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An Introduction to African Legal Resources

Written by Silke Sahl
Maintained by Deborah L. Heller
Last Updated October 24, 2017


This guide focuses on regional resources for the entire African continent, not country-specific resources. Many of the resources mentioned are subscription services available only to members of the Columbia Law School or Columbia University community. For assistance finding African resources at Columbia's Diamond Law Library, please do not hesitate to contact the reference librarians at the Reference Desk.

Legal scholarship - Monographs

When researching an unfamiliar area of law, using a research guide can be a helpful first step because it will help you identify some of the resources that you may want to consult. The research guide on Finding Books and Articles on International and Foreign Law is a good place to start; the guide will walk you through the process of finding books and articles on your topic using the resources available to you both at the Law Library and the Columbia University Libraries and locating those items on campus.

Law Library

At the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, African legal scholarship, whether monographs or journals, is generally located in the Cellar of the law library. Some materials and recent journals may be found in the 3rd Floor Reserve area. Most of the materials are arranged according to the Schiller Classification System. Under this system, call numbers begin with the country code; for most African countries, the country code is Af., which denotes Africa, followed by an abbreviation for the name of the country. For example Af. Tun. for Tunisia and Af. Ug. for Uganda. The call number for Egypt is different in that it does not include the Af. designation and is merely Eg. Additionally, for South Africa, the call number is So. Af. The topical numbers following the country code also provide you with information about the item. For instance, reference sources will have a call number beginning with 0-99, statutes will have a call number beginning with 110, court reports and digests will begin with 150, etc. Find books at the law school using Pegasus, the law library catalog. Using the search by "Hicks/Schiller" call number function can help limit your search to books about a particular country. Furthermore, understanding the call number ranges as mentioned above can help you easily locate an item in the same subject matter across jurisdictions.

Columbia University Libraries

In addition to the law library collection, you may find African resources, both in print and on-line, by using CLIO , the Columbia University Online Catalog.

Beyond Columbia

If you cannot find the resource you need for your research in either Pegasus or CLIO, remember that the reference librarians can place an interlibrary loan request to try and get an item from another University in the United States.

Journal Articles

For a comprehensive guide to finding journal articles please see the research guide [http://library.law.columbia.edu/guides/Finding_Books_and_Articles_on_International_and_Foreign_Law Finding Books and Articles on International and Foreign Law]. Listed below are some of the resources that will help you locate articles on African Law.

Law Journal Indexes

African Studies Journal Indexes

The following indexes focus on African periodicals, but are not limited to law.

Other Relevant Journal Indexes

Public Affairs Information Services (PAIS) via the Columbia University Libraries.

Finding Full Text Journals

Full-text journals can be found by searching by the title of the article in journal in CLIO or by the title of the journal in Pegasus.

Some journals are available in full-text electronically via the Westlaw and Lexis.

Some examples of online African journals are:

  • Journal of African Law; African Human Rights Law Journal; African Journal of Legal Studies; African Law Studies; Annual Survey of South African Law; Cape Law Journal; East African Journal of Human Rights and Democracy; Journal of African Law; South African Human Rights Yearbook; South African Journal of Criminal Justice; South African Journal of Human Rights; South African Law Journal; South African Mercantile Law Journal via the Law Library's Pegasus. Note that many of these journals are available through HeinOnline, and most HeinOnline journals do not include coverage of the journal's most recent issues.
  • Africa News; African Affairs; African Business; African Development Review; African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies; African Review of Business and Technology; African Studies Quarterly; and the Journal of Contemporary African Studies via the Columbia University Libraries E-Journals Page. Note that there are over a hundred African resources available from the Columbia University Libraries, and this is just a small selection of titles available.
  • African Journal of Legal Studies via Brill.
  • African Journal of International and Comparative Law via Westlaw.
  • Africa News and the Sunday Times and Sunday Tribune from South Africa via Lexis.

Legal Databases

Following is a list of online legal databases, both fee-based and free. Compared to U.S. legal research, very little is available online. Researchers will need to use a combination of these online resources and paper resources, as described in the section on Books.

African Law Databases available from the Diamond Law Library

The library subscribes to the following African law databases. Most of them can be accessed from Pegasus or our Electronic Resources Page.

Tashreaat is an Egyptian legal database providing a complete reference to Egyptian legislation, rulings of the high courts (Supreme Constitutional Court, the Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court) and related legal material from Egypt. User may also view the Egyptian Gazette, studies by prominent councils, lawyers' directory and legal news. Research is only available in Arabic. You may need to modify your display settings and change the screen resolution to 800x600 pixels to view the site.
This African database includes access to Constitutional Library, Juta's Daily Law Reports, Juta's Digest of South African Law, Jutastat's Statutes of South Africa, the South African Law Reports (1947-current), the Law Reports of Zimbabwe, Statutes of Zimbabwe, Botswana Law Reports, Tanzania Law Reports, Zambia Law Reports, and Namibian Law Reports. Available only with the assistance of librarians, researchers should go to the reference desk to use this database.
This database includes case law from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the Comesa Court of Justice. It is available with the assistance of librarians. Researchers should go to the reference desk to use this database.
This Columbia University database includes Retrospective Government Gazettes from South Africa from 1910 to 1993. It is available to all members of the Columbia University community.

Worldwide Legal Databases available from the Diamond Law Library

The library subscribes to the following worldwide law databases. Most of them can be accessed from the links below, or from Pegasus or from our Electronic Resources Page.

This database provides information on sources of foreign law for most countries. It includes citations to legislation, references to translations when available, and select secondary sources. This database is commonly referred to as Reynolds and Flores (the names of the authors).
Published by Oceana, this database includes the constitutions and related documents of 192 countries, and corresponds with their looseleaf set of the same name. Note that the 'print' option is located in the 'document details' section. Access is available by IP address from the Columbia Law School Campus. Only one user can use this database at a time, so please be sure to logoff of the database when you are finished with your search.
While Lexis.com has Butterworths South African Constitutional Law Reports (SACLR), which provides selected decisions from the Supreme Court and new Constitutional Court of South Africa pertaining to the interpretation of the South African Bill of Rights and other general aspects of the new Constitution, as well as key constitutional law decisions from neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana, from 1991 onward, SACLR is not currently available from the lawschool.lexis.com platform.
Westlaw has limited African information. It includes (a) legal scholarship -- Constitutional Law of South Africa, 2nd Edition, the UK journal, African Journal of International and Comparative Law, (b) Africa Journals Magazines & Newsletters, and (c) all documents (judgments, decisions, orders, and indictments) issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, from 1995 through July, 2007.

Free African Legal Databases and Websites

The Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) collects and publishes legal materials from Southern and Eastern Africa for free online access. The current collection includes superior court judgments from Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Uganda. Retrospective collection for all superior courts in these countries is ongoing. The database includes cases in preparation for publishing from Mauritius, Swaziland and Tanzania.
JurisAfrica is an online law reporting service, the property of Africa Law Reporter Online. They intend to publish judgments of the superior courts of African countries and have some online already. It also includes constitutions, statutes and legal news.
Includes some laws from francophone Africa.
Includes some laws from the Great Lakes region.
Includes legislation, primarily from South Africa, in PDF form and updated regularly. Use the navigation bar at the top to select Legislation and search or browse Acts, Bills, Regulations, Policy Documents, and more. Also includes sections for Case Law and Legal Briefs.
The content is available as an Open Access collection, and includes gazettes from Algeria, Congo (Rep.), Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Though CRL’s primary focus of scanning was “independence forward,” it includes numerous gazettes from earlier time periods and predecessor states (such as British Somaliland and Southern Rhodesia).

Free Global Law Databases and Websites

Links to international resources and resources by country.

Law by Subject

A Columbia Law School Library guide to mega web sites that provide access to foreign law by subject. Includes links to databases specializing in human rights law, criminal law, environmental law and more.

Research Guides

Guides to African legal research can be very helpful if available. Also, general guides to African studies can help the legal researcher, particularly in related fields such as human rights, business and women's studies.

The Arthur W. Diamond Law Library has research guides in other subjects that may be helpful for African legal research. All guides are available from the library's Research Guides Page.