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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 law systems that are in place in present Africa? How do different legal systems (traditional, religious, international, state) interact? How is access to land regulated according to the law? And how do people get access to land 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?

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

Objective(s) of the course
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.

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

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

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

  • Students can 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.

  • Students are 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.

  • Students are able to 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.

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

  • Within the course topic, students can choose their own topic of interest, formulate a research question and scope of research and write a literature-based research 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/discussion (15%)

  • Essay (30%)

  • 1 Reaction paper (5%)

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: