Thursday, September 27, 2007
Prempeh on The Puzzling Persistence of Imperial Presidency in Post-Authoritarian Africa
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
H. Kwasi Prempeh, Seton Hall Law School, again makes the case that comparative constitutional scholars have much to learn from the history of Africa outside of South Africa. Since abuse of executive power has been a particular post-independence problem, his new paper is especially welcome: Presidential Power in Comparative Perspective: The Puzzling Persistence of Imperial Presidency in Post-Authoritarian Africa. Here's the abstract: One of the paradoxes of modern democratic government is the phenomenon of the chief executive who rules without regard to formal checks and balances. As democratic institutions and constitutional government have spread to regions of the world once dominated by authoritarian regimes, a longstanding feature of the ancien régime - the imperial presidency - has persisted. While constitutional scholars have shown a great deal of interest in new constitutional courts in the world's newest democracies, the contemporaneous phenomenon of persistent imperial presidency has been largely ignored. Although relatively little attention has been paid to it in comparative constitutional discourse, Africa, too, has witnessed, since 1990, a dramatic transition to democratic rule that has resulted in the toppling of many of the region's long-reining autocrats and the installation of new counter-authoritarian constitutions. However, following the global trend, Africa's longstanding tradition of imperial presidency has survived these recent constitutional changes. Refuting “cultural” explanations rooted in notions of African exceptionalism, the Article traces the rise of imperial presidency in Africa to authoritarian conceptions and policies of “national integration” and “development” embraced by Africa's postcolonial leadership in the founding moments of the 1960s and identifies ways in which the structure of colonial rule and certain influential models of presidential power may have influenced agency in the direction of authoritarianism. Examining why the phenomenon of imperial presidency has survived recent constitutional reforms, the Article uncovers omissions and shortcomings in Africa's contemporary constitutional design and democratic project that have enabled the force of path dependency to undermine prospects for constitutionalism. The Article offers some tentative constitutional reform proposals to tame presidential supremacy in Africa and thereby enhance constitutionalism in Africa's emerging democracies.