Customary law and traditional authorities continue to play highly complex and contested roles in contemporary African states. Reversing the common preoccupation with studying the impact of the post/colonial state on customary regimes, this volume analyses how the interactions between state and non-state normative orders have shaped the everyday practices of the state. It argues that, in their daily work, local officials are confronted with a paradox of customary law: operating under politico-legal pluralism and limited state capacity, bureaucrats must often, paradoxically, deal with custom – even though the form and logic of customary rule is not easily compatible and frequently incommensurable with the form and logic of the state – in order to do their work as a state. Given the self-contradictory nature of this endeavour, officials end up processing, rather than solving, this paradox in multiple, inconsistent and piecemeal ways. Assembling inventive case studies on state-driven land reforms in South Africa and Tanzania, the police in Mozambique, witchcraft in southern Sudan, constitutional reform in South Sudan, Guinea’s long durée of changing state engagements with custom, and hybrid political orders in Somaliland, this volume offers important insights into the divergent strategies used by African officials in handling this paradox of customary law and, somehow, getting their work done.
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