What is unique about Africa’s approach to international law? What would be the features of such an approach? This is some of the questions a group of forty international law scholars from across Africa and the diaspora asked themselves at a Round Table hosted by the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, on 3 and 4 May 2017.

The Round Table was convened under the theme ‘African approaches to international law’. During the Round Table the concept of an “African approach” was problematized, with participants agreeing that this notion should not be racially or culturally based, but spatially, or in terms of one’s methodological ‘orientation’.

One of the participants was Professor Makau wa Mutua, who is well known for his critical scholarship, and for having been instrumental in launching a school of anti-hegemonic thinking on international law, Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL). He emphasized the ‘African’ origins of TWAIL and contended that it has much to offer to African scholars critically engaged with international law.

During a part of the event, students on the Centre’s two Master’s programmes (in human rights and in international trade) joined the group for a discussion on Africanising/decolonizing the teaching of international law. It emerged that when the two terms (‘Africanising’ and ‘decolonising’) are conflated, some confusion may ensure: for some ‘Africanising’ speaks to the content of and texts used in a course; ‘decolonising’ may entail reckoning with the remnants of colonial patterns of thinking and doing. These concepts remain contested, and need to be further pondered upon.

Aspects covered during the Round Table include: conceptualising ‘African’ approaches; typologies of African scholarship on international law; African justice in post-colonial Africa, African histories; history-writing and international law; and TWAIL, decolonizing and international law.

Participants resolved to work towards the continuation of a common project, which may steer towards identifying an “African Approach to International Law” (AAIL). In addition to staying connected and sharing ideas and information, a follow-up event is foreseen before the end of 2018. In preparation for this event, a call for papers will be issued, inviting the preparation of papers on the thematic concerns emerging from ‘African approaches to international law’. The idea is that selected papers will be presented at a conference. The papers will subsequently be reworked with a view to bringing out a publication.

A convening committee of ten universities was identified to take this exciting process forward: the Universities of Buffalo (USA); Cape Town, Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Nairobi, Makerere, Niger Delta, Pretoria, Strathmore, and the Witwatersrand.


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