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‘Hands off my constitution’: Constitutional reform and the workings of democracy in Mali*

  • Susanna D. Wing (a1)

Constitutions in Africa are often considered fragile. Mali is an example of both constitutional crisis and constitutional durability. While Mali was upheld as a democratic model, the 2012 military coup might lead one to argue that Mali's recent history reflects constitutional weakness. However, the swift reinstatement of the constitution, popular commitment to its preservation, and attempts to pursue the post-coup transition in a constitutional manner all illustrate the domestic and international legitimacy of Mali's 1992 constitution. This article analyses the process of the proposed Malian constitutional referendum that, though constitutional in itself, contributed to the March 2012 overthrow of President Touré. It argues that the history of participatory constitutionalism in Mali contributed to the movement against the referendum. Constitutional reform is a necessity for an enduring constitution and this article sheds light on constitutional reform in states with weak legislatures, and illustrates the process of reform and the political divide that surrounded it in Mali. It provides a unique analysis of the crisis in Mali while at the same time making a contribution to our understanding of constitutionalism and constitutional reform in Africa.

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The author would like to thank the participants and organisers of the workshop ‘The Gap from Parchment to Practice: Ambivalent Effects of Constitutions in Democratizing Countries’ held at American University 28–29 May 2013 for their insights into this paper. The author would also like to thank anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Any errors are my own.

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