Religious and Legal Pluralism in Africa


Something unexpected has been happening in Africa—and not just Northern Africa, which, along with the Middle East, has seen a winter and spring of revolution in 2011. Over the last several years, several sub-Saharan African nations have managed to conduct elections, produce new constitutions, and even partition themselves in relative peace, despite the often dire predictions of foreign governments, media, and election-monitoring organizations. In each of these cases, religion and religious freedom were high-profile concerns, but despite conventional assumptions about the propensity for religious contestation to lead to conflict, the constitutional procedures seem, at least in the near term, to have unfolded peacefully and productively. In fact, election workers on the ground give high marks to religious organizations for helping to engage the populace in peaceful participation in these democratic processes. The success of this “new constitutionalism” in Africa not only refutes the idea that religion leads to conflict, but may suggest and important role for religion and religious freedom in promoting peace and securing democracy.

This study of the role of religion and religious freedom in the “new constitutional” movement in sub-Saharan Africa will, no doubt, have some important parallels to the events taking place in North Africa. But while North Africa has this year taken the route of occasionally violent revolution, sub-Saharan Africa has been achieving many of the same ends through peaceful referenda. While the specter of rising Islamist movements in North Africa has led some to view the specifically religious dimensions of the revolutions with caution, religious actors are playing important and often positive roles in the referenda and new constitutions. Even so, issues of religious freedom, sharia courts, Muslim-Christian relations, and the relation of religion and state have been key concerns in the new constitutionalism. Countries in focus include Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and South Sudan.

Related:

“Modern Legal Traditions: Africa,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law, eds. Brent Strawn, et al. (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2014).

“From Social Hostility to Social Media: Religious Pluralism, Human Rights, and Democratic Constitutional Reform in Africa,” African Human Rights Law Journal (forthcoming May 2014).

Guest Editor, Symposium Issue, “Law and Religion in Africa: Comparative Practices, Experiences, and Prospects” African Human Rights Law Journal (forthcoming May 2014)

“Religious Pluralism in Recent African Constitutional Reform” Journal of Law and Religion 28:2 (Spring 2013): 401-39.

“Religious and Legal Pluralism in Recent African Constitutional Reform,” presented at the conference “Law and Religion in Africa: Comparative Practices, Experiences, and Prospects,” convened by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies and co-sponsoring organizations at the University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, Ghana, January 19, 2013.

“Religious and Legal Pluralism in Recent African Constitutional Referenda,” paper invited for a law review symposium issue on “Legal Pluralism and Democracy,” Mirjam Kunkler and Yuksel Sezgin, eds., based on workshop proceedings at the
Onati International Institute for the Sociology of Law (2012).

Background Reading:

2012/03/29 “Constitutionalism in Africa Follows Rocky Road,” Nico Colombant, Voice of America News

2012/03/29 “Push for More Democracy Drives Constitutional Change in Africa,” William Eagle, Voice of America News

2012/03/29 “ANC to Review South Africa’s ‘Model’ Constitution,” Delia Robertson, Voice of America News

2012/03/29 “Drafting Somalia’s Constitution Opens Debate on Religion, Law,” Gabe Joselow, Voice of America News

2012/03/29 “Zimbabwe’s New Constitution Two-Plus Years Behind Schedule,” Sebastian Mhofu, Voice of America News

2012/03/29 “Experts: African Coups Are Poor Way to Establish Democracy,” Anne Look, Voice of America News

2012/03/29 “Africa’s Constitutions Often Unfulfilled,” Nico Colombant, Voice of America News

2012/04/05 “African Constitutions Push to Recognize Group Rights,” by William Eagle, Voice of America News

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