Tinkering: Can a State-Sanctioned Informal Forum for Land Dispute Resolution Reduce Land Cases in Courts? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Sierra Leone

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In many developing country contexts property rights over land remain weak. Land disputes arise when rights are poorly protected. Land disputes are also difficult and costly to resolve in the formal court systems because the courts lack the capacity, and at times legitimacy, to provide timely and fair resolutions. Non-state or informal justice actors handle most civil disputes in these contexts. But can these informal channels be viable options to address land disputes? And can they be a good alternative to formal justice systems in upholding and protecting land rights? In this paper, I use a quasi-experimental design to study the effect of the introduction of Chiefdom Land Committees (CLCs) on land cases litigated at the local courts across Sierra Leone. CLCs are state-sanctioned informal dispute resolution forums that act as third-party mediators in land disputes among individuals in the chiefdoms. My results show that three years after the policy, chiefdoms that adopted CLCs experienced an increase in the number of land cases litigated in local courts. My findings suggests that by adopting the CLCs, chiefdoms extended options for rural people to address land disputes, as well as made land issues more salient, but, instead of providing final resolutions, CLCs are conduits of land cases to the formal system.

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