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Majority in Sub-Saharan Africa Wouldn't Use Formal Courts

Majority in Sub-Saharan Africa Wouldn't Use Formal Courts
by Jay Loschky

Story Highlights

  • Median of 38% would take legal dispute to government courts
  • Guineans least likely to use government judicial system
  • Christians, Muslims equally likely to go to religious leaders

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Although African states are modern in many ways, many people still turn to traditional systems, such as tribal elders and village chiefs, to settle their legal disputes. More than half of adults in sub-Saharan Africa say they would turn to a traditional justice system (39%) or religious leaders (14%). A median of 38% across 32 countries say they would use their government's judicial system and courts.

Fewer Than Four in 10 in Sub-Saharan Africa Would Use Judicial System
If you had a legal dispute to settle, where would you go to settle it?
Government judicial system and courts Traditional justice system Religious leaders
Sub-Saharan Africa 38% 39% 14%
Medians across 32 sub-Saharan African countries in 2015
Gallup

In many African countries, legal systems inherited from colonial powers operate alongside more traditional systems. While serious crimes typically end up in government courts in most countries, everyday disputes often do not. Traditional African legal systems are diverse, ranging from Somalia's Xeer system of elder consultation to Kenya's Islamic Kadhi courts to Sierra Leone's customary law overseen by traditional chiefs.

Africans' continued reliance on traditional justice systems might at times reflect state weakness, so it is not surprising that residents of countries with relatively strong central governments are more likely to refer disputes to the government judicial systems, such as South Africa (71%), Senegal (60%) and Rwanda (54%). Residents of West African countries Guinea (15%), Sierra Leone (16%) and Liberia (17%) are the least likely to take disputes to court. These are followed by South Sudan (23%) and Somalia (29%), where central government control is extremely weak or nonexistent.

Most Likely to Settle Dispute Through Government Judicial System
Government judicial system%
South Africa 71
Gabon 68
Tanzania 67
Mauritania 64
Senegal 60
Zimbabwe 57
Rwanda 54
Burkina Faso 53
Congo 50
Ethiopia 46
Among 32 sub-Saharan African countries in 2015
Gallup
Least Likely to Settle Dispute Through Government Judicial System
Government judicial system%
Guinea 15
Sierra Leone 16
Liberia 17
South Sudan 23
Somalia 29
Madagascar 29
Uganda 31
Togo 32
Chad 32
Ghana 32
Among 32 sub-Saharan African countries in 2015
Gallup

While a tribal chief or religious leader may live only a door away, gaining access to government legal systems sometimes requires a long trip to a provincial capital, often making traditional justice systems the cheaper and easier option. Thus, Africans living in rural locations (36%) are significantly less likely to say they would refer a legal dispute to the government than are those living in urban areas (55%).

Similarly, sub-Saharan Africans who are older, have less education or don't express confidence in their country's judicial system are less likely to settle a legal dispute with government courts. More than two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africans with postsecondary education (68%) would refer a legal dispute to their government judicial system, compared with 24% among those with no formal education. Those who identify as Christians or Muslims are equally likely to say they would refer a legal dispute to religious leaders (a median of 14% each).

Urban, Educated in Sub-Saharan Africa Most Likely to Use Government Courts
If you had a legal dispute to settle, where would you go to settle it?
Government judicial system and courts Traditional justice system Religious leaders
Urban 55% 20% 16%
Rural 36% 43% 12%
Age 15 to 29 42% 33% 14%
Age 30 to 49 37% 41% 14%
Age 50 and older 26% 51% 16%
No formal education 24% 52% 14%
Beyond secondary education 68% 14% 12%
Confident in judicial system 45% 39% 14%
Not confident in judicial system 36% 39% 21%
Identify as Christian 41% 37% 14%
Identify as Muslim 37% 39% 14%
Medians among 32 sub-Saharan African countries in 2015
Gallup

Though Somalis are the most likely among African populations to say they would refer a legal dispute to religious leaders (40%), more than one in four people in predominantly Christian countries -- such as Uganda (29%), Ghana (26%) and Zambia (26%) -- say they would do the same. In places where residents might view court systems as complex, expensive or corrupt, members of the same religious communities may choose to take legal disputes to priests, ministers or highly esteemed figures in local churches.

Most Likely to Settle Dispute Through Religious Leaders
Religious leaders%
Somalia 40
Uganda 29
Ghana 26
Zambia 26
Cameroon 23
Nigeria 22
Kenya 21
Congo 20
Liberia 20
Malawi 19
Among 32 sub-Saharan African countries in 2015
Gallup
Least Likely to Settle Dispute Through Religious Leaders
Religious leaders%
Rwanda 3
Gabon 7
Ivory Coast 8
Zimbabwe 11
Mali 11
Tanzania 11
South Sudan 11
Botswana 11
Ethiopia 12
South Africa 12
Among 32 sub-Saharan African countries in 2015
Gallup

Bottom Line

Decades after most African countries reached independence, traditional forms of justice continue to play an important role throughout the region, supplementing government systems and at times replacing them. These structures may have government legitimacy -- including Rwanda's controversial Gacaca courts, which tried hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects -- or they could be small and informal, such as two villagers resolving a property dispute through the mediation of a local pastor.

These findings emphasize the importance that national governments and development partners in these regions must place on engaging traditional justice systems. While informal systems often dispense fast, inexpensive legal solutions that promote harmony within a community, they may neglect human rights or procedural fairness. In many African societies, efforts to address laws and norms regarding disputes such as marriage or property rights can't occur only at the national level, but must also take into account the strength and prevalence of these informal systems.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2015. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error ranged from ±3.4 percentage points to ±4.0 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/190310/majority-sub-saharan-africa-wouldn-formal-courts.aspx
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