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Aspirational and representative constitutional identity in Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 October 2022

Jan Erk*
Africa Institute for Research in Economics and Social Sciences (AIRESS), Faculté de Gouvernance, Sciences Économiques et Sociales (FGSES), Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique (UM6P), Rabat, Morocco


This article addresses the problématique of giving voice to homegrown traditions of constitutionalism in individual African countries. The scholarly discussion is combined with an applied concern about whether this could instil a wider grassroots embrace of the country’s constitution, thereby consolidating constitutionalism and ensuring longevity. The investigation is carried through the lens of two sub-categories of the concept of constitutional identity: a representative one that reflects a country’s particular political, social and cultural makeup, and an aspirational one that sets goals and ideals. The challenge, in both scholarly and applied terms, is how to ensure that a constitution instils a sense of public ownership by becoming more representative of a country’s underlying makeup while also giving voice to modern aspirations to protect and promote individual human rights, and in doing so, also becoming self-sustaining as the foundational basic law guiding future generations. Attention is paid not only to the forms of constitutions but also to their function in both reaching ideals (in the positive sense of success) and staving off pitfalls (in the negative sense of success). The article also discusses whether these are best achieved through gradual terms over time or through the sudden big bang of mega reforms.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 Heinz Klug calls this ‘a broadly descriptive distinction between constitutional orders that are either aspirational or preservative in character’. Klug, Heinz, ‘Transformative Constitutionalism as a Model for Africa’, in Dann, Philipp, Riegner, Michael, and Bönnemann, Maxim (eds), Global South and Comparative Constitutional Law (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2020), 141CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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57 Bruce Ackerman’s constitutional mega moments, or what he calls ‘constitutional transformations’, are the Founding, Reconstruction, and the New Deal. See Ackerman (n 51).

58 Weill (n 55) 432.

59 Loughlin (n 2) 24.

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