African Constitutionalism and the Role of Islam

African Constitutionalism and the Role of Islam

African Constitutionalism and the Role of Islam

African Constitutionalism and the Role of Islam


Constitutionalism is steadily becoming the prevalent form of governance in Africa. But how does constitutionalism deal with the lingering effects of colonialism? And how does constitutional law deal with Islamic principles in the region? African Constitutionalism and the Role of Islam seeks to answer these questions. Constitutional governance has not been, nor will be, easily achieved, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im argues. But setbacks and difficulties are to be expected in the process of adaptation and indigenization of an essentially alien concept--that of of nation-state--and its role in large-scale political and social organization.

An-Na'im discusses the problems of implementing constitutionalized forms of government specific to Africa, from definitional to conceptual and practical issues. The role of Islam in these endeavors is open to challenge and reformulation, and should not be taken for granted or assumed to be necessarily negative or positive, An-Na'im asserts, and he emphasizes the role of the agency of Muslims in the process of adapting constitutionalism to the values and practices of their own societies. By examining the incremental successes that some African nations have already achieved and An-Na'im reveals the contingent role that Islam has to play in this process. Ultimately, these issues will determine the long-term sustainability of constitutionalism in Africa.


I began working on this book in 1995 under a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), but had to set it aside when I became the coordinator of a major study of legal protection of rights under the constitutions of sixteen African countries. That project was organized by the International Center for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (Interights) and Inter-Africa Network for Human Rights and Development (Afronet). All those studies were done by African researchers working on their respective countries according to the same terms of reference and uniform format. Ten of those country studies were in due course published in Human Rights Under African Constitutions: Realizing the Promise for Ourselves (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003). I am pleased to acknowledge the initial grant of the ACLS, and the professional support of Interights and Afronet, but my special appreciation is for the rigorous scholarship and helpful insights of the researchers in that project. That project not only confirmed and helped define the concept of African constitutionalism that I am trying to further develop in this book, but also enabled me to test and revise some of my assumptions and initial thinking on the subject. This background is therefore important to note from the beginning because it relates to the genesis and objectives of this book.

I was already working on the cultural legitimacy of human rights and related ideas, with particular reference to Islamic and African societies, when I participated in a global comparative study of constitutionalism organized by the ACLS in 1988–89. Working on the Africa regional “institute” for that project contributed to shaping my understanding of issues of constitutionalism in a pan-African perspective, reaffirmed my commitment to this principle and my belief in the possibilities of its incremental success throughout the continent. The idea of writing a book about constitutionalism in Africa emerged at the end of that ACLS project.

However, it was my subsequent participation in the Interights/Afronet . . .

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