Decentralisation and Constitutionalism in Africa: Concepts, Conflicts and Challenges
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A central quest in post-Cold War Africa has been to bring the Leviathan – the untrammelled ruler – to heel through constitutionalism, and, to a lesser extent, also decentralisation. 1 The unbridled power of the imperial presidency, the one party state, and military regimes, has resulted, contrary to their projected justification of unifying and developing the new ‘nation’ bequeathed by the departing colonisers 30 years before, in underdevelopment, marginalisation of minorities, and in many countries fragility and conflict. When the proxy wars and the propping up of dictators, petty tyrants and kleptocrats came to an end, a vision and hope of governance in terms of constitutionalism and decentralisation emerged in some, if not most, parts of the continent; it would bring peace, democracy, good governance and development. This vision of decentralisation and constitutionalism has, however, only been partially realised over the past 25 years. The story of the Arab Spring of 2011 is similar in hope and outcome. Within this context, this conference seeks to examine the relationship between decentralisation and constitutionalism, giving rise to three interrelated questions: First, has the quest for decentralisation been dependent on a legal-political environment of constitutionalism? Put differently and prospectively, are any efforts towards decentralisation doomed in the absence or partial realisation of constitutionalism in a particular country? Secondly, is there a mutually supporting relationship between decentralisation and constitutionalism, where the former bolsters and buttresses the latter? Thirdly, in the absence or partial realisation of constitutionalism, has the quest for decentralisation been a vehicle for the building of constitutionalism? Or, more prospectively, does decentralisation hold the potential as a governance strategy, among others, that may advance the vision of constitutionalism.