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Leitner Center Sponsors Conference on African Customary Law

Customary law, the traditional law indigenous to a region, continues to regulate many areas of people’s lives in Africa. While, in some countries, constitutional, statutory and common law have largely superseded it, several African constitutions now enshrine the right to culture and require courts to apply customary law where applicable. In the field of family relations, in particular, customary law retains great authority and, in countless others, the persistence of longstanding expectations and social practices informed by customary law gives rise to many problems in enforcing contradictory statutory law. Furthermore, lack of access to formal legal resources often means that, as a practical matter, customary law still governs people’s everyday lives. Notwithstanding the significant role that customary law continues to play, however, there has been a notable lack of research and formal scholarly exchange on the topic. The African Customary Law Revisited conference addressed this gap by exploring the nature, substance and role of customary law in Africa in the 21st Century.

The conference convened six outstanding panels of experts, examining The Nature and Future of Customary Law; Traditional Courts, the Application and Codification of Customary Law; Chieftancy and the Role of Traditional Authority in Developing Customary Law; Customary Land, Property Rights and Succession; Customary Law and Gender Equality; and Customary Criminal Law. Panelists, representing over fifteen countries, included Thomas Bennett, Professor of Public Law, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa; Fatou Kiné Camara, Associate Professor of Law, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar, Senegal; and Gordon R. Woodman, Emeritus Professor of Comparative Law, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK.

The conference closed with a roundtable event with Justice J.B. Akamba of the Supreme Court of Appeal of Ghana, Justice Unity Dow of the Supreme Court of Appeal of Botswana, and Justice Belinda van Heerden of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, which engaged a broad range of stakeholders, including scholars, traditional leaders, and representatives of non-governmental organizations, on myriad topics related to customary law. Leitner Center Faculty Co-Director Tracy Higgins, Executive Director Jeanmarie Fenrich and Professor Paolo Galizzi co-organized the conference with O.B. Tshosa of the University of Botswana Department of Law. A published volume of the papers presented at the conference is planned for Fall 2009.


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Leitner Center for International Law and Justice
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Tracy Higgins
Professor of Law
Co-Director, Leitner Center for International Law and Justice
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