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Law and Governance in Africa


Please note that the following description of the course is only provisional and therefore subject to change.

Admission requirements

This course is suitable for 2nd and 3rd year students in Law, Social Sciences, Public Administration, History, Arts.


Law and governance in Africa are varied and dynamic as Africa itself. During this course we explore the relationships and interactions between law, governance and society in Sub-Saharan Africa. Law and governance are broadly defined to include both formal rules (state law) and informal rules and practices that originate from various sources such as custom and religion. This is particularly relevant for African societies in which formal and informal sets of rules and practices often coexist and interact (a situation called legal pluralism) and may lead to contestation and conflict.
Law and governance can be studied from several perspectives: internal-external, top down-bottom up and from the global to the local. We are particularly interested in the question how law and governance work in specific (local) African contexts. In other words, what are the everyday African practices of law and governance, for instance when it comes to the rule of law or the management of natural resources? How can we understand corruption in state institutions? Why is struggle over land so common and why do these disputes never end? Who benefit from administrative decentralisation reform? Can customary law change? Or why have women, migrants and youngsters in practice only limited rights to resources?
As we aim to understand law and governance in their societal context, students should not just learn about law and governance in Africa but also gain an understanding of African societies and livelihoods.

After a general introduction to legal pluralism, we will focus on three broad themes: (1) the rule of law; (2) land governance; and (3) conflict and dispute resolution. Each theme will be studied from different angles. Examples are chosen from various countries including Mali, Uganda, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda. The approach is a combination of legal and socio-scientific knowledge (law, anthropology, sociology, human geography, political ecology).

Course objectives

  • To provide a general insight into law and governance in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • To gain an understanding of the relationships and interactions between law, governance and society

  • To acquire some insight in the working of law and governance in specific (local) contexts

  • To understand the importance of non-state law in the state legal system and in local realities, and the complicated relationship between state law and non-state law

  • To develop a critical understanding of the prevailing conceptual framework for an understanding of these issues (e.g. legal pluralism, law, governance, rule of law, administrative decentralisation, natural resource management, access to justice, conflict)

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

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

The course uses a variety of teaching methods, including lecturing, student group presentations and debate. Students are expected to prepare well and participate actively in class. Teaching materials include readings and documentaries.


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 10

  • Names of lecturers: Dr. Karin Nijenhuis

  • Required preparation by students: see syllabus

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

*Written exam *Essay (2,500-3,000 words) *Class participation, including group presentations

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.

A syllabus will be made available via Blackboard.

Contact information

  • Co-ordinator: Dr. Karin Nijenhuis

  • Work address: KOG, room B3.18

  • Contact information: by appointment via email

  • Telephone number: +31 (0)71 – 527 1306

  • 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: