CSRC Working Paper 12

Making Law in Rural East Africa: SunguSungu in Kenya
Working Paper No : 12 (series 2)
Author(s) : Suzette Heald
Date : March 2007

Abstract : In this paper Suzette Heald investigates the role of "community policing" in rural Kenya, a topic earlier explored in her Crisis States Working Paper 16 in neighbouring areas of Tanzania. As in Tanzania, the local sungusungu organisations established by the Kuria people are formally illegal and yet tolerated or even embraced by the state as a form of managing theft and crime at the local level. The process of developing this mechanism of local "social protection", in Polanyian terms, has involved a reinvention of the Kuria identity in the context of a society gripped by economic change. In the absence of effective state organised policing and judicial organisations (indeed, in the presence of state organisations intertwined with traditional authorities that were long complicit in criminal activity), members of the community have established a surprisingly "accountable" justice system based on alternative institutional arrangements. Heald suggests that the new forms of accountability established through the mounting of local sungusungu organisations may present an alternative route to local "state formation" among the Kuria, possibly capable of mobilising effective action in other areas, such as confronting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, in the long run, the potential for such progress will depend on how the local movement can influence the wider practices of the central state.

Suzette Heald is a Visiting Fellow with the Crisis States Research Centre.