Symposium Introduction: Assessing the Roles of Theory and Methodology in the Study of IEL in Africa

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



European Union, World Trade Organization (WTO), African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), Regional Trade Agreements, Sustainable Development, International Relations, Development Studies, International Political Economy, Global Economic Governance, Intellectual Property Rights, Global South, Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), International Economic Law


International Economic Law (IEL) is positivist in its evolution and orientation. IEL as a field is intricately intertwined with international law. Unlike the field of Public International Law (PIL), where the discourse of decolonizing international law of its universality and Eurocentrism has been critically engaged by different generations of critical (Third World) international law scholars, pluralizing the discourses of IEL in Africa in particular through an examination of the role of theoretical and methodological approaches is still unravelling.

The discourse of IEL is not monolithic. The historical and dominant narratives are skewed in favor of rules-based regimes. That the architecture of virtually all IEL organizations in Africa and their operational treaties – including the AfCFTA – are transplanted and modelled after the European Union (EU) or the World Trade Organization (WTO) does not suggest that they are bound by the strictures of the practices of the EU or the WTO. The global spread of these institutions should not limit academic research’s role of expanding the contours of how they are operationalized in different parts of the world.

As I have argued elsewhere, adopting a strictly legal positivist approach to studying IEL in Africa will only reproduce a narrative of failure! In fact, such an approach, perhaps inadvertently, reifies the dominant narrative of how IEL should be studied, practiced and understood. To be sure, I am not suggesting that there is no value to a rules-based legal regime. After all the extant AfCFTA and many of its predecessor regional trade agreements tout this narrative. In reality, therein lies my caution – that the ways in which theory and method inform the output of our study of IEL in the African context deserves a lot more attention.