Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2011

Publication Citation

18 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 87 (2011)


The sources of law in most African countries are customary law, the common law and legislation both colonial and post-independence. In a typical African country, the great majority of the people conduct their personal activities in accordance with and subject to customary law. Customary law has great impact in the area of personal law in regard to matters such as marriage, inheritance and traditional authority, and because it developed in an era dominated by patriarchy some of its norms conflict with human rights norms guaranteeing equality between men and women. While recognizing the role of legislation in reform, it is argued that the courts have an important role to play in ensuring that customary law is reformed and developed to ensure that it conforms to human rights norms and contributes to the promotion of equality between men and women. The guiding principle should be that customary law is living law and cannot therefore be static. It must be interpreted to take account of the lived experiences of the people it serves.

Human Rights and Legal Systems Across the Global South, Symposium, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Bloomington, Indiana. 9-10 April 2010.