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Constitutional Democracy and Smooth Succession of Government in Africa

03/09/11

Constitutional Democracy and Smooth Succession of Government in Africa

Permalink 11:57:00 am, by mark hirnyam, 1304 words   English (US) latin1
Categories: News, World News, African News

*Constitutional Democracy & Smooth Succession of Government in Africa

By Mark Hirnyam

The continent of Africa is currently witnessing an increasing wave of democratization as countries increasingly adopt the practice of constitutional and democratic governance. As this democratic culture sweeps across the continent, there have been, in many countries, reasons to doubt or question the expected benefit of the practice. A number of countries, even though under constitutional democracy, have encountered very serious political crises in its practice. From the last crisis in Kenya to the ongoing succession question in Nigeria.

The issue of constitutional democracy is a relatively fragile phenomenon in Africa. We have cause to be delighted with those countries in Africa that have strived above our peculiar challenges to uphold the virtues of democracy that guarantee smooth succession of governments.

Corruption, ethnic, tribal, religious, gender discrimination, violence and election rigging to mention but a few have characterized political regimes in Africa. However, amidst these confrontations, African countries like Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania and recently South Africa and Sierra Leone would stand up tall if we are to celebrate smooth government successions in the continent. Constitutional democracy is viewed as a system of government based on popular sovereignty in which structures, powers and limits of government are set forth in a Constitution. In upholding this concept of democracy, there must be an effective system where the electorate would control its elected representatives and hold them accountable for their decisions and actions while in government.

Constitutional democracy has two ideals; first, by constitutionalism, it relates to the regulation of political authority by law. Under this idea, the Constitution which is the ground norm defines or limits the power of government and determines the level and manner of distributing political authority amongst the arms of government. Secondly, democracy by this notion refers to representation i.e. who holds and exercises political authority on behalf of others, how is political authority acquired and retained as well as ensuring public accountability of public office holders. ( Continues below….. )

Map of Africa

Photo Above: Map of Africa

Inferring from the above, the most important part of constitutional democracy is the electorate or the citizen. This is why we accept the democratic system of government which ensures that government in power is accountable to the people and the laws of the land. However, it is important to state that a democratic government is not a guarantee for good governance, but invariably provides a basis for it.

The development and progress of constitutional democracy in Africa has indeed begun. Since 1992, the number of leaders that have voluntarily relinquished power is estimated to be 40. Some of them handed over power after serving their constitutional tenures while others lost elections and accepted the election outcome. The number of democratic nations in Africa has also grown just as political reforms have increased even in those countries with monarchy.

Instilling the idea of constitutional democracy in Africa, the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) in July 1999, at a summit of member nations in Algiers adopted a policy against unconstitutional change of government. The policy was later consolidated in Article 30 of the Constitutive Act of Africa Union (AU) which declares that “governments which shall come to power through unconstitutional means shall not be allowed to participate in the activities of the Union”. In Bamako in 2000, the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) agreed to suspend member states that have experienced a military coup d’etat. Togo was indeed suspended in 2005 following the attempt by the military to impose Faure Gnassingbe after the death of his father, Eyadema.

Irrespective of this pacts and agreements, democratic practice in some African countries have been dominated by one party system, such that the idea of being voted out of power becomes a near impossibility. Hence, the transfer of power from an incumbent party to the opposition remains a formidable challenge. Although there is nothing wrong with the same ruling party winning in every election, the way and manner in which these transitions have taken place leaves doubt in the emergence of proper multi-party politics but continues to uphold the one party tradition in Africa.

If we agree that constitutional democracy dwells with the laws of the land, then we must accept that such laws have not been effectively used or are minimally implemented. The scenario connotes the inability of political actors and elites to do the right thing and subject themselves to the will of the people. ( Continues below….. )

Mr. Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission

Photo Above: Mr. Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission

There is no gainsaying the fact that democracy and indeed succession problems include self dominant forms of government, corruption, insufficient accountability, inadequate checks and balances, non-compliance to rule of law, absence of peaceful means of relinquishing power, sit-tight leadership, election disputes and so on.

In addition, as a carryover from long years of military existence, there is increased dominance of the executive in our political regimes. Hence, the balance of power is heavily skewed to the all-powerful President in most cases. This is evident in attempts by these all-powerful Presidents to extend their respective tenures or to decide at the exclusion of others who succeeds them. In some cases, these attempts have been successful but have rendered leadership succession complicated and smooth government transition more difficult to achieve.

If we desire to sustain democracy in Africa, then we must ensure that our democratic systems require continuous nurturing support and strengthen those institutions and mechanisms that uphold democracy- these include the judiciary, parliament, an independent electoral management body, Human Rights Commission, virile political parties with comprehensible manifestoes, vibrant and free media and an engaged civil society. What we have done in Nigeria to ensure the independence of the parliament and the judiciary is the historic review of our Constitution which has sections that provide for funding these institutions through a (direct) first line charge method rather depending on the executive for finance (and obvious control).

In view of the above also, there should be a proper symmetry between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary based on the principles of accountability or checks and balances and a better relationship between the three arms of government. Succession under constitutional democracy is beyond the issue of tenure limits. It is on this basis that we suggest that provisions should be made for outgoing leaders to be able to maintain a decent and meaningful way of life while contributing further to national, regional and international development.

The conduct of free and fair elections is paramount in encouraging smooth succession of government. For this reason, the independence of the electoral system including representation of the individual political competitors must be assured. Parliamentarians in the region particularly, need to enhance those necessary laws and ensure their implementation through proper oversights while the armed forces should participate as private individuals not security operatives during elections.

It is also their duty as parliamentarians to ensure that our laws or even constitutional reforms (where necessary) are clear and easily understood, just as they increase the value of electorates and elections rather than consenting to provisions that are either vague or are easy to be manipulated.

In conclusion, the efforts of the executive in ensuring transparency in governance and credible elections through pacts and eventual practice must be commended. However these actions may not be as objective and as desirable for the common good. It is in this regard that the makers of the law must ensure that those laws that are unbiased and promote good governance are upheld. This is because democracy depends on adequate electoral laws and constitutional democracy simply means guaranteeing the rule of law.

Mark Hirnyam is an Associate Editor with the National Assembly Legislative Digest ( Website: www.nasslegisdigestonline.com ).

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