Public Participation in Decentralised Governments in Africa: Making Ambitious Constitutional Guarantees More Responsive

Following the example of South Africa, recently Kenya, Tunisia and Zimbabwe have adopted constitutions that contain bills of rights, embrace the ideals of decentralization and profess a commitment to participatory democracy. Different forms of local government, in these countries, are constitutionally protected and accorded some degree of self-governing powers. As part of the state's overarching governance machinery, these governments are obliged to contribute towards the realization of constitutionally-defined objectives, including a variety of constitutionally entrenched rights, the pursuit of social justice and sustainable development. Local government is constitutionally obliged to facilitate public participation in local governance, as the level of government closest to communities. In South Africa, the Constitutional Court has interpreted the scope of the government's obligation to facilitate public participation in policy formulation and law-making processes extensively. This article explores the Court's jurisprudence on the nature and extent of the duty to facilitate public participation in order to distil lessons that could guide local authorities in Kenya, Tunisia and Zimbabwe to optimize the quality of public participation in local governance. If implemented, guidelines distilled from the Court's jurisprudence could help optimize the quality of public participation at the local level in the various countries.