The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

Competing Muslim legacies along city/countryside dichotomies: another political history of Harar Town and its Oromo rural neighbours in Eastern Ethiopia  *

Thomas Osmond 

French Centre for Ethiopian Studies, P. O. Box 554, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Between the Middle East and Eastern Africa, the city of Harar is often considered as the main historical centre of Islam in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Until recently, the cultural hegemony of the Muslim elites inhabiting Harar was commonly opposed to the almost pagan behaviours of the Oromo – or ‘Galla’ – farmers and cattle herders living in the wide rural vicinity of the town. The 1995 Constitution provided the different ‘ethnolinguistic nationalities’ of the new Ethiopian federation with the same institutional recognition. However, the institutionalisation of the two Harari and Oromo ‘nationalities’ seems to foster the historical duality between the city-dwellers and their close neighbours. This article proposes another political history of Harar and its ambivalent Oromo partners through the local dynamics of the Muslim city/countryside models. It reveals the both competing and complementary orders that have probably bound together the populations of Harar and its rural hinterland for more than five hundred years.




*  This paper is the result of the inquiries developed in an interdisciplinary research programme called Writing History in the Horn of Africa (13th–21st centuries): Texts, Networks and Societies, founded by the French National Agency for Research (ANR).