Reassessing Aspects of the Contribution of African States to the Development of International Law Through African Regional Multilateral Treaties

01 May 2020

For decades, debates about Africa’s contribution to the development of international law have been dominated by two opposing schools of thought. First, that European colonial powers deliberately erased Africa and Africans from the history of the creation and use of international law. Second, that, on the contrary, over the last six decades (since the emergence of the newly independent African states in the late 1950s and early 1960s), Africa has contributed to the making of international law and has not been merely a passive recipient of a Eurocentric international law.

This article underscores the role of the postcolonial periphery in the scheme of modern international law by highlighting specific examples of African states’ contributions to international legal norms through multilateral treatymaking. To that end, this article assesses a number of African Union and Organisation of African Unity treaties for their content, relevance, and impact. It concludes that postcolonial African states have been active participants in developing new rules of international law—and strengthening existing ones—through the adoption of path-breaking conventions that work to either (1) establish African commitment to new norms with potential global application or (2) supplement existing global (United Nations) instruments with commitments specific to the African context. It also shines a light on the desirability and pertinence of regional diversity in the continuing development and application of international law, and on the changing geographies of international lawmaking.