Curriculum Decolonisation and Revisionist Pedagogy of African Customary Law

Keywords: academic literacy, student protests, African customary law, pedagogy, curriculum, decolonisation


Fees-related protests in South African universities have pushed the decolonisation of the law curriculum to the front burner of academic discourse. As part of the curriculum, African customary law was marginalised in the courts, distorted by policy makers, and largely labelled as unfriendly to women and younger male children in issues of marriage, property, and succession. However, this normative system is shaped by the manner in which people adapt norms with agrarian origins to the socio-economic changes caused by colonial rule. In this historical context, scholars focus more on conflict of laws than on people's adaptation of indigenous norms to socioeconomic changes. So, in what ways should universities handle the pedagogy of African customary law? This article argues that colonialism endowed Africans with a new socio-legal identity, which questions the mainstream conceptualisation of customary law into "official" and "living" versions. Accordingly, the law curriculum should reflect this new identity and acknowledge the self-sustaining legacy of colonialism as a reality check on decolonisation. As the article suggests, re-conceptualising African customary law offers a framework for legal integration, especially in South Africa.


Author Biography

Anthony Chima Diala, Department of Private Law, University of the Western Cape

Anthony C. Diala is a senior lecturer in the Department of Private Law at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. He obtained a PhD from the University of Cape Town (2016), an LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the University of Pretoria (2007), a postgraduate diploma from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja (2004), and an LLB from Enugu State University (2002). He was managing editor of the Journal of Comparative Law in Africa until December 2018, University Research Committee Fellow at the University of Cape Town, and head, Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, Madonna University, Nigeria. Aside the academia, Diala’s experience spans the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Uganda, and the Justice and Peace Commission, Nigeria. Diala has research bias for law and development, legal theory, African customary law, human rights, and comparative constitutionalism. His work has been supported by awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Nordic Africa Institute, the Social Science Research Council of New York, the Institute of International Education, the South African National Research Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association."


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