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The Magic Wand in Making Constitutions Endure in Africa: Anything (Lessons) to Learn from East Africa?

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For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.

Most African countries got their flag independence in the 1960s. Soon thereafter, one after the other, the new states began falling into the hands of new military strongmen. Those lucky fell under one-party dictatorships. Democracy and rule of law became alien to the continent.

Using the case study of East Africa, this paper asks what should be done to improve the situation in the continent. Many in the continent thought that the introduction of a multiparty political system in the 1990s would improve the situation. It did not happen. The same military juntas had traded military fatigues with designer suits and got themselves “elected” into the same offices they got in by force in the first place. Constitutions in Africa are not worth the paper they are written on. They are amended just like any other inferior law. This paper attempts to propose what could be done to make constitutions in Africa endure time and become more stable. It is being proposed that Africa needs to respect the main tenets of constitutionalism. These are rule of law, independence of judiciary and clear separation of powers in the state. These principles should be complemented by development of a culture of peace, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, equal access of all citizens to the natural wealth and resources of the country, and limited leadership. As a model for constitutionalism, the East African region has nothing to offer to the continent.

Affiliations: 1: Department of International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Dar es Salaam, P.O. Box 35093, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; or, Email:


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