Book Launch - Constitutional Resilience and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa (Palgrave MacMillian 2022)

On 12 January 2023, the University of Dayton Human Rights Center, Ohio; the Frances Lewis Law Center, Washington and Lee School of Law; the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights, University of the Western Cape, South Africa in association with the Center for Global Affairs, New York University, organised a hybrid launch of the book titled - Constitutional Resilience and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa edited by Ebenezer Durojaye and Derek Powell.

Bringing together established and emerging African scholars, this book explores the resilience of constitutional governments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting and comparing perspectives from ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa to global trends. The countries include South Africa, Mauritius, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and South Sudan. States have a responsibility during emergency situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic to take necessary action to secure public health including suspension of certain fundamental rights. Such actions must  however conform to the legal standards or necessity, reasonableness and proportionality.  Drawing on these standards and other human right principles such as non-discrimination, the book assesses if and to what extent the measures adopted by the various states considered adhere to relevant international standards including respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights. In particular, it examines the impact of emergency measures on the functions of the various arms of government in the countries examined. It explores the role that data, science and technology have played in African states' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It highlights the impact of emergency measures on the rights of marginalized groups, including women, children and the poor. Importantly, recommendations are offered for strengthening human-rights-based approaches to government interventions for future pandemics.

In her opening remarks, Shelly Inglis who is the Executive Director of the University of Dayton Human Rights Center and a Professor of International Law highlighted the importance of the issues covered in the book especially in drawing lessons which countries can adapt in case of future public health emergencies.  Some contributors to the book shared perspectives on constitutional approaches to combating the COVID-19 pandemic from some sub-Saharan African countries (focusing on the first year of the pandemic). Dr Satang Nabaneh, a research professor and Director of Programs at the University of Dayton Human Rights Center, highlighted the shortfalls in the response to COVID-19 in the Gambia especially the failure to strike a balance between safeguarding public health and protecting human rights, including weak oversight from parliament and the judiciary.  Josephat Kilonzo, a Doctor of Laws candidate at the University of Pretoria shared perspectives on how the response to COVID-19 tested Kenya’s constitutional and democratic resilience. His presentation highlighted the heavy-handed enforcement of governmental measures to address Covid-19 which undermined the rights protections in the 2010 Constitution of Kenya.

Christopher Phiri a doctoral researcher at the University of Turku (Finland) shared perspectives from Zambia’s almost exclusive executive led response to the pandemic which undermined the constitution and the rule of law through the introduction of several non-law-based measures. However, this was able to thrive easily due to the lack of parliamentary and judicial oversight. The editors shared some comparative and international law perspectives on constitutional resilience and the COVID-19 pandemic while highlighting important recommendations. They emphasised the need to ensure mutual respect between state organs; respect for the Constitution and its core guarantees; protection of democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law; as well as effective oversight by the legislature and the judiciary over executive actions.  More importantly, they emphasise the need for African governments to take a more proactive approach to addressing future pandemics.

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