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Reconciling Africa’s Fragmented Institutions of Governance: a New Approach to Institutions Building

03 August 2011
12:30 - 13:30

Date :

03 August 2011

Time :

12:30 – 13:30


A research project by the Pennsylvania State University (USA) and the Human Sciences Research Council (South Africa) in South Africa, Somaliland, Kenya and Ethiopia.


African countries are characterised by parallel institutions of governance – one is the formal system sanctioned by the state and the other is adhered to primarily by segments of the rural population. The fragmentation of institutions has created a number of serious socioeconomic problems.

The study investigated the characteristics of traditional institutions, overlaps with democratic principles and possibilities for reconciling traditional and modern institutions. Traditional institutions are resilient despite efforts in many states to remove or ignore them, because communities adhere to them for reasons, such as shared cultural and historical roots, low transaction costs, inaccessibility of weak state institutions, such as judicial services and the success rate of traditional institutions.

Traditional institutions have a high trust level among communities because their decision-making systems are participatory and their conflict resolution mechanisms are primarily geared at reconciling parties in conflict rather than merely to punish guilty parties. Traditional institutions are challenged or contested by liberal democrats for their perceived lack of gender equality and patriarchal despotism.

The research found that traditional institutions have strong democratic elements, but tend to be unequal towards women. Community members often navigate between the two systems in order to profit from both. Reconciliation of the two types of institutions can take many forms, from informal cooperation to full integration into the state system.

The presentation from the seminar is now available 

The audio presentation from the seminar is available for download


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