Economic Realities Must Guide Africa's Constitutional Reform Efforts

| October 14, 2008

African countries need new constitutional orders to cope with modern economic challenges, Calestous Juma said at a recent lecture.

The lecture focused on Kenya, where Juma is from, because of the violence that followed its election in December 2007. While the international media blamed the violence on ethnic tensions, he believes these tensions are enflamed with each election because of the lack of inclusive economic development.

“This is largely because Africa’s governance systems are continuation of the colonial constitutional orders which defined the region as a source of raw materials,” he said

Juma, professor of the practice of international development and director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Globalization Project, listed the steps African countries need to take to utilize the basic liberties they have to produce the economic gains and development they need for a stable future.

A major challenge is based in the constitutions and laws left behind for the newly liberated countries.  “What was being negotiated as independence was really an exercise in constitutional continuity from the colonial period through independence,” Juma said. “And so you find a clear pattern, all across Africa, of continuing colonial practices.”

While there is enormous pressure on African countries to focus on economic programs, they are unable to because the governmental framework left behind did not integrate the economic role of the colonizer into the new role of president. “The role of the governor was transferred to the president,” Juma said. “The president was focused on ethnic balancing, not economic development.”

This fundamental problem has lead to a growing gap between the constitutional structure and objectives, according to Juma. The main areas to focus on to address these issues are: infrastructure, regional integration, technical and vocational training, and entrepreneurship.

Infrastructure is key “for the reinvention of the continent,” Juma said. China has played a large role in developing infrastructure ― both for travel and communication ― in Africa, which some feel is for its own benefit, but the impact is felt by everyone.

Infrastructure is an important part of economic development, specifically in terms of regional integration. Africa needs to open up its economic space, and sited several organizations already on their way. “Trying to fix the problem on a country-by-country basis is not working. It’s the same colonial model,” Juma said.

One challenge in the way of regional integration is that individual countries are concerned about the prospect of a regional president. But Juma thinks that option should be taken off the table because it is stalling the economic development opportunities that the countries need.

Another major issue linked with violence surrounding elections is the lack of job and education opportunities. Juma said that entrepreneurial opportunities need to be created to create new jobs. “The challenge of the continent is not managing existing businesses, but creating new enterprises,” he said.

One enterprise that needs to be developed is technical and vocational training institutions. Juma said people need access to training so they can get jobs, which will in turn foster economic development and ease tensions among different ethnic groups. Both of these will address the unemployment problem, which also adds to ethnic tensions.

Without addressing all of these issues, Kenya and other African countries will not be able to breakdown the colonialist system left behind and create a lasting political and economic structure, Juma said.


Professor Calestous Juma invites your comments on this summary of his recent lecture. Email your comments to

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Maclin, Beth. “Economic Realities Must Guide Africa's Constitutional Reform Efforts.” News, , October 14, 2008.

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