The Mobile Judge in Mozambique: The working peoples’ problem solver

Sunday 23rd, March 2014 / 20:14 Written by


Ernesto Martinho/Mobile Judge receiving his Innovating Justice Award, © or WageIndicator Foundation

Ernesto Martinho/Mobile Judge receiving his Innovating Justice Award, © or WageIndicator Foundation

By Fiona Dragstra

An innovative way to do justice
In December 2013, the Mozambican ‘Mobile Judge’ won the HiiL Innovating Idea Award. The Mobile Judge is a Mozambican television program which solves labour market conflicts in Mozambique. It began in 2012 as a pilot program on the commercial television channel Miramar TV. The pilot was introduced by the WageIndicator Foundation, an organization that promotes labour market transparency in the world. The daily television show, which broadcasts during lunch time, attracts around six million daily viewers. In the program, journalist and presenter Ernesto Martinho Antonio (32) solves labour market conflicts and issues by bringing the conflicting parties together to a common understanding within a very short period of time. The program uses national TV, labour market research, data and negotiation techniques to solve the conflicts. The program uses investigative journalism techniques, through conciliation and mediation the program brings the parties together for mutually beneficial results. Next to that the program uses the national labour law database on the Mozambican WageIndicator website as a backup for information. The majority of the cases concern people working in the public sector, healthcare sector, housing/construction sector, teachers, low paid clerks, communication sector and the informal sector. The program solves cases all over the country. The program shows a unique combination of media, labour market stakeholders, workers and the global network of the WageIndicator Foundation that operates around the institutionalized courtroom.

Social construction of technology, five components
This new way of solving labour law conflicts, without the involvement of a trade union, lawyer or courtroom, but through the power of the media, changes the way in which we can look at administering justice. In this paper I will attempt to explain this way of administering justice as it changes people’s insight in the labour market, as well as how it shifts the way of thinking about jurisprudence and justice administration in Mozambique in general. I will do so by looking at the theory of the social construction of technology, in which labour law jurisprudence is seen as the technology of administering law. And going to, or consulting a labour law inspector or officer as an employee or employer when dealing with a conflict is here seen as the way to consume the technology of the labour law administration. In their paper Klein and Kleinman (2002) show that the most general theory of the social construction of technology (SCOT) concerns four components. The first one is interpretive flexibility. This means that the design of technology is an “open process that can produce different outcomes depending on the social circumstances of development”, (Klein & Kleinman, 2002, p. 29). A second is the concept of the relevant social group. Relevant social groups are the embodiments of particular interpretations. So, technological development is a process in which multiple groups each embody a specific interpretation of an artifact. Klein & Kleinman (2002) describe an artifact as the technology to which an interpretation is given. The third component is closure and stabilization of the process of (re)construction a technology into a society. The fourth is the wider context, which addresses the sociocultural and political milieus in which the development takes place. This being said, Klein and Kleinman (2002, p. 35) also argue that the social world consist of established structures which can constrain and confront actors and artifacts in the process of flexibility, adaptation and stabilization. They claim that by looking at an adequate understanding of the components of the SCOT approach one needs to pay attention to the power asymmetry between relevant social groups. Gewald, Leliveld and Pesa (2012) underscore this by claiming that the appropriation of a technology in a society is a contested process and that there often is a nonlinear appropriation of innovation, where the interaction between innovations, social groups and intergroup power relations is most important in the process. Because of these power relations, constraints and confrontations between relevant social groups, Klein & Kleinman (2002) argue for a broader vision for analyzing how social contexts shape content. In this paper the content is looked at as the administration of the labour law in the way the Mobile Judge practices it, and how the content of this program shapes the social context of the Mozambican labour market and the other sociocultural and political levels. Klein & Kleinman’s (2002) broader vision of the SCOT analysis contains five components; “relevant social groups”, “interpretation”, “closure”, “the technological frame” and “the wider social context”. Below I will describe the case of the Mobile Judge in the SCOT approach of Klein & Kleinman (2002).

