws and resource use rules that reflect local conditions (ex, when to end the use of grassland for grazing or determining the length of the agricultural season which is relative to crop harvest rates). Since 2012 the indigenous management system has been recognized by the Ethiopian state and Ethiopian law, allowing the Committee to set significant legal and financial reparations for violations of indigenous environmental regulation.


The Gaussa-Menz central highlands in Ethiopia, once subjected to the Astme Irist and Qetro indigenous management systems, became subject to a socialist public land-tenure regime through the 1975 Agrarian Reform Act. This caused significant environmental degradation and inefficient local production rates. The new state-centred system bureaucratized land management by introducing nine farmers associations, resulting in corruption, open competition, and inefficient environmental regulation. Despite this, the Qetro indigenous management system ‘modernized’ their governance structure under the title “the Guassa Conservation Council Committee.” There are now nine Kebeles (peasant associations) that elect representatives, each of whom is a local descendent of the Gero or Asbo, and the Committee is composed of the Kebeles, an elder women/man, a youth and women representative, and a spiritual leader. The inclusion of women in the indigenous management system is a significant shift that overcomes the longstanding 17th century practice of confining women to homesteads rather than out in the Gaussa-Menz. The Ethiopian government, in supporting the policy capacity of indigenous Gaussa communities to manage their grassland resources and environmental-animal biodiversity, implemented legal guarantees for indigenous management over the Guassa-Menz by the Conservation Council Committee in 2012. The region is now formally recognized as the Guassa-Menz Community Conservation Area.  Following this, in 2013 these indigenous conservation efforts were recognized with the Mountain Protection Award and the UNDP Equator Prize. This model of IMS has become the norm for local environment regulatory practices in Ethiopia. 

Participant Selection

Committee membership has to be sensitive to local population demographics and traditional practices; it therefore cannot be comprised of ‘outside experts’ or centralized state government officials. It is, by definition, an indigenous led regulatory process informed by indigenous knowledge, customs, seasonal cycles, and membership. This does not mean that IMS are anti-state cooperation, as this was not the case in Ethiopia. Participant inclusion in IMS is based on the populations of the affected resource or biodiversity system in question; this also extends to the number of representatives and those who sit on the Committee. All members of the community are expected to participate in the deliberative selection and regulatory discussion processes (ex, farmers need to report harvests to better determine end-season regulation). 

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

The process by which representatives and Committee members are selected is through direct deliberation by everyone in the effected community – in the Guassa-Menz for example participation in matters concerning environmental governance is mandatory, it is seen as a duty as member of a community.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

IMS in the case of the indigenous Gero and Asbo over the Gaussa-Menz grasslands in the Ethiopian highlands has resulted not only in formal state legal-policy recognition, but the creation of a quantifiably more effective environmental and resource regulatory and management system than was previously implemented at the state level (UNDP, 2012 and Ashenafi, 2016).

Analysis and Lessons Learned

In the case of the Gaussa-Menz in Ethiopia, participation amongst those most affected – within an IMS framework – literally determined the management effectiveness of the Conservation Council Committee. Through IMS processes, those who would have been excluded from policy planning/implementation, or at best designated a subordinate role to experts and state officials, are given exclusive participatory control. The potentials for IMS in other geographic and political contexts in which indigenous voices are being marginalized from policy or there is an ineffective exclusionary environmental regulatory system, in Africa and beyond, is significant. However, the success of IMS also depends on the willingness of the state to relinquish forms of control and to formally increase policy capacities of local indigenous communities (through instruments like law).

Secondary Sources

David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, Patterns of Commoning (Commons Strategy Group and Off the Commons Press, 2015).

Menz-Gaussa Community Conservation: National Resource Management Video, Equator Initiative (2014).

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Guassa-Menz Community Conservation Area: Local sustainable development solutions for people, nature, and resilient communities, Ethiopia” Equator Initiative Case Study Series (New York, 2012).

Zelealem Tefera Ashenafi, “The Resilience of an Indigenous Ethiopian Commons,” Counterpunch (October 2016).

Zelealem Tefera Ashenafi and Nigel Leader-Williams, “The Resilient Nature of Common Property Resource Management Systems: A Case Study from the Guassa Area of Menz, Ethiopia,” Assessed Online, October 30th 2016

Zelealem Tefera Ashenafi and Nigel Leader-Williams, “Indigenous Common Property Resource Management in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia,” Human Ecology, 33 (2005),  pp. 539-563.

Zelealem Tefera, “Guassa Community Conservation: Sub-Saharas Oldest Community Conservation Area,” Afroplane Ecosystem Conservation Project.

External Links Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority


By Paul Emiljanowicz, McMaster University


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