(2010) JLP 62: 43-70
This article explores the ‘law and development’ movement’s controversial impact in Ethiopia through the involvement of American law professors such as A. Arthur Schiller in the struggle between modernization and traditionalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Elsewhere in Africa there were efforts to improve the administration of law by producing restatements of customary indigenous law, but Ethiopia had opted for wholesale modernization of its legal system. Because it was claimed that the Ethiopian law reform had led to the nullification of law, Schiller attempted to produce a restatement of customary indigenous land law in order to show the viability of traditional law.
These two contradictory trends, modernization and traditionalism, are presented against the background of the intellectual currents of normative pluralism and colonialism. Schiller’s work was based on the premise that legal pluralism would be the future of African law. The Ethiopian codification recognized customary law only in the norms of land tenure, which Schiller used as a pretext for his project to demonstrate that law reform based on the utilization of traditional law was possible and would successfully correct the nullification of law in rural areas.
In the end, all legal reforms were made redundant by the 1974-1975 socialist revolution in Ethiopia. The legacy of Schiller is in the development of legal pluralism. He attempted to chart a course between the subjection of indigenous law to the state legal system and its irrelevance by advocating autonomy and development within the traditional legal culture.