Accueil > An Introduction to sub-saharan Law


Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Spring 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

The course invites students for a journey into “probably today's largest living laboratory of effective legal pluralism” (J. Frémont). This course offers a dynamic introduction to African legal complexity, focusing on present-day institutional frameworks, the content of several Sub-Saharan African legal systems*, as well as individuals' or groups' norms, practices and representations of law. Looking at institutions, links and disjunctions in the normative practices and experiences of people, students will explore the State, the legal, the magical and the just in Africa. The course expands on themes developed in Legal Anthropology, Law and African Studies. It relies on theoretical readings from legal and postcolonial literature, policy papers and legal resources, reports published by international organizations and NGOs, as well as ethnographic inquiries. Students will address long-lasting and new legal challenges such as the reception of foreign and international laws, legal pluralism and its implications, the implementation of human rights standards, the movements of people within and beyond the African continent. The course also unveils race, ethnicity and kinship as criteria of membership and the limits of the principle of nationality in Africa. Additionally, students will get acquainted with the main African institutions, notion(s) of governance and alternative methods of dispute settlement developed in this region, looking at examples of legal integrations, coexistence with customary authorities, state-building processes as well as judicial and constitutional evolutions. For teaching purposes, the course is divided into three units. Unit 1 aims at introducing students to the main conceptual, theoretical, and analytical frameworks (sessions 1, 2, 3). Unit 2 (sessions 4, 5, 6, 7) evaluates the role of law and individuals' lived legal experiences in fostering social changes. It addresses some definitional challenges in light of the structures of social relationships and belief systems that operate in different Sub-Saharan normative settings. The course further explores the main institutional frameworks, legal and judicial evolutions at state, regional and international levels, and their implications regarding international standards, African legal orders and peoples (unit 3: sessions, 8, 9, 10, 11).


DOUKOURE-PECCHIOLI, Ounia (Enseignante)

Pedagogical format

The course involves a fascinating experience that prompts students to question universalist, most often western-based, legal assumptions. It invites a rethinking of Law, the processes of creation of Law and legal practices. After successful completion of the course, students will be acquainted with African legal orders and normative repertoires on the one hand, and their implications at the national, bilateral and global levels on the other. Students will also know the basics of Legal Anthropology (paradigms, terminology, and main theories), and should have a broad understanding of the grounds and biases of the various perspectives introduced in the course. In this regard, post-colonial literature, which aims at “decolonizing” African contemporary legal challenges, is intended to help students addressing the impensés and impensables of African legal evolutions. Students are expected to be able to discuss the main arguments of this literature, keeping in mind lawyers' ultimate goal: the effectiveness of law. This course is of interest to students concerned with the nature and operation of Law in Africa, and is valuable as a socle de connaissances for other subjects of the Europe-Africa curriculum. The course is also beneficial to students who are not registered in the Europe-Africa Program as it offers another way to engage with comparison of foreign legal systems. It indeed examines the changing conceptions of law, power and governance over time and across spaces, and the cultural dimensions of law, providing a varied reading of constitutional legality and democracy and state-building processes. Lastly, the course promotes a detached, inquisitive and critical perspective that students will ultimately use studying legal arrangements in other regions of the world. The course is taught in English and relies on resources in English and French. Teaching will be essentially student-run: the discussions will be advanced and structured by the lectures but students are strongly invited to contribute their thoughts and understanding of the session. Students are therefore required to attend the classes, to read the assigned texts and articles that will be provided beforehand and to prepare a response paper on the session readings (see “assessment” section). Guest lecturers may be invited so that students can be acquainted with different approaches towards the topics, as well as actual challenges in their respective area of expertise. Students are strongly encouraged to attend these lectures if they cannot be scheduled in the framework of the course. Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism : the various exercises assigned throughout the semester aim at deepening students' understanding of the interrelated issues at stake and at developing correct uses of sources. Students are strongly invited to contact me as soon as possible if they struggle with academic rules (using sources, citations rules) or feel overwhelmed with the workload. Improper collaborating on assignments, cheating on an in-class exam, academic dishonesty and plagiarism will be graded 00/20 and reported to Sciences Po administration. For further information, please refer to Sciences Po “Academic Rules and Regulations”, adopted by the Executive Committee of Sciences Po on 20 June 2011 ( ) and visit

Course validation

In-class exam: 2/3 of the final grade (66.6%) ; 5-page paper (compulsory individual home assignment): 1/3 of the final grade (33.4%) ; Class participation, including 1-page RP for each session: up to 2 additional pts on the final grade.


1-page response paper for each session (individual assignment). To facilitate active participation and critical engagement with the documents, students are expected to prepare a 1-page response paper on the weekly readings and lectures as a written basis for discussions in class. This must follow the format prescribed at the beginning of the course and may be graded on form and content. 5-page critical text analysis (compulsory individual home assignment). Each student is required to turn in a 5- page critical analysis of one of the articles or book sections of the course reading material. The review should carefully summarize the major argument(s) of the selected piece and critically analyze the idea(s) advanced by the author(s) taking into consideration discussions in class and readings, especially those from the concerned unit. Students must comply with proper standards of scholarly citation as well as correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Methodology guidelines will be provided at the beginning of the course. Papers will be mailed in using Urkund AND physically handed in on the scheduled dates. Late papers will be penalized (1 point per day of delay after the due date). The final exam is scheduled during week 12. Two exam formats are possible. Either a 4-question exam: The 4 questions cover the course. Their answer should reflect students' understanding of the content of the course: overarching concepts (typologies, terminologies), institutional settings or normative repertoires, as well as legal issues and evolutions addressed in class. Or, a critical essay or text analysis. This format is the same exercise as the home assignment. Students are required to either write a critical essay discussing a compulsory question related to the course or to analyze a short text. The paper should reflect the student's ability to clearly articulate and logically develop an argument or idea. S/he should refer to relevant scholarly literature and legal resources to support her/his claim. Students must comply with proper academic standards of citation. Methodology guidelines are provided at the beginning of the course.

Required reading

No compulsory reading. A reader will be provided at the beginning of the semester

Additional required reading

  • To get acquainted with the issues addressed in the framework of the course, students are strongly invited to read: Samba Thiam, Introduction historique au droit en Afrique, L'Harmattan 2011
  • Bibliographical resources are in French and in English