This query has been able to identify very few resources that focus specifically on governance systems within tribal societies. However there is a wider body of literature which discusses traditional structures of authority and leadership. Even this, however, focusses mainly on democratisation and decentralisation processes. These sources agree that in many countries, the legitimacy of these structures has endured amongst communities and in some cases, they have provided superior governance and conflict resolution than the state. Unlike modern structures, the legitimacy of traditional leaders is not rooted in constitutions and electoral processes, but in inheritance or other historical mechanisms of leadership selection. The functions of these traditional structures can include security; dispute resolution; justice; regulation of social life and norms; small-scale community development projects; natural resource management; and social protection of the most vulnerable. Some of the mechanisms include tribal chieftains or leaders, customary courts, and participatory decision-making bodies. A key area of debate in relation to traditional and informal justice systems is whether justice can be made more accessible by encouraging such systems, by adopting or transforming some of their processes, or by facilitating a more collaborative approach between such systems and formal justice systems.
The research for this query has been unable to identify many examples of successful alternative governance systems – one commentator characterises current efforts as ‘experiments’, the success of which remains to be evaluated through greater scholarly attention to various important issues relating to traditional governance, such as people’s perceptions of traditional leadership and their motivations for these views, and the relations between local political systems.