In September 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and International IDEA jointly organized a conference on how to best address the role of customary governance structures in a variety of current and potential future democracy-building contexts.

The conference brought together 70 experts from around the world, to develop a comparative analysis of the role and functioning of customary governance structures, promoting better informed and more effective democracy-building efforts.

In many contexts, ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ governance structures cannot easily be separated. Participants at the conference recognized the need to develop an approach to democracy building that seeks to match and combine these seemingly parallel systems of governance while formulating effective ways of dealing with instances where they diverge.

In addition, the importance of ‘customizing the democratic’—and at the same time ‘democratizing the customary’—is essential if democracy is to be considered truly legitimate by the world’s populations. A key conclusion of the discussions was recognizing and paying attention to contextual specificity, whether regional, national or local.


Publication date
20 November 2011
Number of pages



Acronyms and abbreviations

Conference Introduction and Opening Remarks
Kojo Busia, Peter deSouza and Mark Salter

Session 1: African Perspectives

Why Democracy Building in Africa Might Require Reconciling Modern and Traditional Institutions of Governance
Kidane Mengisteab

The Roots of Resilience: Exploring Popular Support for African Traditional Authorities
Carolyn Logan

Session 2: Rooting Governance in African Realities

Rooting Governance in African Realities: Are Customary Institutions the Answer?
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi

Session 3: The Role of Traditional Governance Institutions in Promoting Democracy and Managing Internal Conflict: The Case of Botswana

Customary Governance and Democracy Building: The Case of Botswana 
Patrick Molutsi

Session 4: The Role of Customary and Elected Authorities in Local Service Delivery: An Indian Case Study

The Role of Customary and Elected Authorities in Local Service Delivery: The Case of Karnataka State, India 
Kripa Ananthpur

Session 5: Customary Governance and Democracy Building: Perspectives from the Andean Region

Latin America: New Political Actors, New Democracy and New States: The Role of Indigenous Peoples in the Refounding of the State
Guillermo Padilla Rubiano

Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Customary Law in Latin America: From Multiculturalism to Plurinational States—Trends and Challenges
Raquel Yrigoyen Fajardo

Session 6: Customary Governance and Democracy Building: An Overview from the Arab World

Democracy Between Political Power and Customary Governance in the Arab Region
Gihan Abouzeid

Session 7: Lessons Learned for the International Community
Tanja Chopra

Concluding Session: Key Issues Identified and Critical Areas Requiring Further Investigation

Annex 1: Conference agenda

Annex 2: List of participants

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Customary Governance and Democracy Building: Exploring the Linkages

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