Comparative constitutional law, Legal studies, Political science

Course date

29 June - 8 July, 2020
Application deadline
14 February, 2020
Course Director(s): 

Markus Böckenförde

Department of Legal Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Gedion Hessebon

School of Law, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Renata Uitz

Comparative Constitutional Law Program, Department of Legal Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
Course Faculty: 

Horace S Adjolohoun

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, Arusha, Tanzania

Jill Cottrell (through video link) - TBC

Katiba Institut, Nairobi, Kenya

Yash Ghai (through video link) - TBC

University of Hong Kong

Omar Hammady

Visiting Researcher at Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg, Germany; Adviser to the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria / United Nations Department of Political Affairs

Babacar Kanté

Professor Emeritus at University Gaston Berger, St. Louis, Senegal, Former Vice President of the Constitutional Court of Senegal

Christina Murray

Professor Emeritus at University of Cape Town, South Africa/ senior member of the Mediation Support Standby Team of the United Nations’ Department of Political Affairs with a focus on constitutions and power-sharing

H. Kwasi Prempeh

Executive Director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, Accra, Ghana

History has seen several waves of constitution-building in the 20th century with an unparalleled boom starting in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And while experts recently announced the end of this boom in new constitutions after the Cold War, the world is witnessing another wave of constitution-building, this time predominately in Africa. Quite prominent have been the dynamics in the Maghreb as a result of the Arab spring that have recently extended to Algeria and Sudan. Less visible, but also very vivid are the processes in Sub-Saharan Africa (1), recently in Central African Republic, Kenya, Zimbabwe, presently in Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, Somalia, Mali, Liberia and prospectively in Botswana, Nigeria, and other countries. This burst of activity has given rise to a range of new ideas about the nature and purpose of constitutions and constitution-making, constitutional solutions to genuine local problems, the proper role of international and local actors in the constitution-building process as well as the value of having a dedicated implementation process for a newly adopted constitution. (2) 

At its heart the proposed course intends to tackle complex societal, political and legal problems in constitution-building from an interdisciplinary perspective, informed by field experience. In order to understand and contextualize practitioners’ experiences, we seek to combine different disciplines (mostly comparative law and political science) and perspectives (comparative governmental systems; electoral systems; decentralization; human rights; comparative constitutional law; good governance; etc) to offer new insights on a classic subject of the highest academic and practical relevance.

The course will address the subject from four different angles, all of them related to specific challenges of constitution-building in Africa:

The first one highlights constitutionalism in Africa in general, the different roles and meanings of a constitution, the merits and risks of constitutional borrowing, the role of external / international influence and the point of public participation in constitution building. A mapping exercise and intense exchange with participants permits exploring cross country learning and placing regional developments in a broader political and economic context.

The second angle accounts for the fact that new constitutions often follow conflict, and as such, are loaded with the expectation to herald a new era of peace and democracy. Believed to be leaving behind authoritarianism, despotism or political upheaval, contemporary constitutional processes aspire to become inclusive. Whether the inclusiveness indeed meets the expectations of the people concerned and creates ownership instead of disappointment is worth to be analyzed. Furthermore, a two-step approach with an interim document at the beginning followed by a permanent solution afterwards is gaining momentum in post-conflict peace negotiations. Risks and chances of this approach need to be discussed and evaluated. Experiences with several protracted constitutional review processes require careful critical reflection.

The third angle of the course addresses how constitutional designs respond to competing claims, be they political, religious, ethnic, linguistic. The course will pay special attention to how new African constitutions attempt to accommodate different stakeholders (3),  tame the executive, strengthen checks and balances (4),  how constitutions aspire to prevent stalemates and prevent the self-perpetuation of constitutional actors through constitutional review processes. Based on the experiences of previous years, our participants are most interested in constitutional solutions promoting gender equality, social justice and managing religious diversity.. In previous courses these angles were covered best by interactive group projects, seeking to draw out the experiences of practitioners taking part in conflict management.

Finally taking into account the fact that the management of constitutional change and maintenance of constitutional stability are ongoing challenges, the course will explore the issue of constitutional implementation, review and redemption as part of the constitutional building process. While a one-week course is clearly able to cover this important element, we found that a two-week version permits a more nuanced comparative approach, shedding light on key lessons and takes account of participants’ experiences much better (as we find that many of course participants come with a background in implementation processes).

The course is designed to be a forum for exchange and mutual learning for practitioners of constitutional reform and scholars of constitutional change. In previous years participants included members of constitutional review commissions, civil servants, judges, civil society activists, officers from UN-missions and the AU and other intergovernmental organizations as well as academics with an interest in law, government and political science. Our participants and alumni have contributed to an ever-growing network of professionals involved in the dynamics of constitution-building in Africa. Many are among the contributors of the recently published volume on “Public Participation in African Constitutionalism” (Routledge).

As we are aware that constitutional dynamics on the African continent do not earn the global attention they deserve in academic discourses and as part of comparative research, we want to contribute to overcoming this deficit.  Taking advantage of this year’s unique opportunity to have the annual ICON S conference directly after the summer course in neighbouring Poland (Wroclaw), we have secured slots for up to three panels. Applicants, who are interested to present a paper at the conference are requested to indicate it in their application to the summer course.

Quotes from last year's participants (2019):

"Great interactivity, great quality of teachers, mix of teaching methods."

"The opportunity to mix scholarly work with practitioner experience was truly on its own league. Also, allowing for a 2-week course ensured that we not only engaged with the material in a deeper way, but we also ended up making life-long professional and personal networks with both faculty and fellow students. Thank you so much for this opportunity!"

“It is this unique composition of participants that creates an unrivaled opportunity of exchange and understanding, guided by most distinguished faculty members from the African continent, all of them having worked in academia as well as in practice on issues of constitution-building in Africa.”

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  1. See H. Kwasi Prempeh, “Africa’s ‘constitutionalism revival’: False start or new dawn?,” International Journal of Constitutional Law 5, no. 3 (July 1, 2007): 469 -506.
  2.   See Charles Manga Fombad, “Constitutional Reforms and Constitutionalism in Africa: Reflections on Some Current Challenges and Future Prospects,” Buffalo Law Review Buffalo Law Review 59 (2011).
  3.   See International Commission of Jurists, Ethnicity, human rights, and constitutionalism in Africa. (Nairobi  Kenya: Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, 2008).
  4.   See H. K. Prempeh, Constitutional Autochthony and the Invention and Survival of ‘Absolute Presidentialism’ in Postcolonial Africa, 209, in G. Frankenberg, ed. Order from Transfer. Comparative Constitutional Design and Legal Culture (Edward Elgar, 2013).