Judicial Regulation and Administrative Control: Customary Law and the Nuer, 1898–1954

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NUER courts and court procedure are an innovation of the Anglo-Egyptian government.’ It was a necessary innovation, according to administrators, because of the lack of institutionally authoritative figures among the Nuer, or of an ‘organised political body’ which met regularly, could enforce its decisions, and could therefore maintain public order.The government chose the parallel courses of tradition – administering a law derived from Nuer custom – and innovation – establishing institutions and procedures which were acknowledged to be alien – as a means of providing a mechanism for the resolution of disputes to maintain order. A thorough sociological and historical study of the changes produced in Nuer law and Nuer society by the introduction of Nuer courts is beyond the scope of this article. What will be examined here is how the administrative approach to Nuer customary law
varied over a period of some fifty years, and how judicial regulation – the regulation of judicial procedure and structures – was introduced as a strategy in establishing and maintaining administrative control over the Nuer and eventually became the main function of local government among the Nuer.

Douglas Hamilton Johnson

Douglas H. Johnson is a Fellow of the Rift Valley Institute, a historian of Sudan and South Sudan, and an award-winning author and editor. He was a consultant during the Sudan peace talks and a member of the Abyei Boundaries Commission.

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