- Identity, Diversity, and Constitutionalism in Africa
Francis M. Deng, currently the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, is one of the few scholar/practitioners who continue to be active on the world stage. In addition, he is a prolific analyst of political conflict. He has written or co-authored more than thirty books over the last three decades, despite the public service burdens he has taken on. These include three positions at the United Nations: Human Rights Officer in the Secretariat from 1967–1972, Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons from 1992–2004, and his current post. He was Sudan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the Nordic countries, Canada, and the US. He can speak, as few can, with both first-hand knowledge and scholarly authority on the struggle for stability and governance in the world’s most conflicted continent.
Deng was also the main intellectual thinker behind the promotion of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, which was endorsed at the 2005 UN Millennium World Summit. His writings helped promote the decision taken by various heads of state and government to unanimously affirm that “each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”1 If a government was unable or unwilling to protect its citizens, then the international community had the “right of humanitarian intervention”—the right, that is, to take a variety of steps, including coercive military action, if necessary, to protect civilians at risk of genocide and mass atrocities. Since 2007, Deng has been working to apply this principle to real at-risk situations.
In this volume, Deng argues that genocide and mass atrocities are not sudden or spontaneous eruptions of mass anger. They are often a result of deep defects in political and constitutional structures that were originally based on Western models and grafted onto traditional societies, without adequate regard for the cultures and social tensions that define everyday life. Post-colonial elites not only accepted them, but frequently manipulated them for their own purposes. Left unchanged, these defects can lead to a breakdown in the moral fabric of society, because they erode indigenous African norms and cultures with laws and regulations [End Page 1139] that are not rooted in the host culture. In worst case situations, this can result in a violent quest for self-determination or social justice by marginalized peoples that maintain strong group identities. In Africa, we have seen this phenomenon in secessionist Biafra, the armed insurrection in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, uprisings in apartheid South Africa and Northern Uganda, and ethnic cleansing and genocide in Rwanda, to name just a few.
Thus, Deng focuses on two themes: constitutionalism and self-determination. He defines constitutionalism not as a legal concept, as is mostly the case in the US, but rather as a comprehensive process embracing political, economic, social and cultural dynamics, much like the UK, which does not have a written constitution but is nonetheless wedded to constitutionalism. Deng also has a unique view of self-determination. He says it is “a means by which people sharing distinct characteristics decide on the framework and the system of governance under which they wish to live and participate in the realization of the same—whether within the existing state framework or in a newly independent entity to which they choose to subject themselves.”2 Deng sees self-determination not as a platform or stepping stone for rebellion or secession, but rather “as a tool of conflict prevention, management, and resolution within or outside the unity framework.”3 Though it may appear to be counter-intuitive, Deng maintains that, while national unity is the preferred option, self-determination is a principle that should be pursued in plural societies “to encourage the creation of conditions that would make unity attractive to potential secessionists.”4 A constitutional system should be based on group coexistence within a broad national framework of unity, “diversity and the integrity of...