The Role of Traditional Authorities in Conflict Management: Cameroon

Presenter: Emmanuel Lokohko Awoh (PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne)
Location: Milgate Room, AD Hope Building, ANU, Canberra
Time: 3pm-5pm, Friday 13 July

This presentation is based on my PhD thesis where I examined the role of traditional authorities in conflict management and peace building in the North-West of Cameroon. I compared two sites within the region (Kom and Bali administrative areas), which have had rather different experiences regarding ethnically coloured conflicts and attempts to diffuse it. Attempts to co-opt formal and informal state actors in Cameroon have led to the creation of hybrid political systems where the state is confronted by multiple political orders. These political orders are captured in terms of neo-patrimonial rule and customary governance where the ‘modern’, legal-bureaucratic state is interfused by intertwined rationalities, values, norms and practices both at the local and national levels. This creates the potential for uneasy coexistence with the different normative systems of governance. Where the fields of jurisdiction between the different political orders overlap, it produces tensions and conflicts within local communities with regards to issues such as land governance. I argue that the legitimacy of the state in mediating such conflicts becomes critical when analysing the formal state authority in certain policy fields, while informal state actors like traditional authorities appear to be relevant in processes of local conflict management within local communities only if they remain legitimate. Informed by over eight months of ethnographic research conducted in Cameroon in 2015, I explored the everyday encounters between traditional authorities, local communities and state bureaucrats to explain the nature of how legitimacy is built and recognised by different audiences. In the process to establish control and ownership of land, traditional authorities, the state and the local population become engaged in processes where specific aspects of the different sources of legitimacy are borrowed, reproduced, altered and or co-opted. It is through these local interactions, I have argued, that it is easier to understand legitimacy because one gets to learn what traditional authorities do as custodians of land and what their actions mean to their communities. Set out to understand how traditional authorities gain and sustain legitimacy and the role that they play in conflict prevention/ management at the local level, the findings of this thesis show that different sources of legitimacy will matter in conflict management depending on the policy field in question. However, once a traditional leader loses his moral legitimacy with the grassroots, he does not only undermine his power to mediate community conflicts, he also creates a situation of conflict.

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