Mapping Ideas of the International in Precolonial Africa: Challenges and Possibilities

Claims about the precolonial history of international law in Africa are commonplace. Indeed, some critical approaches to international law emerging from Africa often invoke a specific memory of a precolonial past of international law on the continent. Notably, Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL), a strand within critical approaches to international law that has become tremendously influential, espouse normative claims about the history of international law on the continent, often to make claims about a (radical) break/ alteration that European colonialism brought about in the law and institutional design governing international relations on the continent. Significantly, these critical narratives have become influential in policy circles, finding expression in the debates over the proper place of Africa in the international legal system--and in accounts of the inextricable links between the colonial encounter and Africa's trajectory in the global order. Yet even as these narratives (and memories) abound, there is a paucity of systematic and primary-source-driven research (especially by international lawyers) into the legal and institutional design of international relations in the years preceding European colonialism in Africa. By convening collaborators in the African Institute of International Law's new Precolonial African International Legal History project, this panel will explore the challenges and possibilities of interrogating African International Legal History.


  • Rabiat Akande (moderator), Osgoode Hall Law School & African Institute of International Law International Legal History Project
  • Nadege Compaore, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto
  • Idriss Paul-Armand Fofana, Harvard Law School
  • Christopher Gevers, Faculty of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Shimelis Kene, Faculty of Law, Western University