AFRICAN NETWORK OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYERS HYBRID CONFERENCE 2021
The University of Nairobi, School of Law
Theme: Checking the Tide of Democratic Regression in Africa
Conference dates: October 28-29, 2021
The African Network of Constitutional Lawyers (ANCL) in collaboration with the University of Nairobi, School of Law will be hosting the ANCL Hybrid conference in 2021 in Nairobi, Kenya. This conference follows and builds on the discussions initiated at the 2018 conference in Gaborone, Botswana on the theme “Courts, Power and Constitutional Law in Africa” and during a webinar in 2020 which was a commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of the Constitution of Kenya. This year’s hybrid conference will offer a reflection on the status of constitutionalism in Africa through the lens of the aspirations, performance, and challenges of Checking the tide of democratic regression in Africa.
Three decades after the revival of democracy in Africa, the continent appears to be witnessing fits and starts with democracy. The ANCL & UoN conference provides an opportune moment to pause and take stock of the state of democracy in Africa. The conference sessions will engage with debates and discussions on democratic developments in the continent, considering representative country experiences and the role of African and sub-regional supranational organizations in promoting and consolidating democracy as well as checking and addressing regressions in democracy on the continent. The conference also provides an opportunity to refine our understanding of the concepts of democracy and regression and to consider whether Africa is actually witnessing a democratic regression and potential pathways to reverse course.
Africa has recorded democratic progress in some bright spots around the continent, including an increasing number of changes in ruling party and leadership, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Malawi. Nevertheless, the overall trajectory on the continent leaves a lot to be desired, with coups returning to the scene, such as in Mali. The 2020 Freedom in the World Report highlights a striking democratic decline in sub-Saharan Africa with beacons of democracy, such as Benin and Senegal dropping significantly from a previous rating of ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free’ countries. It seems the progress gained since the 1990s democratic revival is being eroded due, partly to repressive practices aimed at undermining genuine political competition and disenfranchising the people. Regular elections have been a feature of most governments since the 1990s, yet these elections have served to maintain and provide formal legitimacy to the incumbents rather than usher in a change in leadership, policy, and the fortunes of Africa’s billions. Incumbent governments have sought to restrict democratic participation by undermining human rights through repressive practices such as arbitrary arrests and detention of civil society, media, and opposition leaders and politically motivated prosecution on spurious charges, such as terrorism and corruption. Recent examples of repressive practices include the arbitrary arrest and detention of musician-turned politician “Bobi Wine”, the main opposition candidate to long-term President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and the arrest and detention of Maurice Kamto, the main opposition candidate to long term President Paul Biya of Cameroon. The opposition leader in Tanzania was also forced to exile in connection with the recent elections. In many cases, such actions further antagonize an already aggrieved population and often lead to instability.
Another noticeable trend in the apparent democratic backsliding is the adoption of legislative measures purportedly aimed at reforming electoral processes. Yet, many of these measures have the effect of undermining the opposition’s ability to engage in the electoral process or to engage on a level platform. Recent electoral reforms in Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger, and Senegal have restricted political participation by, inter alia, requiring very high percentages of citizen endorsements for political candidates or high levels of endorsement by elected officials or other opponents in the same political contests, or exorbitant financial deposit requirements for candidates. In many cases, this has had the effect of eliminating opposition candidates from elections. For instance, in 2019, Benin adopted legislative measures requiring election candidates to be endorsed by 10% of parliamentarians or mayors. Although the percentage appears to be small, it has the effect of ousting the main opposition parties from prospective elections, including the recent 11 April 2021 presidential elections given that the ruling party dominates both parliament and local councils.
A further trend has been the withdrawal of membership in African supranational organizations in response to criticisms of apparently undemocratic practices or actions that have the potential to undermine democratic developments. A clear trend has been witnessed in the withdrawal of a declaration made under article 34 of the African Court Protocol, which allows individuals and non-governmental entities to access the Court after the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights decided against governments in cases where democratic rights were at stake. In March 2020, Benin gave notice of its withdrawal from the African Court following a decision where the African Court ordered the government of Benin to annul processes adopted with the effect of excluding the opposition from the May 2020 municipal elections. Benin saw this as unwarranted interference with democratic processes. A similar approach was adopted by Côte d’Ivoire in April 2020 when it gave notice of its withdrawal from the African Court. The withdrawal was prompted by a decision of the African Court ordering the suspension of an arrest warrant against the former rebel leader Guillaume Soro who was a candidate in the presidential elections. Côte d’Ivoire criticized the decision stating that the African Court was interfering with its national sovereignty and creating genuine political insecurity. These withdrawals followed previous withdrawals by Rwanda in February 2016 and Tanzania in November 2019. The withdrawals call into question the democratic credibility of the relevant governments and may also be seen as an indictment on the African Court. Although the African Court seems to be making attempts to support democracy in the continent, the reaction of these states as previously discussed highlights a significant weakness in the Court’s protection mechanism.
In light of the above, the specific objectives of this hybrid conference are to engage in a critical discussion on:
1. Conceptualise democracy and democratic regression
2. Interrogate whether Africa is witnessing a democratic regression and the key manifestations. This will be informed by specific country studies.
3. Explore the role of African supranational organizations in democracy building and in taming the apparent tide of regression.
4. Developing a renewed understanding of and commitment to democracy and responsibility by African states and supranational organizations
The hybrid conference provides a critical moment to deliberate and draw on pan-African lessons and experiences in checking the tide of democratic regression in Africa. The organizers are inviting interested scholars, researchers, and lawyers to submit abstracts of a maximum of 300 words relating to the theme of the hybrid conference. The organizers are specifically interested in papers that adopt an inter-African comparative approach.
All submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 31, 2021. Successful candidates will be notified by August 15, 2021, and will be required to submit a draft paper of not more than 6000 words (including footnotes) by September 30, 2021. Based on the feedback received at the conference and the quality of the work, it is envisaged that participants will be given an opportunity to revise their draft papers for publication in an edited collection of chapters.
All participants will be responsible for their own travel and accommodation expenses. The Conference will adopt a hybrid format. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 5 participate will be allowed to attend in person in Nairobi. Other participants will join virtually. The virtual platform will be on Zoom and broadcast on the ANCL Facebook and Twitter.