West African Constitutions: Constitutions that are Conductive to Regional Integration and African Unity

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Beyond the regional groupings’ economic and socio-politic advantages, it is undeniable that the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) area is characterized by a mosaic of populations that once lived together. The division that was made by the colonial system did not weaken the keen desire to unite and the peoples’ attachment to regional integration and/or African Unity. In this context, regional integration is the base upon which African unity will be built. This wholehearted, requested, awaited and wanted commitment that still persists in its raw form in the consciousness of west African peoples and lives, shows in an analyze of the ECOWAS members’ legal framework.

As a matter of fact, the comparative reading of the preambles of the member states’ Constitutions leads to the conclusion that the sovereign people of the Republic of Benin proclaims solemnly its “attachment to the cause of African unity and pledge [itself] to leave no stone unturned in order to realize local and regional integration”. (Constitution of the Republic of Benin, adopted at the referendum of 2 December 1990, downloadable here)

Its neighbor, the Republic of Burkina Faso, the ”Country of Honest Men” is highly “searching [for] the economic and political integration with the other peoples of Africa with a view to the construction of a federative unity of Africa” and had set up Article 146 allowing to “conclude with any African State agreements of association or of community implying a total or partial abandonment of sovereignty” (Burkina Faso's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2012, downloadable here).

The African Unity constitutes an imperative of the fundamental Ivorian law, the constitution. In the preamble of the said constitution of 2000. “[t]he people of Côte d’Ivoire is […] [c]ommitted to the promotion of regional and sub-regional integration, in view of the constitution of African Unity” (Constitution of Côte d’Ivoire adopted on July 23, 2000). Three years later, to give form to this imperative, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire created the Ministry in charge of African Integration.

According to the Constitution of Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese-speaking country), the latter “shall participate in efforts of the African states, either regionally or on a continental basis, toward concrete realization of the principle of African Unity” (Constitution of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, 1984 as amended to 1991, downloadable here).

Their brother, the people of the Republic of Guinea Conakry, reaffirms also firmly “[i]ts attachment to the cause of the African unity, of the sub-regional and regional integration of the continent” (Constitution of December 23, 1990, downloadable here).

In the preamble of its constitution, the sovereign people of the Republic of Mali “reaffirm[s] [its] attachment to the formation of the African Union, to the promotion of peace, to regional and international cooperation, to peaceful resolutions of the differences of opinion among states in respect to justice, equality, liberty and the sovereignty of the people”. Furthermore, Title XV, Art. 117of the said constitution is dedicated to African Union and allows the Republic of Mali to “conclude accords of association or community with every African State that comprise partial or total abandonment of sovereignty, in light of the possibility of African unity” (Constitution of March 26, 1991, downloadable here).

In turn, the sovereign People of the Republic of Niger, “[r]eaffirm[s] [its] attachment to African Unity and [its] engagement to make every effort to realize regional and sub-regional integration” (Constitution of the Republic of Niger, downloadable here).

« Concerned to prepare the way for the Unity of African States and being conscious that the latter also supposes the willingness or duty to give up, at least partially, the sovereignty, the People of the Republic of Senegal decides “that the Republic of Senegal will spare no effort in order to realize African Unity.” In its decision from December 16 1993 relating to the OHADA treaty, the constitutional council of Senegal considers that if “the realization of African Unity implying necessarily the abandonment of sovereignty from the participating states, the people of Senegal accepts to accomplish that effort that necessarily follows an international commitment through which the Senegal will consent to abandon its sovereignty for this purpose. This would be conform to the constitution, provided that this abandonment of sovereignty is subject to reciprocity and respects Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as the fundamental liberties granted by the disposals of constitutional value”[1] (Constitution of the Republic of Senegal of January 22, 2001, downloadable here).

Appearing more decisive, the Togolese people commits to “engage resolutely to defend the cause of National Unity, of African Unity and to work for the realization of sub-regional and regional integration” (Togolese Constitution of 1992 through amendments in 2007, downloadable here).

