Courts, politics and African democracy
Charlotte Heyl (GIGA - German Institute of Global and Area Studies)
Peter Brett (Queen Mary University of London)
50 George Square, G.06
Friday 14 June, 10:45-12:15

Short abstract:

Recent years have seen strikingly assertive decisions by Africa's highest courts in the most politically sensitive cases (Kenya 2017, Gabon 2018). But judicial deference remains commonplace. This panel invites papers evaluating all contributions by African courts to democracy and/or autocracy.

Long abstract:

Courts have the potential to provide checks and balances to the political branches of government and hence to strengthen democracy. All over Africa, courts repeatedly render assertive decisions in cases of high political salience such as the cancellation of the Kenyan presidential elections in 2017 or the dissolution of the Gabonese parliament in 2018. However, African courts also frequently judge in favour of powerholders, for instance when the Burundian Constitutional Court approved Nkurunziza's candidacy for a third presidential term despite a constitutional two-term limit. In such cases courts serve as instruments of authoritarian rule. This panel invites conceptual and empirical contributions that examine the role of courts in political conflicts and their repercussions on democracy or autocracy. We encourage submissions that deal with some of the following topics on the basis of case studies or from a comparative perspective: (1) the performance of courts in politically salient cases with the potential to disrupt the political order such as electoral disputes, term limit controversies or amnesty legislation, (2) attempts of political actors to influence courts through informal networks, undue interferences or judicial appointments, (3) the strategies of courts to connect with constituencies in the legal, political and public realm and to build-up support bases.