In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section African Approaches to International Law

  • Introduction
  • The Practice of International Law in Africa
  • Africa’s Contributions to International Law
  • Africa and the Future of International Law

International Law African Approaches to International Law
Babatunde Fagbayibo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0225


African approaches to international law encompass a variety of theoretical and processual elements that shape the way African countries, and Africa as a continent, continue to interact with the principles of international law. Over the years, certain rubrics have been employed to explain the existence of such approach. This includes the historical dimension (an exploration of the nature of precolonial Africa’s internationality), thematic focus (human rights, peace and security, environment, good governance, etc.), and the ideological discourse (Third World approaches to international law, feminist approaches to international law, postcolonial theory, critical race theory, neo-liberal approaches, Afrocentric approaches, etc.). While these elemental purviews point to the diversity of thoughts and opinions on what constitutes distinct African approaches to international law, it nevertheless highlights the need to rethink the Eurocentric foundations of international law. In other words, African approaches to international law reflect Africa’s peripheral position in global realpolitik, especially how historical and contemporary conditions continue to ensure such marginality, and thus seeks to advance alternatives for redressing this problem. In this respect, it is both emancipatory and instrumentalist. This article aims to distill the underlying issues that shape the content and substance of African approaches to international law from established and emerging scholarship. Firstly, it introduces the theories that underline African approaches to international law. Secondly, it highlights the texts that explore the trends and patterns of the practice of international law in Africa. Thirdly, it focuses on writings that show some of Africa’s contributions to international law. The article concludes with the scholarship that engages with African perspectives on a new vision of international law.

General Overviews

Scholars have written extensively on the theories undergirding Africa’s approach to international law. The existing body of literature has questioned the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies of mainstream international law by providing a critical ontological lens. In addition, these works are multidisciplinary as they employ disciplines such as history, anthropology, archaeology, international relations, political science, and sociology in explaining the problematics of international law. Gathii 2012 provides a useful categorization of the dominant schools of thought on African approaches to international law: contributionists and critical traditionists. In addition to these two categories, this section will also consider another school of thought: Intermediates.

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