Politics of Constitutional Reforms and Democratization in Africa

Article excerpt

JULIUS O. IHONVBERE [*]

ABSTRACT

Any constitution that does not emerge from widespread consultations with all nationality and interest groups cannot be regarded as legitimate. The basis of constitutional legitimacy must now be measured by the extent to which the masses have been part of the process of compacting the constitution. [1]

The mere existence of a constitution, however comprehensive, will do little to create a stable environment for democracy and development unless people know and understand its provisions, have faith that their governments will not overrule it, and believe that their rights as promulgated within it, will indeed be upheld (Ould-Abdallah 1998).

Introduction: Global Issues and Objectives

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS have become the main political activity in most African states. In Angola, Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria to mention a few, constitutions are either being reformed or there are very intensive contestations on the need for reforms. Without doubt, these agitations for reforms and on going reviews of existing constitutions are precipitates of the changing character of national, regional, and global politics. The end of the Cold War has had far-reaching impacts on socioeconomic and political relations in Africa. As distances are shrinking and economic and financial relations are becoming streamlined, African states have had to adjust accordingly. The imposition of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank designed and supervised structural adjustment programs (SAPs) on African states was accompanied with the imposition of political conditionalities. Economic conditionalities required African states to execute policies of desubsidization, deregulation, devalu ation, and the adoption of other stringent fiscal and economic policies. As well, economic conditionality required the crisis and debt-ridden African states to shrink their roles in the economy, and open their economies to the new forces of globalization that were rapidly integrating national markets. Of course, for foreign dominated, distorted, disarticulated, and largely technologically challenged African states, globalization meant further incorporation into the margins of the world economy. This marginal location meant increasing vulnerability to the vagaries of a metropole-dominated capitalist global order. Unfortunately, for most African states, the failure of adjustment programs culminated in a rising debt profile, unemployment, inflation, a rising crime wave, rural-urban migration, infrastructural decay, and social dislocation. One consequence of this development was the massive emigration of qualified professionals (brain drain phenomenon) to foreign lands, thus, further complicating the already desp erate economic conditions in the continent.

As African states were struggling to meet the stringent conditionalities required to obtain credit, aid, and resuscitate their declining markets, Western nations, lenders, and donors, capitalizing on the advantages of the post-Cold War order, imposed new political conditionalities. Among other factors, the conditionalities required African states to respect human rights, allow for multiparty politics, and conduct democratic elections as preconditions for doing business or securing aid. This new approach reflected a determination by the global community to alter existing economic and political patterns for restructuring the emerging global order, albeit in the interest of the developed nations. Yet, the new emphasis on democracy, human rights, elections, transparency, and accountability was designed to streamline conditions within the developing formations to make them conducive for business. In this way, economic and political conditionalities became aspects of the overall globalization process by incorporat ing political necessities within economic determinants that fuel the global relations of power, production, and exchange. …