[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
What is a good constitution?
Kenyan demonstrator burns a draft copy of the constitution in Nairobi, Kenya
What's your dream constitution?
This week Africa Live is discussing what makes a good constitution. Are you happy with the laws of your land?

Kenya's proposed new constitution has been rejected by some sections of the population, including five members of President Mwai Kibaki's cabinet, because it doesn't reduce the president's powers.

South Africa's post-apartheid constitution has been hailed as one of the best models, because in addition to civil and political rights it guarantees social and economic rights such as health care and education.

Who do you think should write the constitution? What is the best way to deal with constitutional problems? Do you really need a constitution?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

A good constitution is one which guarantees food and clean water to all citizens.
Christine Mbayo, DR Congo

I am unhappy with Liberia's constitution, because there are so many clauses that were amended by the then military government. Our laws need to be rewritten to fit the realities of today.
Larry M Melling, Liberia

A good constitution is one that values the history of a country rather than just being focused on a particular group of individual's will to preserve power.
Jorge Botala Boloso, Equatorial Guinea

In general terms, a good constitution should guarantee fundamental human rights including freedom of speech, movement, political choices and basic economic rights. In addition, two articles should never be changed, the number of terms in office for the president and the duration of each term in office.
Anumu Edem Ketoglo, Togo

A good constitution is one that addresses historical agonies of the people and uproots its causes. It must empower the oppressed, and make everybody feel at home.
Henry Clement, Sudan

We here in Kenya should never have opened this Pandora's box, it has become a multi headed monster that we can no longer control.
Albert Gitonga, Kenya

In Africa, a constitution is seen as a pair of jeans that can be worn and changed anytime
Kingsley Maritz, London

A constitution, written or not is a common convention practised by a particular society, it automatically becomes a set of rule that governs that society. As Blackstone puts it, a constitution is designed to curtail "mob rule" so that conduct of the parliament would be based on those conventions. But in Africa, a constitution is seen as a pair of jeans that can be worn and changed anytime to suit those in power,
Kingsley Maritz, London, UK

At least Kenya is one country that has taken deliberate steps to curtail presidential power abuse unlike most states where the president rules like an absolute monarch and the country is like his backyard garden! For this Kenyans should be lauded by other Africans rather than jeered or criticised.

From Libya to Zimbabwe, from Uganda to Sierra Leone I don't see any citizenry making such efforts against a ruling and sitting power. I pray to God everything turns out okay for Kenya eventually.
Gideon, Canberra, Australia

My country Zambia is currently reviewing its constitution for the fourth time since 1964 and this is making us polarised rather than galvanised! We should learn from the Irish constitution and experience to involve all stakeholders, rich or poor, in power or not.

A constitution is simply a national set of rules drawn up by all citizens through their emissaries regardless! Ireland was much poorer than Zambia just under two decades ago, now look where it is. Come on Zambia we are tired of poverty and squalor during our life time.
Gabriel, Lusaka, Zambia

The constitution is to all people not only one group which wants to represent the others. Some Kenyan politicians are interested with the powers of the president. President Kibaki promised Kenyans about the new constitution within 100 days. Why has this taken years?
Stephen Mayaka, Japan

The people of Nigeria had good intentions when they called for review to their 1999 constitution. However, the majority are still waiting to see it happen. They are still bickering and fighting for their own selfish interest instead of that that will bind the country together. A constitution for African countries should focus on individual rights and cut excessive powers from leaders. It should be standard and applicable to all. It should grant the authorities power to prosecute offenders regardless of political, social, and economic status.
Iyke, USA

What would a good constitution do if it was not implemented and its rules not followed?
Esther Kabugi, Kenya

A good constitution is the one inscribed on the minds and hearts of people. We need not write a constitution on paper. It cost us billions of shillings in Kenya and I am afraid it will all go down the drain as people continue to starve and die of poverty and all sorts of diseases. What we need is a government that is conscious and committed to ensure a better lifestyle for its citizenry. What would a good constitution do if it was not implemented and its rules not followed?
Esther Kabugi, Kenya

The constitution is not an instrument to restrain the people; it is an instrument to restrain the government, lest it come to dominate our lives and interests. It is the only safeguard to our liberties.
Wycliffe Oduor, Kenya

A good constitution should make provision for the head of state or governors to face the law when they default and not grant them total immunity since everybody should be equal before the law. Total immunity reflects the Orwellian Animal farm where some are more equal than others. It must reflect the will of the people and not be made by dictators.
Wilson, Nigeria/Singapore

It has all the ingredients of mischief, as it is out to safeguard the interests of the elite currently in power
James Omedo Kihali, Nakuru

A good constitution is one, which is not biased. In Kenya, we have a proposed new constitution drawn by the government. It has all the ingredients of mischief, as it is out to safeguard the interests of the elite currently in power. The government is busy campaigning for a yes vote on the new constitution, which leaves many people wondering the purpose of a referendum set for November this year.
James Omedo Kihali, Nakuru, Kenya

A good constitution is one that clearly defends the basic human rights of the citizens. All other sections or sub-sections fall under this basic God given right of an individual.
Robert A Ocloo, Ghana

