Codification or Restatement of Customary Law

In 1950 a number of countries gained Independence and the British Colonial office began to understand and appreciate that time has come for de -colonization and begun to think about the future of the African customary law and the African customary courts.

The colonial government begun to think about the integrated system of justice and their concern was how customary law would fair in such integrated system.
This led to series of African law conferences held in London, Dar and they were attended by law officers from British Africa.The main theme was the integration of the African Courts into the mainstream system.

In preparation for independence and with it the integration of the courts led the colonial authorities to consider the question of ascertaining African Customary law with the objective of making it easier for it to be applied by the ordinary courts of law.

This led to the codification and restatement projects.
These two projects entailed the recording and conversion of African customary law into writing. From 1897 when the modern legal system was established to the 1950 no one thought of recording African customary law.


Codification seeks to produce a unified customary law and entails producing one code for the entire country. It would be a summarized version of all the people resident in this country and it would be binding and have the same effect as a statute it is not a guide it is binding.

Codification is criticized because it tends to crystallize customary law yet it is a very dynamic body of law and when you reduce it into writing you freeze it, and it is likely to cause injustice to those relying on it, because it is very dynamic. The danger with this is that the customary law if codified could be very different from that which is actually practiced by the people.

Tanzania opted for codification where the government developed a code of customary law for the entire country.


Restatement on the other hand entails the reduction of African customary law into writing in English rather than in original language. A restatement is not binding like a code and it’s a mere guide to the court.

Kenya decided to go for restatement with the view to restating the principles of African customary law on an ethnic basis tribe by tribe following a uniform format.

The restatement started as a project of the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London of 1959.

In 1961 Contran of SOAS was seconded to the government to start recording the customary law offences and produced a restatement of customary criminal law offences which came out in 1963 and also did a restatement on family law and succession both of which came out in 1969.

African customary law is a neglected area of law and even the restatements project has not been decided whether it was a success or not.


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