The report is structured as follows. Chapter 2 introduces the figure of the traditional authority in more detail and traces the historical development of traditional authority structures across the region. It shows how several current conflict lines can be traced back to a continuous process of renegotiating local governance structures within and across different ethnicities, as well as with central state structures, at critical junctures in time. This is not to say that intra- and inter-ethnic tensions are the cause of current conflict dynamics in the region. Rather, the chapter makes the point that these tensions are an ever-present dividing line in society that can be instrumentalised by actors seeking to destabilise the region, and/or that actors intervening in the region risk activating (unintentionally) existing tensions as spoilers of stabilisation processes. Prevailing ethnic governance legacies are a key factor to take into account when intervening in the region.
Chapters 3-5 are country case studies that have been written as stand-alone chapters with specific recommendations tailored to the stabilisation and governance interventions currently being implemented in each country.
Chapter 3 (Niger) shows how traditional or customary chieftaincy in Niger is a powerful asset of local governance. Niger maintained the colonial policy of formalising and integrating the chieftaincy into the territorial administration and the justice system. Since 2015, traditional governance is organised by a law that further integrates chieftaincy into the central government. Yet processes of democratisation and decentralisation have led to a sense of institutional crisis in the chieftaincy relative to the position it held under single-party and military regimes. In the regions studied, and especially in Tillabéri, this sense of crisis is compounded by the security threat created by inter-communal conflict and radical extremist armed groups that exert cross-border influence.
Chapter 4 (Mali) shows that high-level traditional elites in northern Mali have become entrenched in armed governance structures – either as founders of non-state armed groups or as close allies of these groups. Rebel movements and armed governance are marked by strong fragmentation among tribal and social caste lines – a dynamic that became particularly pronounced from the 1990 rebellion onwards. An increasingly fragmented armed actor landscape has been the result, which has had important consequences for the position of traditional authorities – in terms of their ability both to govern and to present themselves as conflict mediators who can work across vertical and spatial boundaries between the various armed groups. As such, current armed governance dynamics are actually undermining the legitimacy of traditional authorities in the longer term. While they may be able to continue to exercise (some of) their governance functions, many respondents note that armed actors determine the leeway of traditional authorities’ work and that community members increasingly turn towards armed groups’ representatives who are more able to address their conflict issues.
Chapter 5 (Libya) explores how traditional authorities perceive themselves, and are perceived by the community, in two municipalities that are largely bereft of functioning state institutions, particularly since the revolution in 2011. It argues that Libyan traditional authorities are in an elevated position due to the governance crisis in the south of Libya and the predominant negative impression of state institutions. Yet their lack of resources, combined with the predominance of armed actors in the Fezzan, means that traditional authorities are constantly required to make tactical alliances in order to survive and govern as effectively as possible, further politicizing their standing. The result is an opaque and volatile governance structure that may be able to guarantee security in the short term but not more durable stability in the longer term. As for the future of traditional authorities in Libya, the people of the Fezzan display a strong desire for competent, elected state institutions. Traditional governance structures are perceived as exclusionary or self-interested, particularly by younger generations, and this jeopardises their potential as long-term governance actors in the region. Yet traditional authorities remain fundamental actors in the contemporary context and have proven to be uniquely effective in certain fields, meaning that they must be factored into future discussions about local governance in Libya, ideally in an environment based around functioning institutions and infrastructure.
Chapter 6 gives a comparative overview of the legitimacy of traditional authority structures in Mali, Niger and Libya. Based on a comparative analysis of the interview and focus group data presented in the country chapters, Chapter 6 identifies the main formal and informal rules that direct the way in which someone becomes a traditional authority figure, the beliefs that people hold about traditional authorities, and the extent to which people use traditional authorities and in which situations. It also highlights the four main challenges that traditional authorities currently face in these fragile settings: politicization, armed governance, insecurity, and challengers to the status quo. The chapter ends with some general pointers on how to incorporate traditional authorities into (inter)national interventions that aim to foster (formal) local government and stability.