Legal Syncretism in Constitutional Rights in Africa: A Comparative Study of Nigeria, South Africa, and Ethiopia

Human rights have been an important part of the constitutional design in Africa. Even if human rights are universal and are consequently applicable to everyone everywhere, the way they figure in the constitutional design and manifest themselves in the judicial practice makes them syncretic in Africa. This is due to the fact that constitutional rights broadcast and channel the universalist ethos of human rights while incorporating the indigenous tenets of rights, be it customary or religious, in the same constitutional space. As a result, constitutional rights are the outcomes of acceptance, rejection, reinterpretation, and transformation of the liberal and indigenous notion of rights in constitutional politics. Accordingly, the substance of constitutional rights is contingent upon a number of considerations at a given time and space, and concomitantly, their liberal or indigenous conceptions can wax and wane. By taking women’s rights as one example of constitutional rights, on the one hand, and Nigeria, South Africa, and Ethiopia, as case studies, on the other, I will demonstrate how constitutional rights in Africa are syncretic and show its repercussions on constitutional government.