Round table at Centre for Human Rights reflects on African approaches to international law

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Round table at Centre for Human Rights reflects on African approaches to international law

9 May

What is unique about Africa’s approaches to international law? What would be the features of a generalised African approach? These are some of the questions a group of forty international law scholars from across Africa and the diaspora tackled at a round table hosted by the Centre for Human Rights in the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law on 3 and 4 May .

The round table was convened under the theme, ‘African approaches to international law’. During the meeting, the concept of an ‘African approach’ was problematised, 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 his instrumental role in launching a school of anti-hegemonic thinking on international law, Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL). He emphasised the African origins of TWAIL and contended that it has much to offer African scholars who are critically engaged with international law.

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

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Aspects covered during the round table included 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, decolonising 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, participants agreed that a follow-up event should be scheduled before the end of 2022. In preparation for this event, a call for papers will be issued, inviting the preparation of papers on the thematic concerns emerging from AAIL. The idea is that selected papers will be presented at a conference and 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.

– Author Centre for Human Rights

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Round table at Centre for Human Rights reflects on African approaches to international law

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