Studies In Comparative International Development

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 31–50 | Cite as

Traditional rulers and development administration: Chieftaincy in Niger, Nigeria, and Vanuatu

  • William F. S. Miles
Development Research


Although the paramountcy of chiefs was undone by colonial rule, traditional rulers have served as important adjuncts in the administration of post-colonial government in both Africa and Oceania. This paper examines the evolution of the chieftaincy, particularly as an agent of administration, in West Africa (Niger and Nigeria) and Melanesia (Vanuatu). Although French and British colonial regimes had distinctive policies regarding the use of “their” chiefs, post-colonial Nigérien, Nigerian, and ni-Vanuatu governments have all come to rely on traditional rulers to aid in development activities. The degree of autonomy retained by traditional rulers varies, however: it is highest in Vanuatu, lowest in Niger. Differing conceptions and uses of tradition and “custom” help explain these variations.

Five modern functions of traditional rulers are identified as contributing to development administration: 1) linkage or “brokering” between grassroots and capital; 2) extension of national identity through the conferral of traditional titles; 3) low-level conflict resolution and judicial gate-keeping; 4) ombudsmanship; and 5) institutional safety-valve for overloaded and subapportioned bureaucracies. Creating educated chieftaincies significantly enhances the effectiveness of traditional rulers' contributions to development and administration.


Local Government Comparative International Development Indigenous Language Comparative Politics Colonial Rule 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • William F. S. Miles
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political Science, 303 MeserveNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA

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