Local communities’ access to justice and the state of Kenya – Impunity, Legal Pluralism and the Resolution of Conflicts
What does impunity mean to local communities in areas of protracted conflict and how do local and regional forms of informal justice contribute to re-establishing law and order?


Why do people not turn to the state and its judicial institutions when they are unable to solve their conflicts and find justice for grievances, which are beyond the scope of traditional systems of local conflict settlement? In order to study this problem the project focussed on three types of conflict: cattle raiding in the Northern Rift Valley of Kenya where the state (i.e. courts, police force and prisons) is largely absent; and land disputes as well as criminal cases such as theft and murder in the Southern part of the Rift Valley where the state is much more present than in the North. Cattle raids within an ethnic group (such as the Turkana) are considered as a crime by customary law but a fully legitimate practice against other ethnic groups and not punished by the few and poorly equipped policemen in the area.

Land conflicts between various local communities of the same or different ethnic identity, on the other hand, seem to be further exacerbated rather than settled due to conflicting definitions of land ownership and transfer, a multitude of traditional and state bodies dealing with land disputes as well due to the intricacies of ethno-political conflicts and corruption. Cases where thieves and murders are not reported to the police, but killed by bystanders right away despite of the fact that a police station is nearby, are particularly interesting because they highlight the high degree of mistrust people have vis-à-vis state institutions. Policemen as well as court and prison personnel are considered as being corrupt and allowing culprits to easily bail out, allowing criminals to then turn against the accusers.


  • Anthropology
  • Law

Relevant Countries

  • Kenya


This project, started in 2010, has been completed.

Contact the project team

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Research team

Jürg Helbling
University of Lucerne

Walter Kälin
University of Berne

Patrick Meroka
Principal Member
University of Zurich

Prosper Nobirabo
Principal Member
University of Berne

Ursula Keller
Associated Member
Swiss Peace

Andrea König
Associated Member
Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät