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Africa’s Imperial Presidents: Immunity, Impunity and Accountability

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AbstractA fundamental tenet of modern constitutionalism is that nobody, regardless of his status in society, is above the law. Constitutional reforms in the 1990s saw the introduction in many African countries of constitutions which for the first time provide some prospects for promoting constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law. This article reviews the extent to which these reforms have addressed the issue of presidential absolutism and the abuses that go with it. It examines some of the factors that made African presidents to be so powerful that the conventional constitutional checks and balances could not restrain their excesses. It also reviews the attempts to limit impunity through immunity provisions. It concludes that unfortunately, the 1990 reforms did not adequately address the problem of presidential absolutism. A number of ways, nationally and internationally, in which presidential accountability could be enhanced and the culture of impunity ended is suggested.


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