This article investigates T. O. Elias's constructions of past and future Africas in Africa and the Development of International Law. It locates Elias within Nigeria's educated elite and its oscillating constructions of past and future Africas, and turns specifically to Elias's romanticized African past of the great medieval empires as a source of legitimacy within the broader ‘development’ of international law. The article works through his depiction of ‘customary’ law in Nigeria and how the African past maintains its presence in current law, and then addresses Elias's depiction of the future represented by new pan-African institutions. Finally, the article discusses Elias's depiction of a liberating future or ‘modern’ international law – the move from consent to consensus – in which Africa seems important only within the broader population of new states, and how his conception of international law – citing Jenks and Jessup, Friedmann and Falk – with its commitment to law's reflection of society, fits comfortably within the traditions of a modern sociological jurisprudence.
* Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; taught history at Yale, Stanford, and McGill universities and international legal theory at the University of California, Berkeley. For their contributions to this article, the author would like to thank Maxwell Chibundu, Sean Hanretta, Obiora Okafor, Susan Landauer, and Philip Zachernuk.