Vanwege het Corona virus is het nog onduidelijk hoe het onderwijs precies verzorgd gaat worden. Zie voor de actuele informatie de betreffende vakpagina’s op Blackboard/Brightspace.


nl en

Law and Society: Africa




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 200-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


Law in Africa is as varied and dynamic as Africa itself. During this course we explore the relationships and interactions between law and society in Sub-Saharan Africa. Law is broadly defined to include both state rules and non-state rules originating from various sources (e.g. the state, custom and practice, religion). It can be studied from several perspectives: internal/external, top down/bottom up and at multiple levels of scale (from global to local). We are particularly interested in the question how law works out in specific (local) African contexts. In other words, what are the everyday African practices of law? E.g. how does corruption work in African courts? Why is struggle over land so common and why do land disputes never end? Who benefits from the administrative decentralization reform? Can customary law change? Or why have women, migrants and youngsters in practice only limited rights to resources? As we want to understand law in its societal context, students should not just learn something about law in Africa at its various levels of scale but also gain an understanding of African society and livelihoods.

After a general introduction on different perspectives on law in Africa (legal pluralism), we will focus on three broad themes: (1) the rule of law; (2) natural resource management; and (3) conflict and dispute resolution. Each theme will be studied from different angles. Examples are taken from a.o. Mali, South Sudan, Uganda, Cameroon, Kenya and Rwanda.

The approach is a combination of legal and socio-scientific knowledge (anthropology, sociology, human geography, political ecology).

Course Objectives

  • To provide a general insight into law and governance in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • To gain an understanding of the relationships and interactions between law and society

  • To acquire some insight in the working of law in specific (local) contexts

  • To understand the importance of non-state law in the state legal system and in local realities, and the complicated relationship between state law and non-state law

  • To develop a critical understanding of the prevailing conceptual framework for an understanding of these issues (e.g. legal pluralism, law, rule of law, administrative decentralization, access to natural resources, access to justice, conflict)

  • To apply this framework within the context of a number of selected case studies

Mode of Instruction

The course uses a variety of teaching methods, including (interactive) lecturing, student presentations, web postings, class discussion and debate. Teaching materials include readings and documentaries.


Assessment: Group presentations
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: In-class participation (including debates)
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: 3 short reaction papers to week’s readings (web-postings) (250-300 words each)
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Day before class, 5 pm

Assessment: Final essay (2000 words)
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Week 7, subject to be determined week 5

Assessment: Final written examination
Percentage: 35%
Deadline: Week 8

Group presentations / debates and individual assignments
Each student will present twice during the course, in a different group. In addition, during the first lecture topics for reaction papers will be assigned individually, each student having to submit three such papers for the course. They consist of 250 to 300-word short statements and should be submitted at the latest at 5 pm on the day before the class concerned takes place. The duration of group presentations is 15 minutes. Students who have been assigned a group presentation, do not have to hand in the 250 to 300-word short individual assignment for the same class.

Final Essay
The final essay should count max. 2000 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography. At the end of week 5 (Friday 27 September) initial proposal consisting of 300-500 words will need to be handed in digitally to the seminar leader. The final essay needs to be handed in on Sunday 13 October.

Written Examination
The written examination will consist of essay questions.


A syllabus will be compiled and made available through blackboard.

Contact Information

Ms Karin Nijenhuis:

Weekly Overview

Week 1:
Perspectives on law in Africa: legal pluralism
1.1 Introduction: legal pluralism
1.2 State law and non-state law

Week 2: Rule of law (I)
2.1 What is the Rule of Law?
2.2 State-building in South Sudan

Week 3: Rule of law (II)
3.1 Corruption and citizenship
3.2 The crisis in Mali: Politics and transnational criminal networks

Week 4: Rule of law (III)
4.1 The Judiciary and delivering justice: the case of Uganda
4.2 Accountability and administrative decentralization reforms

Week 5: Natural resource management (I)
5.1 Access to land and local power relations in West Africa
5.2 Land grabbing and tenure (in)security: are there remedies?

Week 6: Natural resource management (II)
6.1 Extractives (oil, diamonds etc.): curse or blessing?
6.2 Conflict over natural resources

Week 7: Conflict
7.1 Conflict and conflict transformation
7.2 Dispute settlement

Preparation for first session