A comprehensive and encouraging study of the way the rule of law has evolved in eastern and southern Africa, as exemplified in the intellectual evolution of Francis L. Nyalali, Chief Justice of Tanzania from 1976 through 1991.
Nyalali, a devout Christian and admirer of John Marshall, brought about positive changes in the administration of justice even at a time when Tanzania was a one-party state. By using his judicial career as a case study, Widner (Law and Development/Univ. of Michigan) issues a cogently argued reminder of the law’s power to do good. She first examines the status of law and justice in the newly independent African nations of the 1960s. Fledgling judiciaries found themselves undermanned and often overwhelmed by the task of blending customary tribal law with common law, of finding suitable venues, and of making the courts accessible to everyone. The 1970s, she notes next, were a low point in many countries: one-party, often dictatorial rule prevailed; many lawyers and radical intellectuals began calling for the end of an independent judiciary. By the 1980s, matters began to improve, accelerating further in the 1990s as the law came to be seen as the guarantor of democracy, a free economy, and human rights, particularly the rights of women and those accused of crimes. Widner notes the important role judges like Nyalali played as they spearheaded these changes, seeking counsel and help from the US and other countries, embracing programs like “street law,” and working to create a written record of proceedings that would help future judges.
A groundbreaking work: intellectually rigorous but always accessible; timely yet (given the current abundance of bad news from Africa) refreshingly optimistic.