Identity, Diversity, and Constitutionalism in Africa
By Francis M. Deng
U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2008, 308 pp.
Given Africa's uneven governance record, the relative absence of constitutional debates was a puzzling feature of the decades after independence. The last decade, however, has witnessed both a growing understanding that the rules of governance can have a powerful impact on the quality of governance and many reformist agendas for the region's constitutions. Deng, a prominent Sudanese legal scholar, blames the adoption of European-inspired models of governance at the time of independence for the region's poor governance and poor record of managing ethnic diversity. He calls for constitutional reform based on African values and on the recognition of cultural diversity. He seems to have in mind various consociational models, which protect the rights of minority ethnic groups, but the book is frustratingly short on specific constitutional reforms for individual countries. Deng is at his best when he describes various systems of customary law and argues for their continuing relevance for resolving contemporary governance issues. Deeply grounded in a communitarian ethos, he makes numerous references to ethnic groups and African culture, largely downplaying the issue of universal individual rights, which he argues will be protected as long as the rights of minority groups are.