African Populist Demagoguery, Constitutionalism and Human Rights

Authors Thompson Chengeta

ISSN: 2521-5434
Affiliations: None
Source: Africa Journal of Comparative Constitutional Law, 2018, p. 1 – 34


With the current populist politics wave in America and Europe, scholars have begun to question whether such populism will be replicated in Africa. Understood in its literal and political sense, populism is not bad per se (by itself). However, in the 21st century, the term ‘populism’ has been loosely utilised to denote demagoguery—particularly in reference to politicians who identify with the prejudices of the majority to further their own political agenda. It is this kind of negative populism that this article is concerned about. This article argues that such populist politics have existed in Africa since the rise of nationalistic and revolutionary parties that fought colonial domination, and has been a constant menace to constitutionalism, democracy and human rights. For instance, African populist demagogues continue to scapegoat lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities, Western countries and foreigners; and they blame colonialism for almost every predicament while avoiding accountability for their own actions. While checks and balances—in particular constitutional courts—play an important role as far as checking the exercise of power by such populist demagogues is concerned, this article argues that they are not sufficient. In search of other mechanisms that may be put in place to deal with the current surge of negative populism and the challenges they pose to constitutionalism, this article suggests the exclusion of populist demagogues from electoral contests under the fitness for public office rule.