Abstract: Resolution of disputes and investigation of institutions that have attempted to right the wrongs (some of which have persisted for centuries) regarding pastoralists’ property rights over indigenous water sources in East Africa have rarely been the subject of formal study. Using a framework of water property rights, hereafter konfi, we report on contestations over rights to the ancient tula wells in southern Ethiopia, some of which have been in operation for more than 500 years. Unlike grazing lands, which are communal resources, wells are private properties managed by corporate clan members. We reconstructed the history of contests over property rights to 64 wells and found that some contests over konfi have remained unresolved for many generations. Only a small percentage (20%) of the wells have no history of disputes over property rights. The resolution of disputes relies on the principal tenet of the non-transferability of konfi property rights, except in the case of the family of the ancestral konfi dying out. Contestants are expected to reconstruct how they lost the konfi in the first place. The Borana tend to discourage contests over wells through the long duration of investigations, as well as myths associated with false claims that appeared to result in deaths among the claimants.
Keywords: Borana; Indigenous institutions; Konfi property rights; Pastoralism; Tula wells; Ethiopia; East Africa