Accepted paper:

Legal pluralism and contested sovereignty in Maputo


Helene Maria Kyed (Danish Institute for International Studies)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores legal plurality in the informal resolution of crimes and disputes by civilian and state policing actors in Maputo. It argues that informality is informed by citizens’ demands for immediate justice, and that legal pluralism is conditioned by contestations over sovereign power.

Paper long abstract:

Legal pluralism has commonly been associated with rural African contexts, and much less with urban centres where citizens' are geographically close to the official police and courts. A closer examination of everyday justice provision and policing in urban neighbourhoods, however, reveals a plurality of actors, practices and norm, sometimes complementary and sometimes conflicting, for making order in the urban spaces. This paper explores the everyday practices of dealing with criminals and resolving disputes by state police officers and civilian community policing actors in Maputo. Based on long-term ethnographic research in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city, the paper shows that the vast majority of crimes and civil disputes are resolved in informal ways, drawing on common sense, customary practices and popular notions of justice. This is also the case for the state police. The official law is present as a resource when enforcing decisions, but seldom determines the outcomes. Informality is driven by popular demands for immediate justice in an urban context where crime is rife and there is little trust in official procedures. The flipside is the prevalence of violence in order-making practices. At a deeper level of analysis, the use of violence reveals how legal pluralism is conditioned by contestations over sovereign power between state and civilian policing actors. This takes the form of competition over the capacity to punish criminals and decide the order of the neighbourhoods.

panel P201
Contested justice: Legal and judicial pluralism in urban settings and renegotiations of the law from urban to rural domains