Relevant social groups and their interpretation of technology
In Mozambique companies and workers usually have limited knowledge of labour law and fail to live up to obligations such as the payment of the legal minimum wage. This makes labour relations unnecessarily difficult. The main actors or relevant social groups which are appropriating this way of practicing labour law enforcement are all stakeholders on the labour market, which include employers, employees, informal market workers and labour market inspectors. The way in which the employees, mainly the poorly paid and workers in the informal markets consume the TV show differs from how enforcing labour law was intended by the institutions in Mozambique. Next to these actors on the labour market, the Mozambican government, the national court and lawyers are important social groups, which will be addressed in the wider context implications later on. Next to the above mentioned actors, the WageIndicator Foundation is the social group that came with the innovative idea and made it possible to implement it by providing the free labour market information, this was and will be their interpretation of the TV show; providing free labour market information to and for all. Lastly, we should not forget about the media as an important social group. The fact that Miramar TV is a commercial channel and not a government broadcaster helps in their way of behaving like a channel of providing information which is free of politics. As is stated by Hýden and Leslie (2002), mass media are an important link in modernization and replacement of personal experience as the font of new ideas and perceptions. And also, as Kasenally (2010) puts it, the power of new media reshapes and redefines the political, cultural and social contours in societies. The construction and interpretation of the content of the Mobile Judge is based upon the free of charge and open information for everybody in the workplace. As the Mobile Judge said so himself in an interview: “Using national media has been the key to the Mobile Judge’s success, but it cannot be overemphasized enough how free counselling is the basic prerequisite for the success of the entire trail process. The Mobile Judge is the working peoples’ problem solver”, (, December 7th 2013).

Technological frame
Bijker (1995) and Kuhnian (1970) (in Klein & Kleinman, 2002) explain the technological frame as a fifth component of looking at the social construction of technology. They show that this includes “goals, key problems, current theories, rules of thumb, testing procedures, and exemplary artifacts that, tacitly or explicitly, structure group members’ thinking, problem solving, strategy formation, and design activities”, (Klein & Kleinman, 2002, p. 31). A technological frame may promote certain actions and discourage others, but there are remaining possibilities to all members of the social group. With regards to the Mobile Judge, this technological frame can be viewed as the commercial aspect of the concept. This has its advantages, where because of the commercial aspect of the program there is no government involved, which is probably the reason why they are able to go about and do justice without a courtroom. This also has its limitations. One of those limitations is that the concept is based on having enough money – what do they do when the money runs out, do they just stop making the program? Another limitation of the commercialized aspect of the program is that the show can be sensationalized, in order for the show to get and keep their viewers.

Closure and stabilization
The closure or stabilization of the process of shaping the content of the Mobile Judge by the relevant social groups is still ongoing. Closure of this process implies that the Mobile Judge will be a stabilized, accepted and fully appropriated way of ‘doing’ justice in the labour market by all relevant social groups. In the case of the Mobile Judge, this process is not closed yet. In fact, the process of stabilization of the content of the Mobile Judge can be seen as an ongoing process of stabilization, closure and re-opening of the process of appropriation. The reason for this cycle is that it is a relatively new concept, it has only been in Mozambique for 3 years, and that it still has to go through phases of trial and error before it is settled.

The wider social context
Miramar TV and the Mobile Judge state in their survey for the Innovating Justice Award (, November 2013), that they do relate to other entities of the formal justice administration in Mozambique. One of the impacts of its TV show is that it encourages the official labour inspectors to follow up on other pending cases. In Mozambique there are eleven official Labour Mediation and Arbitration centers installed in the provincial capitals. In the first half of 2013 they managed to reach 1.222 agreements, out of which 1.911 cases involved labour disputes that requested mediation (O País, 7th of May 2013). This number is approximately the same as the number Mobile Judge solved in the same period. Therefore one could argue that the Mobile Judge concept is a welcomed addition to the institutional labour law enforcements, especially for those who lack the needs and means to address an official inspector from the government.

Why is the Mobile Judge a success story?
After applying the theory of the social construction of technology to the case of the Mobile Judge in Mozambique the question arises of why this media driven way of solving labour market conflicts is so successful and effective in Mozambique. This will then hopefully shed some light on whether or not the Mobile Judge could have been an expected appropriation by the relevant social groups in its wider context and technological frame. I would like to emphasize that this paper does not state that there is no institutional labour law enforcement in Mozambique, nor that it is not effective. However, the Mobile Judge, Miramar TV, and the WageIndicator Foundation work around the institutional labour law enforcement and with that they have constructed their own way of enforcing labour laws in Mozambique. It could be argued that the success of the Mobile Judge in Mozambique comes from the gap between the legal system and the actual political and economic factors in society. As Deakin, Lele and Siems (2007, p.135) state, that

“most countries in the world inherited their legal systems from one of a small number of parent countries by virtue of colonization, military conquest or some other mode of legal transplantation, therefore legal origin operates as an exogenous factor, to some degree independently of the political and economic context of each system. Its influence shows in the tendency of systems to adopt rules of a particular type and, eventually, in economic outcomes”.

