Preferences for traditional and formal sector justice institutions to address land disputes in rural Mali

Matthew S. Winters, Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Access to justice is an important issue for people around the world. In many African countries, citizens most typically access justice through customary, community-level institutions. States and international actors, however, are attempting to extend the reach of the formal justice sector in many countries, under the logic that such institutions may provide more equitable access. In Mali, disputes requiring access to justice are common but use of the formal justice system is rare. We conduct a survey experiment among a sample of rural Malians to explore how people think about formal versus customary justice institutions in the context of a land dispute in terms of their responsiveness, fairness, and costliness. In general and in line with responses to descriptive questions, the evidence shows that the group of Malians in our study think that customary institutions, as compared to the formal court system, will be quicker, fairer, and less likely to require payment for the resolution of a land dispute. We find that these perceptions hold among individuals who report having used the formal justice system, who would consider using the formal justice system in the future, and who are most likely to be marginalized from customary justice institutions. Legal reform advocates need to consider these strong preferences for customary justice institutions when thinking about plausible reforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105452
JournalWorld Development
StatePublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Access to justice
  • Customary law
  • Land disputes
  • Legal systems
  • Mali
  • Sub-Saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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