Backlash against international courts in west, east, and Southern Africa: Causes and consequences

Karen J. Alter, James Thuo Gathii, Laurence R. Helfer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


This chapter discusses three credible attempts by African governments to restrict the jurisdiction of three similarly situated sub-regional courts in response to politically controversial rulings. In West Africa, when the Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) upheld allegations of torture by opposition journalists in Gambia, that country’s political leaders sought to restrict the Court’s power to review human rights complaints. The other Member States ultimately defeated Gambia’s proposal. In East Africa, Kenya failed in its efforts to eliminate the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) and to remove some of its judges after a decision challenging an election to a sub-regional legislature. However, the Member States agreed to restructure the EACJ in ways that have significantly affected the Court’s subsequent trajectory. In Southern Africa, after the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal ruled in favor of white farmers in disputes over land seizures, Zimbabwe prevailed upon SADC Member States to suspend the Tribunal and strip its power to review complaints from private litigants. Variations in the mobilization efforts of community secretariats, civil society groups, and sub-regional parliaments explain why efforts to eliminate the three courts or narrow their jurisdiction were defeated in ECOWAS, scaled back in the EACJ and largely succeeded in the SADC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Performance of Africa’s International Courts
Subtitle of host publicationUsing Litigation for Political, Legal, and Social Change
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages2746
ISBN (Electronic)9780198868477
StatePublished - Jan 21 2021


  • Backlash
  • EACJ
  • ECOWAS Court
  • International courts
  • SADC tribunal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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