Anywhere in the world the president has to have powers, no matter how we view them. A close look at some of these rejected constitution shows that they are good pieces and only rejected because of the so-called presidential powers. I dream that one day Africans will be able to come up with their own constitutions without interference from the West. Constitutions are made for many generations. As long as it is an Afro centric constitution, let's support it!
Jamaica Tongowona, Zimbabwean in Zambia

It should stand the test of time
Sidney Mwewa, Zambia

A good constitution should focus on humankind, social, environmental and economic aspects of life. It should be embraced by all the citizens and made available to everyone. It should stand the test of time.
Sidney Mwewa, Zambia

To African leaders, a constitution is only as good as it serves their short term selfish interests, with no regard to the masses. Kenya's situation clearly represents this. Listen to what Kibaki said before he became president and what he is saying now and you will be shocked enough to faint!
Hesbon Ouma, Nairobi, Kenya

A good constitution should come from the people of that particular land. We should be able to borrow good things from other countries but not reproduce their constitutions. The levels of literacy here in Zimbabwe and our parliament are high, even compared to some of the Houses of Parliament abroad.

Thus it would be absurd to do it in the same way that they do. Western interference has been the worst enemy of constitutional amendments in Africa because we have to think like them. People definitely need a constitution, be it written or recited by elders.
Pascal Chinhamo, Zimbabwe

A tree is supported by its roots, not by its branches
J Sayegh, USA
African nations are big on pomp and not strong enough on content. A constitution need not be a thousand pages, it only has to enshrine the rights of the people. Britain does not have a single consolidated document as its constitution. What Britain has is one composed of common law, statue laws and conventions. Yet it has held over centuries. A constitution must be one that is authored from below, from the people that will be governed by it, and not written by a handful of elites. A tree is supported by its roots, not its branches.
J Sayegh, USA

Currently, Kenya is in the middle of deciding whether to have a new constitution or remain with the current one. The tragedy is that Kenyan politicians have reduced the process of enacting this vital document into a circus. What is good for the country is irrelevant.
Alfred Oduor, Kenya

Zambia is still struggling with a draft constitution. What is the point of having a constitution that is never available to the people?
Matongo Maumbi, Chikuni, Zambia

A good constitution should reflect the immediate history of a country.
Charles-Martin Jjuuko, Uganda

Right now, the Kenyan constitution-to-be has an uphill task. It might be better to propose specific changes and hold a referendum on each of these.
Andrew Kamau, Boston, USA

It should be the best that everyone is willing to compromise
Zoraya, Angola
It should be the result of accords and agreements that might not seem the best for everyone but the best that everyone is willing to compromise.
Zoraya, Angola

Let's face it, a good constitution is one favouring the West - their latest fad or interests. In the colonial and apartheid era, a racist constitution was in. Now they want us to support gay rights.
Omolo Oduor, the African Union

Whether written by a select few, or a cleaned-up version of the views of the people collected and collated by some means, the good of the people must remain its focus.
Oyuga Ojuok, Kenya

Law students and law professors in universities should write the constitution. The students are the leaders of tomorrow, and the professors have an insight of the past.
Sade, US/Nigeria

Experience is telling us that constitution doesn't yield good fruits in Africa. What we need is mental revolution, good vision and equity for all.
Wani James Barnabas, Australia

African people should stop being politically correct with their constitution. A good constitution is one the majority of people - urban and rural - can understand. A bad constitution is one that responds too much to pressure from western societies.
Zwelithani, Zimbabwean in USA

A true constitution is one that is written without any foreign hands and dictation in presence of foreign troops.
R, Zambia

A constitution, no matter how well it is written, does not necessarily lead to democracy. A case in point is Ethiopia. The constitution is well written, but it is not worth the paper it is written on.
BT, Finland

We the people of these United States of America, need I say more!
Robert, USA

Given our history of excessively centralized presidential power, a good constitution should have at least the following features

  • a strong parliament
  • accountable local governments
  • independent anti-corruption agency
  • presidential term limits, preferably a single term of 6 years
  • all office holders must make, under penalty of perjury, a publicly-accessible and verifiable declaration of their net worth upon assuming office and every year thereafter
  • a parliamentary commission to review the workings of the constitution at least once every 10 years
Although many African countries now have democratic constitutions, almost all of them continue to concentrate excessive power in the hands of one person (the president) ruling from one location (the capital city), without adequate checks and balances.
H Kwasi Prempeh, USA

A good constitution? Although there's no perfect constitution anywhere, a good one guarantees the rights of every man, woman and child, not only to life but also to everything that makes life meaningful
Gbenga Ibileye, Nigerian in Senegal

Any constitution is good, if it can bring stability, the rule of law and progress in a country.
Bekuretsion Fesshaye, Eritrea/Canada

If some amendments are to be made, they must be approved by the people.
Firmino Abilio, Mozambique

I am not happy with the teetering constitution of Uganda. It is so prone to alterations to suit individual interests.
Lajul Faith, Uganda

A good constitution must not be rigid. But that does not mean it should be changed, like we do our food, clothes and cars to suit selfish ambitions.
Garland, Nigeria

