The Un-governed Areas of Africa: How Common Law Prevails in the Absence of Rule of Law

In certain parts of Africa, customary law is used to govern many aspects of everyday life. Find out how it works and how you can get involved.

14. Apr 2022
The Un-governed Areas of Africa: How Common Law Prevails in the Absence of Rule of Law

The "Un-governed" Areas of Africa: How Common Law Prevails in the Absence of Rule of Law

Africa is often referred to as the “un-governed” continent. While there are many challenges that need to be addressed in Africa and across the continent, the “un-governed” areas in Africa highlight one of the most important aspects of the African societies that need to be improved.

Un-governed areas are places in Africa where customary laws and local rules often take precedence over the laws of the central government and the rule of law. Many un-governed areas in Africa exist because of their isolation, rugged geography, and sometimes sectarian conflicts. The absence of a legal system and rule of law in these areas pose numerous challenges that require a thorough understanding of the challenges and possible solutions.

In this article, we will explore the challenges posed by un-governed areas in Africa and the possible solutions that can be implemented to improve the situation.


What is the Rule of Law in Africa?

The rule of law is one of the most important aspects of a functioning legal system. It is often described as a legal order in which the government and its laws are held to be of ultimate and binding authority so that the power of the state is restrained from misusing its authority to affect individuals and their property without due process of law.


In other words, the rule of law means that the state does not interfere in the personal and property rights of its citizens without due process and rules of law.


The rule of law is a foundation of any society and it is critical in order to have effective law enforcement, a functional judicial system, and a functional legal system. However, the rule of law is also an important aspect of government because it establishes credibility between the state and its citizens.


Why is Rule of Law Important in Africa?

In Africa, the rule of law has been undermined by the lack of legal institutions and an ineffective judicial system. Most African nations have a legal system that is largely based on customary laws. These laws are often hard to understand, inconsistent, and do not have clear legal standards. The inability to rely on the rule of law means that the African societies have been unable to flourish due to the lack of accountability in business transactions and the inability to enforce contracts.


The Challenges of an Un-Governed Area

The un-governed areas of Africa pose various challenges. Many of these challenges can be attributed to the absence of a legal system and rule of law in these areas.

Communications are one of the challenges that these areas face. Communication between the citizens of the country and the authorities is often difficult in these areas. In addition to this, there is also the need to communicate between the citizens and the law enforcement in these areas.

This makes it difficult for the authorities to respond to problems that occur in these areas and ensure security.


The presence of armed groups and militias in these areas poses a challenge for the authorities. In these areas, the governments do not have the capacity to enforce the law and ensure public order. This means that the citizens are at risk of harassment, extortion, and other violent acts that can negatively affect their day-to-day lives. There is also a possibility that these groups could attack and seize territory that may be important for the country.


How to improve Rule of Law in Africa?

One of the challenges that the un-governed areas of Africa face is the low ranking of the legal system on the list of priorities for the public and institutions of these areas. It is often stated that the rule of law is an important aspect of the African societies, but there is very little discussion on the need to improve the legal system in these zones.

As these are the areas where the rule of law is least present, there is a need to invest resources in the legal system and build a functioning system. This will require the establishment of a legal infrastructure, legal practitioners and judges, and proper laws that have clear and applicable standards.


Moreover, the government of the un-governed areas should also be held accountable for the rule of law. It is important to ensure that the central government does not undermine the rule of law or the legal system in the un-governed areas. This can be achieved through proper legislation, effective enforcement, and meaningful sanctions for misconduct.


The rule of law is vital for the African societies. It ensures legitimacy for the authorities, security for the citizens, and a healthy business climate. The rule of law is often referred to as the foundation of any civilised society. In an un-governed area, it is least present and therefore, there is a need to improve it.


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