However, this is not tested in this paper and should be researched further to draw conclusions from that. The most obvious reason for the huge success can be drawn from the simple facts and statistics around the program. In the start-up year of 2012, the program solved over 397 cases, involving 2.081 workers. The workers mostly come in groups to hand in a claim which concerns consistent lack of compliance with basic labour rights such as non-paid overtime, non-payment of monthly salary and unlawful termination of contracts. In the first half of 2013 the number of cases increased dramatically, due to the high outreach of the program. In the first half of 2013 the Mobile Judge received around 75 cases a day, and solved around 1.081 cases (, November 2013). As also shown on (November 2013), the main characteristics of the Mobile Judge are that they prioritize cases that involve many people, only when extreme, they will try to solve individual cases. The way in which the TV show is hosted and formated helps people realize they need to understand the basics of the labour law. The program encourages workers and employers to engage in a mutually beneficial social dialogue at the work workplace. The success of the program shows the need for this not so “sexy” topic. People feel the need to get more insight in the existing labour laws in their country. This free of charge labour market information provided through and the TV show empowers people to do something about their situation and gives them insight in what they can do if they are in a situation which is not lawful. The fact that the Mobile Judge mostly solves conflicts for people who are poorly paid, work under poor conditions or those who work in the informal market indicates that these people often don’t have the means to address an official labour inspector. This indicates that the Mobile Judge truly is the “working peoples’ problem solver”. Furthermore, as a topic of discussion and for further research, one could argue that the appropriation of the Mobile Judge could have been expected since there is a gap in what people know and what they should and want to know about the labour laws in Mozambique. This gap is slowly being bridged by the overwhelming power of the media in Mozambique.


-          Deakin, S., Lele, P. & Siems, M. (2007). The evolution of labour law: Calibrating and comparing regulatory regimes. International Labour Review. 146(3/4), pp. 133-162.

-          Gewald, J-B., Leliveld, A. & Pesa, I. (2012). Transforming Innovations in Africa: Explorative studies on appropriation in African societies. In Gewald, J-B., Leliveld, A. & Pesa, I. (eds). (2012). Transforming Innovations in Africa: Explorative studies on appropriation in African socities, pp. 1-16. Leiden: Brill.

-          Hýden, G. & Leslie, M. (2002). Communications and Democratization in Africa. In Hýden, G., Leslie, M. & Ogundimu, F.F. (2002). Media and Democracy in Africa, pp. 1-28. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.

- (2013). Mozambique TV show resolves labour conflict. Received on 12th of February 2014 from:

-          Kasenally, R. (2010). 21st Century Broadcasting: The Need to Reinvent and Revisit Established Systems. The Case of Mauritius. In Chan-Meetoo, C. & Kasenally, R. (2010). Enhancing Democratic Systems: The Media in Mauritius. A Dialogue Session, pp. 69-79. Réduit: Faculty of Social Studies and Humanties, University of Mauritius.

-          Klein, H.K. & Kleinman, D.L. (2002). The Social Construction of Technology: Structural Considerations. Science, Technology & Human Values. 27(1), pp. 28-52.

- (2013). Mediadores laborais em capacitação. Received on 12th of February 2014 from: (2013). Mozambican Mobile Judge wins Innovating Justice Award 2013. Retrieved on 12th of February 2014 from:


This paper has previously been presented at the African Studies Centre Leiden (ASC) beginning this year and was the outcome of the seminar “Theories and the Empirical in African Studies”.

664990_10152047883227316_2075869985_oFiona Dragstra is a research master student in African Studies at the African Studies Centre (Leiden) and in Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam. She works for the WageIndicator Foundation as global assistant on all media and PR related issues. Her interests lie in politics, media, political communication and labour market issues in Africa and beyond.

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