Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly


This Article focuses on the comparative dimension of a phenomenon that is already well known to U.S. constitutional discourse: the imperial presidency. While U.S. 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 in Africa has been largely ignored. Although relatively little attention has been paid to it in comparative constitutional discourses, Africa 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 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. Examining why the phonomenon 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.