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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: local modes of dispute resolution and peacebuilding in Uganda and Mozambique, the revival of traditional chiefs in South Africa, , the management of land and other natural resources in various countries, containment of witchcraft in Cameroon, and the state of justice in the Democractic Republic of Congo are amongst them. 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

  • To acquire a general insight into the formal features of law and governance prevalent in many African countries

  • To acquire an insight in the actual working of these formal systems, and the legal remedies to which citizens in given African contexts have veritable access

  • To develop a critical understanding of the prevailing conceptual framework for an understanding of these issues (weak states, legal pluralism, donor influence)

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

  • To understand what law and governance can and can not do in addressing the main challenges many African countries face

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

  • See the above information


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 10

  • Names of lecturers: Dr. Carolien Jacobs, Bruno Braak & guest lecturers

  • Required preparation by students: see syllabus


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: Not applicable

  • Names of instructors:

  • Required preparation by students:

Other methods of instruction

  • Description: Not applicable

  • Number of (2 hour) instructions:

  • Names of instructors:

  • Required preparation by students:

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam 50%

  • Group presentation (15%)

  • Essay (35%)

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

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

  • None

Course information guide:

  • Not applicable


  • Reader, available via

Recommended course materials

  • None


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.

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: