Nkatha Kabira, S.J.D.
Senior Lecturer of Law
University of Nairobi
from April to June 2022
Born in 1982 in Nairobi
Studied Law at Harvard Law School
The Future of Law in Africa: How Commissions are Challenging Law's RigidityLike many other governments throughout the world, African governments are famous for establishing commissions to deal with stormy matters of public importance. The issues include women's rights, ethnic violence, land ownership, boundary disputes, education policy, public health, food security, regulation of labor relations, corruption in government, national and social cohesion, constitution making, and unlawful killings - all matters that touch upon every area of our socio-political, economic, and legal existence. Critics often warn that the establishment of a commission is usually an indication that the government has no intention of doing anything about the problem. Indeed, commissions are often criticized for buying time, burying issues, and being a waste of time and resources. Despite these criticisms, recent trends show that the African governments continue to use commissions and that their use is in fact escalating. What is it about commissions that makes African governments continue to use them despite all these criticisms? Have commissions as they are used in Africa remained true to their roots? How have commissions behaved in their encounter with African socio-political contexts? This project examines how commissions became technologies of rule and governance to regulate and manage diverse tensions in Africa. We take up the Law of Commissions in Africa as a body of law to reflect on how the laws produced by commissions are challenging conventional "rigid" narratives about law by creating, deploying, and developing their own modes of legal and social thought and exercising, managing, institutionalizing and professionalizing power. I argue that commissions in Africa break down the boundaries of the law, illuminate law's rigidity, and challenge conventional understandings of law and what it constitutes in Africa. The future of law in Africa lies in unpacking, understanding, and unraveling the law of commissions.
Kabira, Nkatha. "Constitutionalizing Travelling Feminisms in Kenya." Cornell International Law Journal 52, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 137-169.
Kabira, Nkatha, and Patricia Kameri-Mbote. "Woman of Law: Women's Triumph in Kenya's Constitution of Kenya 2010." In Changing the Mainstream: Celebrating Women's Resilience, co-edited with Wanjiku Mukabi Kabira, Patricia Kameri-Mbote, and Agnes Meroka, 31-48. African Women Studies Center, University of Nairobi, 2018.
Kabira, Nkatha, and Wanjiku Mukabi Kabira. "Okoth the Dream Keeper: Breaking Down the Boundaries of Law." In The Gallant Academic: Essays in Honour of HWO Okoth Ogendo, edited by Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Collins Odote, 205-220. School of Law, University of Nairobi, 2017.
Tuesday Colloquium, 15.06.2021
The Future of Law in Africa: How the Law of Commissions is Challenging Law's Rigidity
What should be the shape of future legal systems in Africa? Should legal systems remain dual or multiple? In what ways might law in Africa be fitted together to form a single whole - a "coat of African Law", as Lord Denning famously declared? These questions were at the heart of the conversation at the London Conference on the Future of Law in Africa that took place from 28th December 1959 to 8th January 1960, at the height of the decolonization process, with lawyers, judges, legal practitioners, and legal scholars from all over Africa in attendance. The main question that the Conference confronted was how to fit all the laws in Africa into a single unified whole. This London Conference decreed Classical Legal Thought - certainty, predictability, stability, and uniformity - to be the future of law in Africa.
This talk takes up the Law of Commissions in Africa as a body of law to reflect on how the laws produced by commissions are challenging conventional “rigid” narratives about law by creating, deploying, and developing their own sub-"laws" and modes of legal and social thought; producing truth; and exercising, managing, institutionalizing, and professionalizing power. The Law of Commissions disrupts the vision of the future of law encapsulated in the London Conference. I argue that the future of law in Africa lies in unpacking, understanding, and unravelling the Law of Commissions. Commissions in Africa break down the boundaries of the law, illuminate law's rigidity and demonstrate the emergence of technologies of power and governance that challenge conventional understandings of law and what it constitutes in Africa.