The Role of International Economic Law in Africa

26 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2008

Date Written: June 20, 2008


International Economic law (IEL) has a specific role to play in a complex modern Africa. The underdeveloped state of trade law regimes in Africa is arguably a reflection and product of the low level of commercial activity. The reverse is equally true in that underdevelopment in commercial activity on the continent is a reflection and product of the minimal role played thus far by international economic law.

The globalisation of exchanges, the unprecedented ethical and political challenges which are imposed on us today call the attention of African people to the necessity of understanding the role of IEL. Understanding IEL provides a useful grounding in both the nature and source of governmental power as well as the limits to that power. Moreover most of IEL, if not all, is dictated by developments in areas other than in the law itself - developments in politics, in technology and in economics. Understanding IEL therefore presupposes an understanding of all the complex ramifications of Africa's development trends.

Four issues serve as telling indicators of the role of IEL in attempting to deal with the specific problems presented by Africa. Firstly, the issue of giving direct effect to international law, and most specifically the WTO Agreement in African national or regional courts of law. This has significant implications for Africa as it is through this mechanism that individuals contribute to the international law-making process. Secondly, globalisation is not a spontaneous process. There has been and will be decisive state intervention in favour of globalisation. Thirdly, there is the issue of separating the wheat from the chaff as trade officials negotiate in international fora. The Doha Development Agenda includes a large number of items. It is imperative to distinguish those which are particularly important in their implications for Africa's development from those which are peripheral to it. Fourth and last is the emerging issue of good governance. As African states individually and collectively grapple with political instability, poverty, economic stagnation and bad governance, IEL will play an increasing role in the new African political order. African states could mould IEL as a vehicle through which to advance their interests and concerns.

Keywords: International Economic Law, Africa, African, Trade law, WTO, Doha, Globilisation, OHADA, African Economic Community, AEC

JEL Classification: F02, F10, F13, F14, F15

Suggested Citation

Obale, Offah Ako, The Role of International Economic Law in Africa (June 20, 2008). Society of International Economic Law (SIEL) Inaugural Conference 2008. Available at SSRN: or

Offah Ako Obale (Contact Author)

University of Cape Town (UCT) ( email )

Private Bag X3
Rondebosch, Western Cape 7701
South Africa

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