Law in Africa has been shaped primarily through different countries inheritance of laws which existed in Europe through the nineteenth century. For instance, the primary sources of South Africa law were Roman-Dutch and English Common law, imports of Dutch settlements and British colonialism. Thus it is sometimes termed Anglo-Dutch law. Various lawmaking bodies have existed within South Africa over time. Yet in fact, some of the oldest legal systems began first in Africa. For instance, Ancient Egyptian law used a civil code, based on the concept of Ma'at. Tradition, rhetorical speech, social equality and impartiality were key principles. Judges kept records, which was used as precedent, although the systems developed slowly.
A polycentriclegal system, called Xeer developed exclusively in the Horn of Africa more than a millennium ago and is still widely used by the Somali people. Under this system, elders serve as judges and help mediate cases using precedents. Xeer is a good example of how customary law can work in lieu of civil law, and is a good approximation of what is thought of as natural law. Several scholars have noted that even though Xeer may be centuries old, it has the potential to serve as the legal system of a modern, well functioning economy. The Xeer also shows how influential a system of laws can be with regard to the development of a culture. According to one report, the Somali nation did not begin with the common use of the Somali language by the Somali clans, but rather with the collective observance of Xeer. An analogous phenomenon is also said to have occurred among the neighbouring Oromo nation, the latter of which is now under Ethiopian rule.