Beyond formalism: problems and prospects of aspirational principles in African federal constitutionalism. Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa in comparative perspective

Constitutions are often sources of shared values, as they may contain aspirational principles that guide public and private behaviors and to which citizens aspire. Along with common principles such as democracy or justice, there are other values that are more specific to the history and social context of a country. Some scholar contends that even federalism can be added to the aspirational features of a constitution, perhaps because of its ideal way of sharing powers. This presentation looks at three established African federations and offers a comparative account of the following aspirational values: federal character (Nigeria), solidarity between different communities and cooperative government (South Africa), ethnicity (Ethiopia). Once entrenched in a constitution, these principles become aspirational because they may direct policies to foster equality, eliminate obstacles or require the various tiers of government to collaborate harmoniously in the performance of their functions.

Somalia: building a federation in the absence of trust or constitutionalism

In orthodox federal theory success of a federal experiment is predicated on the presence of trust among the federal partners, and, where that fails on occasion, a central Supreme or Constitutional Court which can adjudicate disputes among the partners. Conversely, the absence of these two elements makes the chances of success very slim if not impossible. However, in fragile countries where federalism remains the last option open to peace and stability, these two elements are most often absent. The question is then whether such countries (Somalia and Yemen) should abandon any attempt at a federal solution, falling back on a military solution to the conflict (Sri Lanka) or separation. It is argued that a new federal paradigm should be explored where a federal solution to fragile countries is not based on trust or even a supreme court. This question will be explored with reference to Somalia which since 2012 has been pursuing a federal solution to its ‘failed state’ problem.

Can federalism help bring peace to South Sudan?

The civil war in South Sudan has claimed the lives of more than 50 000 people and displaced millions. South Sudan formally became independent in 2011, descending into civil war soon thereafter. Debates about the future of South Sudan have always included federalism as a mechanism to foster peace and development. The 2011 Constitution, meant to be transitional, is federal in nature and explicitly recognizes ‘devolution’ and ‘decentralization’ to accommodate the ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious and racial diversity of the South Sudanese people. Yet, these federal features did little to prevent the human catastrophe currently unfolding in South Sudan. This paper focuses on what there is to learn from the process of constitution-building as well as the content and implementation of the 2011 Constitution. What are the key factors, both legal, political and social that undermined the federal features of the peace agreement? What role can federalism play in the future of South Sudan?

Ethnicity and power sharing in African federations

More than a clamor for autonomy, it is access to central power that defines the political contestations characterizing African states. Autonomy, within a decentralized framework, does not feature prominently in the debates about institutional design and reconfiguration of the African state. The literature on conflict management in Africa is rather replete with modes and experiences of creating an inclusive government through mechanisms of power sharing. The question is thus why conflict management efforts and discussion in Africa focus on what is going on at the central government or how the central government is organized and composed. What is about the exercise of central power in Africa that have forced many to give particular attention to the place it gives to communal representation? This paper seeks to examine why access to central power has emerged as an important factor for ethnic groups in Africa and the implications of the adopted arrangements for inter-ethnic relations.

Multi-tiered (multinational) systems in the African continent: the rationale behind constitutional asymmetries

Contemporary federal theory indicates that recent federal systems are fragmenting and multinational states that experience asymmetrical responses to internal differences. The more comprehensive approach is needed to research asymmetrical arrangements as a mechanism for diversity accommodation. The African continent proves to be especially interesting for research. In the last decades a number of African countries have embraced federalism; and there is still no comprehensive explanation for these developments. In the first place, this complicates the understanding of the rationale behind constitutional asymmetries. In addition, it blurs an explanation as to why some of the African states employed constitutional asymmetries and others did not. Therefore, the paper aims to prove the association between (asymmetrical) multi-tiered multinational systems and constitutional asymmetry, and address comparative correlations among multi-tiered multinational systems in the African states.