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Access to Justice In Sub-Saharan Africa: Role of Traditional and Informal Justice Systems

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2000
206 pages
This book examines the role of traditional and informal justice forums in sub-Saharan Africa and the movement towards formal justice systems in the wake of independence and modernization among many sub-Saharan African countries in the 1960's.
When most sub-Saharan African countries became independent in the 1960’s, the majority of African citizens and communities were resolving their disputes using traditional and informal justice forums, which are viewed as obstacles to the development and modernization of Africa. The reason most Africans continued using these forums to settle disputes were a culmination of three factors: (1) the majority of Africans continued to live in rural village where access to a formal state justice system was limited; (2) formal courts offer a type of justice which may be inappropriate for the resolution of disputes for those living in rural villages or urban settlements; and (3) state justice systems in Africa operate with a limited infrastructure, lacking the resources to deal with minor disputes. Traditional and informal justice systems aim at restoring social cohesion within the community by promoting reconciliation between disputing parties. The movement towards a formal state system is characterized by its emphasis on retribution and punishment. The traditional and informal justice systems, it is argued offers greater access to justice. This book examines and discusses what is meant by access to justice and what type of justice should be considered. It examines both the traditional and non-traditional/formal justice systems, formal courts based on traditional and popular justice, justice forums in South Asia, current African initiatives, and a comparison of formal and informal justice systems. The book concludes with some general observations and recommendations. In summary, the question of reform should not be regarded as one of formality versus informality, but rather one of choice and appropriateness.