There are too many constitutions in this world, but without the necessary constitutionalism.
Alex Magaisa, Zimbabwe/Channel Islands

It doesn't matter who writes it, but it should help stabilise democracy in Africa.
Micky Reagan Fianko, Kumasi, Ghana

The constitution of Botswana is still based on colonial times. Tribes are not equal and do not have equal privilege to the land. While the eight main tribes have major villages with all the necessary amenities, the minority tribes have to do with low level development within their areas. Despite attempts to review the constitution recently, it is still not tribally neutral.
Best, Botswana

A good constitution is one the suits the governor and the governed. It should be possible to harness it with a series of referenda to act as a check and balance or to move it forward as the needs of the environment change.
Kofi Yeboah, Australia

A good constitution includes the basic rights to freedom, equality, cultural and educational rights as well as protecting the sovereignty of the country, its unity and integrity.
Yaron, Keren, Eritrea

A good constitution is one that is inclusive of all. The job of a president is to facilitate the needs of his people and not dictate.
Rasan Muahmmad

There is no such a thing called "a good constitution", it's only good to the people in that jurisdiction, and might as well differ from one culture to another.
Tendai, Dallas, USA

Ghana has a terrific constitution. It only now needs an independent supreme court.
Spinoza, Ghanaian in USA

What is an African leader's dream constitution? Its one which the leader can change whenever they want to accommodate his ambitions. What is the average African's idea of a dream constitution? Rock-solid rules that would put accountability in the business of real politics, and stop leaders moving political goal posts when they get unfavourable outcome at the polls.
Joseph Ntenwi, Cameroonian in USA

Experts in consultation with the citizens of the nation should write the constitution. Parliament should only be given a chance to debate the issues suggested by their citizens.
Dr David Akombo, Kenyan in USA

A good constitution is only as good as the lawmakers who write it, and an independent judiciary and civil society that protect the rights of citizens under the constitution. Otherwise, a constitution is not worth the paper it is written on.
Daniel, South Africa

It is common stuff that the constitutions of most African countries are like in the book "The animal farm". Whether we the ordinary people speak out or not, it is always the elite to have their own way! The voice of the "Voiceless" is never heard!
Moses Nkuutu, Uganda

There is and can never be a good constitution to be seen or written in Africa, let us forget it!
King Anderson Emmy Snr, Ivory Coast

A good constitution is one which is best suited for the environment that it is meant for. I am not happy with the Nigerian constitution because it is ambiguous.
Banji, Nigeria

It's a western concept and doesn't fit in well with our best political interests.
Merhawit, Eritrea
A constitution is useless in Africa. It's a western concept and doesn't fit in well with our best political interests. All Africa needs are good leaders, and rule by morals and values.
Merhawit, Eritrea

I beg to disagree with our Eritrean sister Merhawit. I think a constitution by itself is never useless. It's the methods of implementation, or lack there of, that render most African constitutions much or less useless. I'd also add that advances in economy, education, political stability and unity drive a good constitution.
Feven H, Eritrean in USA

Merhawit must realise that before the colonialists came our forefathers had their own set of rules and regulations that they used to govern themselves, so the issue of a constitution being a western idea does not arise. In fact those institutions still exist and are still practiced by most communities in Kenya. The Heer-based law by Somalis is a perfect example, even today it's used to determine cases of resource sharing and conflict management. This worked perfectly in the north eastern province earlier in the year and ended the Garre Murulle war.
Ahmeed Yunous, Kenya

Thank God for the western world. They're rescuing us from barbaric rule. A constitution is the basis of freedom if the freedom is given the rightful definition.
Jones Kariuki, Kenya

A good constitution is one that is respected by both the leaders and the led.
Yakubu Afenoko Innocent, Nigeria

Representatives who decide these constitutional drafting conventions should not be limited to those who read and write only
Tarsuah Early, Liberia/USA

Even though we use western languages to document a constitution, representatives who decide these constitutional drafting conventions should not be limited to those who read and write only. People, who have not had a day in a western education, can also be a part of the convention.
Tarsuah Early, Liberia/USA

A constitution is a legal parameter for governing and creating a wholesome society. But in modern day Africa, a constitution is a weapon.
Patrick, Liberia/USA

I have yet to see an African country that has respected the constitution. Even those constitutions that were written to the likings of the ruling class still don't seem to work.
Berry, Liberian in USA

It is the ultimate say of the people to the government on how to be governed. Even though there exists the legislature in the arms of the government, anything that comes after that is usually subordinate to what the people have said in the constitution. Any changes made, either by the executive or through the legislature, in order to respect the opinions of the public, must be approved through a referendum.
Joseph Musembi, Milan, Italy

The best way to deal with constitutional problem is through referendum
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

A good constitution is one that adequately represents all sectors of the society. If a constitution does not adequately address all the day to day activities in the society, it has to be reviewed. Every citizen should be involved in writing a constitution because it is the same constitution that everyone is going to abide by.

The best way to deal with constitutional problem is through referendum. The people assigned to write the constitution should listen to those they represent. The opinion of everyone should be heard and analysed before a final determination is made.
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA



Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific