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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.


Good governance, human rights, the rule of law: in these days law and governance are often presented as the remedy against ‘the African condition’. During this course we explore the complex relations between law, governance and change in Africa. What role, for instance, did ‘customary law’ play in the colonisation process? What does the changing place of the state in Africa – constrained by the international legal and socio-political system, challenged by chieftaincies and decentralised local governments – mean for the ability to bring about change through the law? How do other legal systems – religious, traditional, n.g.o.-law, international human rights – interact with this state law, for instance when it comes to the management of natural resources like land and water?
We do not only look at conceptual tools to understand the relation between law and societal change, but also at selected case studies. As such, this course is as much about the relation between law and society in the contemporary world as it is about the present condition of Africa.

Course objectives

Objective(s) of the course

Achievement levels The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:

At the end of the course, students should be able to summarize theories, compare theories, and use examples from the literature to illustrate these theories in relation to the reality of Africa. Furthermore, students should be able to apply theories to actual cases. The theories pertain to the following subjects:

  • Legal pluralism as the co-existence of state and non-state authorities within the same social field as a historically grown phenomenon, partly rooted in colonialism.

  • Rule of law, access to justice, and good governance in African states.

  • Non-state forms of normative ordering (incl. vigilante justice).

  • Disputing process and traditional modes of dispute resolution.

  • Witchcraft as an inherent part of social reality in Africa.

  • Land tenure and governance of natural resources.

Within the course topic, student is able to carry out an independent, literature-based research through:

  • Formulating a research question and scope.

  • Literature review.

  • Build up an argument.

  • Present this in an oral presentation and written paper.


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 12

  • Names of lecturers: Dr. Carolien Jacobs & guest lecturers

  • Required preparation by students: see syllabus


Other methods of instruction

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam 50%

  • Group presentation (15%)

  • Essay (25%)

  • 2 Reaction papers (10%)

If the overall grade is lower than 5,5 the student can do a retake of the exam. If a student has not passed the course by the end of the academic year, the scores on the assignments, the presentation and the (re-)exam are no longer valid.

Submission procedures
Not applicable

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination material consists of the required reading (literature) for the course and the subjects taught in the lectures, the seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.


More information on this course is offered in Blackboard.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

Course information guide:
Not applicable


  • Reader, available via

Recommended course materials


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.
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.

Contact information

  • Co-ordinator: Dr. Carolien Jacobs

  • Work address: KOG, room B3.18

  • Contact information: by appointment via email

  • Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 4698

  • Email:


  • Institute: Metajuridica

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute

  • Room number secretary: KOG, room B3.13

  • Opening hours: Monday – Thursday 9.00 – 12.30 and 13.130 – 16.00 h.

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

  • Email: