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Law and Governance in Africa


Admission requirements

This course is suitable for 2nd and 3rd year students in Law, Social Sciences (anthropology, sociology of development, public administration), and Humanities (history, area studies, arts). Non-Law students should be willing to familiarise themselves with the outlines of law, whereas law students should be willing to engage in subjects beyond the rules of black letter law. For this course is a sufficient command of English (IELTS 6.5 or higher) required.


Law, governance, and Africa; all three are general concepts that hide a world of diversity. In this course we explore the complex relationships and interactions between law, governance and society in Africa, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. What influence does colonial domination have at legal systems that are in place in present Africa? And what does a decolonial approach to African studies entail? How do different legal systems (traditional, religious, international, state) interact? How is access to natural resources such as land regulated according to the law? And how does this work in practice? How do state courts deal with spiritual accusations about witchcraft if no material evidence is available? Why do people resort to justice ‘with their own hands’ under certain circumstances? Which mechanisms do societies use to restore order and bring reconciliation to war-torn communities? Who rules in failing states? By zooming in on particular cases from different countries, we will get a broad picture of Africa in all its diversity.

In this course we look at legal phenomena in their social context in today’s Africa, while taking into account historical pathways that have led to the current situation. We take a broad definition of law and governance that includes both formal and informal rules, practices, and authorities. We explore interactions between these different sources of ordering in society, how they function in practice, and the impact they have on everyday life in an Africa context. This will enable students not only to get a better understanding of law and governance in its context, but also about functioning of African societies, and ways in which people organise their lives.

Course objectives

Generally, this course prepares students to make an informed contribution in debates on the relationship between law and governance in Africa. Students are able to apply a socio-legal lens, which will for example help them to better participate in debates about rule of law and human rights. The course helps equip students for research in law, social sciences or humanities, or for work in, for example, policy, development or legal professions.

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • describe some general features of law and governance in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • explain the complexity of relationships and interactions between law, governance, and society in Africa and can set out factors that contribute to this complexity.

  • explain the working of law and governance in specific (local) contexts by analysing particular case studies. They can situate these cases within their larger context.

  • be aware of the importance of non-state law in the state legal system and in local realities, and the complicated relationship between state law and other laws. They can explain this by referring to concrete cases.

  • apply different conceptual frameworks to analyse concrete cases in relation to issues such as legal pluralism, law, governance, rule of law, access to justice, natural resource management and land tenure, conflicts, disputes etc.

  • indicate the limits of the law in addressing some of the main challenges that many African countries face.

  • gather additional information in connection to the course topics, assess the reliability of this information, and reflect critically on this information in writing.


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 10

  • Names of lecturers: Dr. Carolien Jacobs (& possibly guest lecturers)

  • Required preparation by students: see syllabus


Other methods of instruction

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam (100%);

  • Formative, practical assignments (obligatory to be admitted to the exam).

During the course, students will carry out four formative, practical assignments, which help them to prepare for the exam. These assignments are not graded, but students have to submit at least three out of four assignments to be admitted to the exam.

If the overall grade for the written exam is lower than 5,5 the student can do a retake of the exam.

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination material consists of the required reading (literature) for the course and the subjects taught in class and all other instructions which are part of the course. Additional material will be posted on Brightspace

Regulation retake passed exams
In this course it is possible to retake an exam that has been passed (cf. art. 4.1.8 and further of the Course and Examination Regulations) on the condition that this course is not part of the minor. Students who have passed the exam may retake the final written assessment (test) of the course if they meet certain requirements. For more information, go to the website > ‘Law’ tab > ‘Retake a passed exam’.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Links to articles will be available in the course reader.

Course information guide:

  • Not applicable


  • Reader will be available via Brightspace.

Recommended course materials


Registration for courses and exams takes place via MyStudymap. If you do not have access to MyStudymap (guest students), look here (under the Law-tab) for more information on the registration procedure in your situation.

Exchange students have priority and will be registered for the course first. Any remaining seats will be available for students from Leiden University and other Dutch Universities.


  • Coordinator: Dr. Carolien Jacobs

  • Work address: KOG, Steenschuur 25, 2311 ES Leiden

  • Contact information: by appointment via email

  • Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 7260

  • Email:


  • Institute: Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of the Law

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Society (VVI)

  • Room number secretary: KOG, room B1.14

  • Telephone number secretary: +31 (0) 71 527 7260

  • Email: