(2011) JLP 63: 207-230






Paul Jackson




This article explores how international donor-supported decentralisation efforts and justice and security sector reform in Sierra Leone’s post-conflict reconstruction process have intersected with local power dynamics and ordinary citizens’ access to justice and security. Decentralisation efforts have introduced democratically elected local governments, but also retain a significant role for traditional chiefs, which have created the grounds for conflicts between chiefs and councillors over power and resources. In terms of justice provision, this leaves the citizen with a nominally wide choice, but with rivalries and unpredictable actors to choose from. This has been further complicated by new internationally supported paralegal programmes run by NGOs, which also provide a threat to the chiefs and their virtual monopoly of power in local justice. The article argues that the micro-political processes of actors existing in a space between ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ effectively mean that there has been a tendency of elite capture of the decentralisation efforts at the local level as well as a continuation of chiefdom power. This result acts to the detriment to those who have always lost out on access to justice and security. Based on these insights, the article provides a solid critique of international development agencies’ tendency to assume that the traditional and formal systems are somehow unaffected by local power structures. It also challenges the perceived dichotomy between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ systems, instead arguing that within Sierra Leone there is a hybrid network of institutions that constantly change and are subject to a variety of controlling bodies. The problem with this network is that to a greater or lesser degree all of the institutions are occupied by the same groups of people and so the excluded may remain excluded whilst the local elite may retain and extend their power over a mix of different institutions.