News

    Constitutionalism in Africa Follows Rocky Road

    Lieutenant Amadou Konare, centre, spokesman for coup leader Amadou Haya Sanogo, unseen, is surrounded by security as he arrives to address supporters, as thousands rallied in a show of support for the recent military coup, in Bamako, Mali, March 28, 2012.
    Lieutenant Amadou Konare, centre, spokesman for coup leader Amadou Haya Sanogo, unseen, is surrounded by security as he arrives to address supporters, as thousands rallied in a show of support for the recent military coup, in Bamako, Mali, March 28, 2012.
    Nico Colombant

     

    This is Part One of a seven-part series on African constitutions

    Continue to Parts:     1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7

     

    While constitutions in Africa are routinely changed, completely revised or abruptly shut down, like recently in Mali, scholars agree the continent's constitutional path has been a rocky one.  They recommend more public involvement so constitutions can have more lasting power.

    Constitution reform

    When Lieutenant Amadou Konare announced a recent coup in Mali, he also indicated the country's constitution would be suspended indefinitely.

    Two years ago elsewhere in Africa, the occasion was more festive, as a military parade marked Kenya's promulgation of a new constitution.

    Changes in the wake of post-election violence included more parliamentary oversight of presidential decisions and a new citizen's bill of rights.

    Going back further into the continent’s history, constitutions and broad legal frameworks often times existed during the colonial era, and were then quickly updated right before independence.  

    Recommendation: Involve the public


    Ian Shapiro, a professor of political science at Yale University and a  South African native says there was very little public involvement, leading to weak documents.

    “A good part of the reason all of these countries turned into dictatorships in the 1960s when the European powers left was that they simply created democratic institutions on the way out that did not have any kind of support or buy-in from the populations, and so most of them did not last very long,” he said.

    Shapiro was an adviser during the shaping of South Africa's post-apartheid constitution, which has been praised for being crafted slowly as well as with public input.  The document came into effect in 1997, four years after an interim constitution had been passed, and six years after negotiations began.

    In many African countries, new constitutions have often been worked on in sometimes chaotic and rushed conditions after a civil war, a coup or to quickly get out of a political impasse.

    Timothy Longman, the director of the African Studies Center at Boston University, says the process needs to take place when conditions are right.

    “If you are going to write a democratic constitution in a context in which your country is not yet really democratic, it is inevitably going to reflect that lack of democracy,” he stated.

    Longman also stresses public participation. Too often, he says, this crucial component is not taken seriously.

    “These [Constitutions] are imposed from above, and even though there may appear to be some consultative process, they don't really reflect what the people think or what the people want," Longman said. "The Rwandan constitution, which was put into place almost a decade after the (1994) genocide, was one where they had a whole committee that was representative, and they went into the countryside and supposedly talked to the people.  But in reality, the political situation was so constrained that people did not really feel free to say what they wanted."

    Curb corruption, implement law

    G. Pascal Zachary, a professor at Arizona State University who writes the Africa Works blog, says too often politicians use the opportunity of constitutional reform as a diversion from a country's real problems, such as curbing corruption.  

    He cites Kenya as an example where constitutional change was what he calls an 'escapist fantasy.'

    “The problems of governance in Kenya, and the level of hypocrisy and official corruption are so enormous that in lieu of a legitimate mass movement to overthrow the political and economic elites in Kenya, which is not about to happen, constitutional reform at least gives the majority of people who are deeply aggrieved something to talk about,” Zachary stated.

    While European powers colonized Africa, African countries have subsequently adopted constitutions much more in line with the U.S. constitutional model.  

    J. Peter Pham, the Africa director at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, says, unlike the U.S. constitution, he feels African constitutions have been changed too much.

    “People should come to expect a certain continuity.  There is value [there] as many countries have learned, the United States, for example, which has had a constitution amended slightly but still essentially the same constitution as 1787," he said. "So there is something to be said about long lasting constitutions and continuity.”

    The scholars also agree that much more important than the path to constitutionalism is the path to actually implementing the rule of law.  To make this happen, they say parliaments across Africa need to be strengthened, citizens must be given access to lawyers, the quality of policing has to improve and judiciaries need to strive for independence.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.