Faculty Stories

In tough times, Mutua gives voice to the rule of law


With his election as chair of a major international-law organization, Professor Makau W. Mutua is taking the next step in a lifetime’s work in support of the rule of law.

Mutua, a former dean of the UB School of Law, was chosen by his peers to on the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), headquartered in Rome. He will chair the organization’s governing Board of Advisors, a group of academics and professional experts on law and development.

The IDLO, which holds observer status at the United Nations, is the only intergovernmental agency that focuses exclusively on promoting the rule of law throughout the world. Its vision is “a world where every person lives in dignity and under the rule of law.

We enable countries to design, reform and strengthen those laws and institutions most apt to deliver justice, dignity and economic opportunity.”

It’s a natural fit for Mutua, who has published widely in this academic area and has conducted numerous human rights, diplomatic and rule of law missions to countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe. He served as a scholar in residence at the IDLO in 2015, helping to organize a conference that was held in Tanzania on the rule of law in Africa.

“The mission and vision of IDLO represent my life’s devotion to a society driven by the values of human rights, equity, social justice and the rule of law,” Mutua says. “The organization works to promote independent judiciaries, enhances constitutionalism, increases societal capacities to protect children, promotes the devolution/decongestion of power, and empowers those who are excluded or marginalized. These are the ideals that drive my scholarship and advocacy both nationally and internationally.  

“IDLO is committed to my life’s work of sitting at the intersection of power and the powerless, and working to reduce that gap by holding the powerful accountable and equipping the marginalized with the tools to fight back. That has been the project of my life.”  

Mutua has served since 2012 on the Board of Advisors of the organization, which takes the approach that the success of international development is intertwined with the quality of nations’ governance. IDLO’s founders, he says, “realized that the material world must be transformed through the consciousness of the rule of law working mutually with the values of an inclusive and equitable economy for all. Social justice includes not only the rule of law but a just and fair participation in the economic life of a country. However, that just and fair participation isn’t possible without creating sustainable development – development that’s home-grown, self-reliant, bottom-up and self-reproductive at the grass roots. That’s the kind of society IDLO seeks to foster.”

His election comes at a parlous time for the world political order, with the rise of nativist and populist leaders in the United States and Europe. These developments, he says, are “a reaction against the increasing power of the global South and diminishing hegemonies of the global North, especially among people of white European heritage. It’s a backlash against the project of equality and inclusion of ‘the other.’  

“IDLO has its work cut out in this new world of authoritarianism and illiberalism in the Western world,” Mutua says. “Much of the work of IDLO has been focused on less freer societies in the global South. I think going forward, it has to think of working more in the global North as well.”