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No. 12. The Role of Chiefs in African Justice

Keshav C. Sharma

Recognizing the role played by traditional leaders, Botswana has integrated them into its contemporary machinery of public administration. Traditional leaders are particularly significant in the administration of justice as Botswana’s Customary Courts co-exist with the modern judiciary and handle almost 90 percent of the cases under court jurisdiction. The people in rural areas find customary court justice to be comprehensible, inexpensive, speedy, and not too technical. These courts have been recognized by law, derive their authority from tradition as well as from statutes, and administer customary as well as statutory law. This paper covers historical and contemporary background, nature of authority and jurisdiction of these courts, their relations with modern courts, machinery of administration and for review of cases, the role of a Customary Court of Appeals and of local police. The paper concludes with a discussion of strengths, limitations, and challenges and the relevance of Customary Courts in contemporary public administration.

Keshav C. Sharma is Professor of Public Administration at the University of Botswana, where he served as head of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies from 1982 to 1994.

IAD 2009, No. 12, ISBN 13:978-0-9802223-2-6; ISBN 10: 0-9802223-2-X, 50 pages, $10

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