University of London Institute in Paris

9-11 rue de Constantine
75007 Paris

Seminar series
Dis-placing Politics


Transnational law flows from centres of power and prestige. The origins of changes to national legal orders are typically external even if local actors are able to shape their precise implementation. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa's weaker and poorer states. Judges applying laws of transnational origin are therefore frequently confronted with apparently insurmountable mis-matches between the nature of disputes and the formal rules used to adjudicate them. In the long run this places a considerable premium on selecting judicial officers capable of managing these tensions in ways acceptable to political and economic power-holders. In this seminar Sara Dezalay (Cardiff) and Peter Brett (QMUL) examine the consequences of law's transnationalisation for African judicial careers on the highest courts. Lisa Damon, meanwhile, adopts a bottom-up perspective, analysing how migrant women labourers navigate transnational legal orders in the Great Lakes.


16:00 - Reading Workshop (for more information and to receive the readings please click here

18:00 - Lecture and Discussion 

19:30 - Drinks Reception


Sara Dezalay

Fatoumata Dembélé Diarra: Trajectory of a Malian magistrate and civil society advocate to the International Criminal Court

A high-level magistrate and prominent civil society advocate in Mali, Judge Fatou Dembélé Diarra featured among the historic first bench of judges elected to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2003. This paper gives prominence to the voice of Diarra herself, as an exceptional individual with an acute degree of reflexivity over her own trajectory, the options she had and the professional strategies she pursued, and further, that of her own country’s post-colonial history. In so doing, however, it strives to reconstruct the structural conditions that can help explain her path, in what was still a French colony, in 1949, to the ICC. It underlines, meanwhile, how Diarra’s trajectory can prove a powerful entry-point to account for the position of legal elites in post-colonial Mali, and further, the role played by her appointment to the ICC, as a woman and as an African, in fostering the authority of the court over time.

Peter Brett

Judicial appointments to constitutional courts in Southern Africa: political controls in transnational orders

In the small states of Southern Africa the localisation of the senior judiciary is a very recent phenomenom. The last decade, in particular, has seen the slow death of a (British and South African) imperial relic: an informal system for judicial appointments based on a transnational 'old boys club'. This paper analyses difficulties existing political science theories face when explaining such politicisations of judicial selection. Local political conditions may account for the scope and timing of change, but change itself is inexplicable without reference to new forms of judicial authority in former metropoles.

Lisa Damon

Barundi women migrants to Buganda: the art of disappearing, for a time

It is generally understood that there are three ‘waves’ or periods of Barundi migration to the central Ugandan kingdom of Buganda. The first is precolonial, where they are categorized as “nationals” when colonial borders were fixed; the second is colonial, where they are referred to as “labor migrants” from the Belgian territories by the colonial state; the third is postcolonial, where they are understood as “refugees,” fleeing violence at home by the postcolonial state. I will question these terms via a close reading of two anthropological studies produced by Makerere Institute of Social Research, one in the early 1950s, the second in the early 1990s, by focusing on the epistemological ways in which their migrant subjects seem to continually elude them, or disappear. I will use this as a backdrop to stories gathered during pilot interviews conducted in 2016 with Barundi women migrants to Kampala, and the strategies they described as key to sustaining their lives and practices, also referred to as kurobera in Kirundi, or “disappearing for a time.”