2007 Relevance of African Traditional Institutions of Governance
by: Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
A number of studies have affirmed the resiliency, legitimacy and relevance of African
traditional institutions in the socio-cultural, economic and political lives of Africans,
particularly in the rural areas. Juxtaposed with this is the sometimes parallel ?modern
State?, vested with enormous authority in rule making, application, adjudication and
enforcement. As Africa seeks to build and strengthen capable States, there is the need
to recognize and address this ?duality? fully. This is principally borne out by a growing
recognition that capable democratic States must be grounded on indigenous social values and contexts, while adapting to changing realities. This will require among other actions, aligning and harmonizing traditional governance institutions with the modern State.
The roles that traditional authorities can play in the process of good governance can
broadly be separated into three categories: first, their advisory role to government, as
well as their participatory role in the administration of regions and districts; second, their
developmental role, complementing government?s efforts in mobilizing the population
for the implementation of development projects, sensitizing them on health issues such
as HIV/AIDS, promoting education, encouraging economic enterprises, inspiring respect
for the law and urging participation in the electoral process; and third, their role in conflict resolution, an area where traditional leaders across Africa have already demonstrated success.
The question therefore is not whether the traditional and ?modern? systems of governance are competing against each other but how to integrate the two systems more effectively in order to better serve citizens in terms of representation and participation, service delivery, social and health standards and access to justice.