Even though they are not all as expressive on their will to work for African Unity, the Anglophone countries of the sub-region did not make less sacrifice. This is how the Republic of Ghana is considered as the “heart of the continent” when it comes to the integration and African Unity, due to the role of Dr. Kwame N’krumah in the striving for African Unity. For example in his memorable speech at the Organization of African Unity’s summit on May 24, 1993 in Addis Ababa, Dr. N’Krumah, first President of the Republic of Ghana and ardent supporter of the formation of the “United States of Africa”, declared:

“Our objective is African union now. There is no time to waste. We must unite now or perish. I am confident that by our concerted effort and determination, we shall lay here the foundations for a continental Union of African States.”[2]

Continuing with the constitutions of the Anglophone countries, it should be mentioned, that the people of the Republic of Liberia “[h]aving resolved to live in harmony, to practice fraternal love, tolerance and understanding as a people […] [is] fully mindful of [its] obligation to promote African unity and international peace and cooperation [...]” (Constitution of the Republic of Liberia of 1984, downloadable here).

Moreover, the people of the Federal republic of Nigeria “[h]aving firmly and solemnly resolve[d], to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God, dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding“ (Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria of 1999, downloadable here)

For the Republic of Sierra Leone, “the promotion of sub-regional, regional and inter-African cooperation and unity is one of the foreign policy’s objectives.[3] (Constitution of Sierra Leone of 1991, downloadable here).

In this context, it is important to underline that beyond the respect, promotion and protection of its people’s rights as required by the African Charta of Human and People’s Rights, regaining their freedom of movement, a fundamental right that had been stopped by colonial system, is a major victory for the west African peoples. In this sense, the African peoples built up great hope towards reaching independence. National sovereignty ought to open up the road to the elimination of the artificial colonial borders and to the “liberalization of the [migrations] flows that are based on the right and freedom of movement.”[4] One can be tempted to consider the community legislation as the reflection of the strong will of the west African peoples to work towards the implementation of regional integration by extension of the African Unity, and hence conclude that the realization of an ECOWAS of PEOPLE, as intended by the VISION 2020, will remain only a slogan without the effectiveness of free movement of people within the ECOWAS zone.

 Arsenal of Constitution favourable to Regional Integration and African Unity

List of the constitutions of the 15 Members States of ECOWAS

Constitution of the Republic Bénin, English and French

Constitution of the Republic of Burkina Faso, English and French

Constitution of the Republic of Cabo Verde, English and Portugese

Constitution of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, French

Constitution of the Republic of Gambie, English

Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, English

Constitution of the Republic of Guinee-Bissau, English

Constitution of the Republic of Guinee Conakry, English and French

Constitution of the Republic of Libéria, English

Constitution of the Republic of Mali, English and French

Constitution of the Republic of Niger, English and French

Constitution of the Republic of Nigéria, English

Constitution of the Republic of Sénégal, English and French

Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone, English

Constitution of the Republic of Togo, English and French

By Ablam Benjamin Akoutou,

Coordinator of WAI-ZEI project

[1] Décision 12/93-affaire n°3/C/93 relative au traité de l’OHADA, in Ismaïla Madior FALL (Collected and commented under the direction of), Les décisions et avis du Conseil constitutionnel du Sénégal. Dakar, CREDILA, Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Faculté des Sciences Juridiques et Politiques, 2008. pp. 97 and f.

[2] See more at: http://newafricanmagazine.com/kwame-nkrumah-the-people-of-africa-are-crying-for-unity/#sthash.GoD0p6kJ.dpuf

[3] “the promotion of sub-regional, regional and inter-African co-operation and unity”

[4] A. Bèye dans un Entretien à Abidjan-Treicheville, décembre 1999, cité par Papa Demba Fall (2007): La a dynamique migratoire ouest africaine entre ruptures et continuités, Article présenté à l’Atelier « Migrations africaines », organisé par International Migration Institute, Oxford University, et Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana sur le thème ‘Understanding Migration Dynamics in the Continent’. Accra, Ghana from 18th-21st September 2007.