The impact of international law on Africa’s economic relations

In many countries it was difficult to assert economic sovereignty without doing away with the rights, concessions and privileges enjoyed by foreign individuals and companies over the country’s natural resources.

By Nothando Bhila

However, developed countries whose nationals had gone overseas to invest and do business resisted attempts to impose national law on foreigners. They argued that existing concessions and contracts had to be honoured under international law. It was at this juncture that the concept of Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources (PSNR) was introduced in international law promoting the economic relations of Africa’s continent.

Economic Commission for Africa is firmly oriented toward promoting studies of the legal regulation of foreign investment and economic development. The work of specialised international agencies and foreign technical advisors may assist importantly in the achievement of greater uniformity and sophistication in the municipal law regulation of economic matters, O’Brien, (1992).

It is extremely difficult, at this point, to predict what the actual content of these standards will be. With respect to the treatment of the person of aliens, traditional international law has shown a high degree of flexibility and has not tied itself to specific methods and procedures, so that its standards are relatively easy to adapt to the conditions prevailing in the Third World.

It is evident that any change in commercial policy would be expressed in legal terms, more precisely in terms of international treaty law, for instance through amendments to the trade and other bilateral or multilateral agreement.

Democracy is the most common form of government today. Democratic governments derive their power from the people of the country either by direct referendum, called a direct democracy, or by means of elected representatives of the people, known as a representative democracy. Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are owned and controlled privately. In contrast a planned economy is one in which the government or State directs and controls the economy.

In terms of the International Humanitarian Law positive impact on Africa’s economic relations war has become today unacceptable as an instrument of large scale legal change. It is not necessary to enter into the discussion of to what extent war is unthinkable, illegal, or impossible. The existence of limitations on the use of force for the pursuit of national interests generally favours the economically and militarily weaker states and is thus in the interest of the third world like Africa, Brownlie, (1962).

Moreover, the presence of international organisations diminishes significantly the threat of instability. Another factor favouring the increased influence of the third world on international law is that, under present conditions, this group is the one that has the most to gain from the establishment of a relatively stable international legal order through the elaboration of legal, rather than purely political, methods and channels.

There are many reasons for the emphasis that the new states place on their international role. It is tempting to explain it in psychological or emotional terms: the newly liberated elites wish to mimic their ex- masters, to enjoy international prestige and to cling to the external signs of independence, while ignoring the difficult and painful realities. No doubt, there is some validity to such explanations, but there is much more to these policies than mere vanity or emotionalism.

The development of “parliamentary diplomacy” has given the weaker states the opportunity to express themselves in the international forum and it has thus given them a certain limited, but no less real, power to influence decisions. The nuclear stalemate has led to a downgrading of the importance of military power as a prerequisite for “responsible statehood.”

It can be said of many of the new states that they survive only because of their formal statehood. Their leaders realise that their chief means for discouraging direct or indirect attacks on their territorial integrity is to become active and “known” on the international scene. But in addition to such defensive motives, participation in international life, meaning largely participation in international organisations, has an important positive function.

The development of an “international law of cooperation” makes such participation rewarding in many ways. Indeed, non-participation or exclusion is today a much feared sanction, which serves to enforce the standards and rules enacted by international organisations. All in all, the international dimension of states has become today far more important, rationally as well as emotionally, than ever before.

The International Humanitarian law (IHL) aims to mitigate the human suffering caused by war, or as it is sometimes put to “humanise” war by limiting the effects of war on people and property and to protect, particularly vulnerable persons by restraining the parties to an armed conflict from wanton cruelty and ruthlessness, Dinstein 2004: 11.

Events such as the armed conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea, in Sudan, Rwanda, the Congo and many other places in Africa confront us day after day with the cruelty of war and the suffering, death and destruction it entails. They also raise an obvious question whether the behaviour of the parties to such armed conflicts are subject to any restriction. The answer to this question is not hard to give: such restrictions do exist, even though they may not always be crystal clear or completely unequivocal. These limitations on war are important because economic interaction ranges from pure conflict to pure cooperation. Some economic relations lead to high levels of conflict.
Wealth is an important goal of groups in international politics and pursuit of wealth in the presence of scarce resources leads to conflict over access to markets and the control of the means of production. Such conflict is then linked to the conflicts over power and sovereignty.

The intervention by the West African regional block, Ecowas in Gambia after the recent elections under the auspices of “The Right2Protect” (R2P) shows the cohesion of the block and it positively impacted it’s economy in that the investor confidence was restored and tourists resumed their visits to Gambia after the former president, Yahya Jammeh finally agreed to step down from office making way for the president elect, Adama Barrow.

In conclusion, international law does not consider the nature of property rights nor does it regulate property relations within a state. Under international law states are sovereign, therefore, only municipal and not international law can regulate all matters connected with the acquisition, transfer and loss of ownership rights, including the loss of ownership under the terms of a nationalisation law. An effective solution to the problems at hand must be founded on the present realities of international relations.

One of the basic facts is the current division of the globe into three distinct “worlds” which differ significantly in political, economic, ideological, social and cultural terms. To take this fully into account, different legal standards must be established for each of the different groups of states. New rules should be formulated, based on a broad and positive consideration of the urgent need of the emerging nations to develop their natural resources as effectively and as rapidly as possible — a need which international law must take into account if it is to be meaningful to the African nations and if they are expected to be effective, responsible members of the international legal community.
Nothando Bhila is a Pan-African writer passionate about issues to do with Africa and its relations as well as how it can best build its capacity

Do you have a coronavirus story? You can email us on: