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This course is archived
Course date
June 1–30, 2021
Application deadline
Course delivery

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 has recently extended to Algeria and Sudan. Less visible, but also very vivid are the processes in Sub-Saharan Africa (1), recently in the 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 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 permit 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 afterward is gaining momentum in post-conflict peace negotiations. The 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, or 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), and 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 longer version permits a more nuanced comparative approach, shedding light on key lessons and taking 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 to the recently published volume on “Public Participation in African Constitutionalism” (Routledge).

As we are aware 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.  As the annual ICON S conference is held online one week after the summer course (July 8-10), we have secured slots for up to three panels. Applicants, who are interested in presenting a paper at the conference are requested to indicate it in their application to the summer course. 

Online course format

The course will consist of ten modules stretching over five weeks with two modules per week. At the center of each module is a highly interactive two-hour synchronous online session with the course directors and the faculty members. Each session requires diligent preparation by participants through reading assignments, documentary films, watching pre-recorded presentations by faculty members, online working group sessions of participants, preparing and recording their own presentations, etc. 

Quotes from former participants (2019)

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

"The opportunity to mix scholarly work with practitioner experience was truly in its own league. Also, allowing for a 2-week course ensured that we not only engaged with the material in a deeper way but 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.”

Completed CEU Summer University Application Form

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