Two Chief Justices speak at seminar on constitutionalism in Africa

Posted on September 13, 2018

The Honourable Mogoeng Mogoeng, Chief Justice of South Africa, and the Honourable David Maraga, Chief Justice of Kenya, were the keynote speakers at the Sixth Stellenbosch Annual Seminar on Constitutionalism in Africa.

Held last week, and attended by academics from Africa, members of civil society and postgraduate students working in the area of democracy, elections and constitutionalism in Africa, the theme was Democracy, elections and constitutionalism in Africa.

The seminar reflected on ways to improve the quality of democracy in Africa. It examined issues around how constitutions can be designed to ensure that elections will be genuinely competitive and not a contest between enemies; how to reduce the cost of losing an election; and how to encourage incumbents and opposition parties to accept defeat and continue to play by the rules of the democratic game. 

Presentations focused on:

  • making multiparty democracy work in Africa;
  • authoritarian multiparty democracy;
  • enhancing the role of political parties in making democracy work;
  • enhancing democratic quality through electoral processes;
  • promoting inclusive and participatory democracy.

From left to right, Chief Justice David Maraga of Kenya, Prof Charles Fombad of the University of Pretoria’s Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng of South Africa.

The seminar was jointly organised by the University of Pretoria’s Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, in partnership with the South African Research Chair on Multilevel Government, Law and Policy at the University of the Western Cape’s Dullah Omar Institute, and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Rule of Law Programme for Sub-Saharan Africa, based in Kenya.

Discussions focused on concerns around the future of democratic elections and constitutionalism in Africa. Since the 1990s, multiparty elections have widely been regarded in Africa as the only way to constitute a legitimate democratic and accountable government. These elections have over the past three decades been held regularly in most African countries.

Despite this, the prospects of such multiparty elections forming the basis for entrenching a culture of democratic governance, constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law have diminished, particularly in the past few years. While it’s clear that support for democracy is hardening, the democratic quality of elections has steadily declined.

The recent elections in Zimbabwe have generally been described by most international election observers and election monitors as reasonably free and fair. The same was said of the 2017 presidential elections in Kenya – until the courts shocked the international community by proving that this was not the case. The critical issue then is how can we stabilise the rocky African constitutionalism boat through the stormy seas of authoritarian revival, and prevent the democratic recession spiralling into a depression?

The papers presented during the seminar will be reviewed for possible publication in the fifth volume of the Oxford University Press series Stellenbosch Handbooks in African Constitutional Law.

Meanwhile, the two Chief Justices, who can be described as Africa’s leading warriors of constitutional justice and constitutionalism, were honoured with special Ghanaian traditional attire, the Kente hand-woven cloth, reserved for accomplished elders.

- Author Department of University Relations

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