Decoding Afrocentrism: Decolonizing Legal Theory

  • Dan KuwaliEmail author
  • Dan Kuwali
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 29)


When the Europeans colonized African countries, they transplanted Eurocentric legal traditions on the African soil but never considered the impact of the imperial laws’ on, or interaction with, native laws and customs. The knowledge gap in assessment of the cross-fertilization of the legal traditions has left the hegemonic Western legal theory obscuring the indigenous African philosophical traditions; coupled with spurious perceptions of Africa as a ‘dark continent’ of uncivilized people. Surely, to debunk the existence or validity of African juridical thought is to throw the baby with the bath water. Although the legal systems of the native Africans were not formal, the communities were still governed by systematic laws and customs which were not written but integrated in culture and anchored in tradition. Afrocentric legal traditions can, therefore, be decoded through philosophical reflection of social practices and customs of indigenous societies. A sense of difference – in that it is not written but integrated in culture and transmitted through proverbs – is part of the unique ethos of African jurisprudence. Clearly, emblematic of the theories that have emerged from the indigenous African legal thought are, inter alia, concepts such as restorative justice, reconciliation, alternative dispute resolution, ‘ubuntu’ (humanity) which is centred on respect for human rights and human dignity as well as humanity as embodied in the ‘Martens Clause’, consensus decision-making process (panel of the wise), universal jurisdiction and the responsibility to protect (brother’s keeper) literally. The nature of its laws is usually reflective of the fundamental values of that society itself. Yet African juristic thought has been imprisoned in Eurocentric jurisprudence. By unlocking the ‘African-ness’ in mainstream legal theory, African legal theory can be a useful tool in the search for solutions to problems faced by African communities such as among others the peace or justice dilemma in Darfur, in international justice and the selectiveness of the United Nations (UN) Security Council in international law and international relations. For example, the ‘ubuntu’ philosophy was sufficient to deal with the post-apartheid accountability in South Africa. Therefore, let no man put asunder relevant African solutions to uniquely African problems, from ‘land grabs’ to mitigation and adaptation to climate change.


Security Council Armed Conflict Restorative Justice Legal Theory Alternative Dispute Resolution 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of LawUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Centre for Security StudiesMzuzu UniversityMzuzuMalawi

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