Can the Democratic Republic of the Congo become a democracy?

Many in the international community have hailed the December 2018 elections in the DRC as the first-ever peaceful hand-over of power in the post-independence era in the DRC effected through elections. Numerous dissenting voices claim that the elections were a sham – 'an electoral coup' - and have only endorsed an illegitimate leadership. Who is correct? 

Against this backdrop, SAIFAC organised a panel discussion to discuss a number of significant questions related to the future of democracy, good governance and human rights in the DRC on the 13th of Aug. 2019.

Saifac Africa Forum


2019, Africa has some of the fastest growing economies in the world and a rich concentration of mineral wealth. Yet, these assets have failed thus far to transform the lives of millions of Africa’s people, still beset by grinding poverty. What can be done to address these problems?

Saifac Africa Forum _ DevelopmentinAfrica.pdf

When will democracy come to Cameroon?

On May 17 2018, the American ambassador to Cameroon, Peter Henry Barlerin, encouraged President Biya, who has been head of state since 1982 to step down. In the US ambassador's opinion, Paul Biya must "think about his heritage and the way he wants the history books, which will be read by future generations, to remember him". After this encounter, he was severely criticized for interfering in the internal matters of Cameroon. Yet, what the ambassador said is supported by many Cameroonians, who believe Biya should retire. Nonetheless, Biya presented his candidature for reelection. While Cameroonians widely believed that professor Kamto won the highest number of votes (after electoral returns demonstrated this), President Biya was declared winner by the Constitutional Council. Could Professor Kamto's victory have been stolen by the Constitutional Council in cahoots with government?

Cameroon currently faces many challenges. It has the Boko Haram threat in the North as well as a movement that has development to separate the English-speaking provinces from the French-speaking provinces. The constitution is widely perceived to be illegitimate and there is deep suspicion and lack of trust in the ELECAM (the electoral commission), whose director and chairperson are directly appointed by the current President. The Constitutional Council is perceived to completely lack independence with about three of its members who are still active members of the ruling party.

SAIFAC, a centre of the University of Johannesburg, is held a panel discussion in the aftermath of the recent show of elections to investigate a range of important questions:

  • Are the election results credible?
  • What flaws were evident in the conduct of the elections which raise questions about whether they are free and fair?
  • Can the Constitutional Council be considered an impartial arbiter?
  • What measures are necessary to transform Cameroon into a functional democracy?
  • Should Cameroon remain a united political community or should it separate?
  • Does France play any role in perpetuating the current malaise in Cameroon?  

Key speakers for this event were Ms Monique Eleanor Kwachou Tangah (Doctoral Research Fellow, University of the Free State), Ms Karine Guda (Chairperson, Southern Cameroons Congress of the People) and Mr Polycarpe Feussi (Lecturer, Pearson Institute for Higher Education, PhD candidate, University of Johannesburg).

Corruption and Human Rights

SAIFAC hosted a conference in December 2016 that examined the relationship between corruption and fundamental rights. The aim of the conference was to develop a theoretical and practical appreciation of this relationship to stimulate a broader conversation on the value of a human-rights approach to eradicating corruption. Professor Raj Kumar, vice-chancellor of Jindal Global University and author of Corruption and Human Rights in India Comparative Perspectives on Transparency and Good Governance Oxford University Press, 2011), delivered a keynote address. The conference was organised with the generous support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The resultant academic papers will form part of a special edition on corruption in the South African Journal of Human Rights.


Evaluating the Performance of the South African Constitution

 In 2015 SAIFAC was commissioned by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) to assist on a project that would pilot a methodology for measuring constitutional performance developed by Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq of the University of Chicago. The aim of the project was the identify the goals of the South African Constitution and to evaluate the extent to which these goals had been achieved in the first two decades of constitutionalism (1996-2016). The project culminated in a report and later, a conference where the findings in the report were presented. Many of the key issues and findings in the report were the subject of a series of multi-disciplinary panel discussions involving experts on each of the topics (Rights, Democracy, Security Services, Chapter 9 Institutions, the Judiciary and Multi-level Governance).


The Intersection of Mental Health and Human Rights in South Africa

During November 2015, SAIFAC hosted an inter-disciplinary conference to address the intersection between mental health and human rights in South Africa. The conference explored questions relating to the autonomy, agency and legal capacity of persons with mental illnesses; the duty to protect those who are vulnerable; the positive obligations of the state in the mental health field (particularly in budgetary matters); and the participation of those with mental illnesses in society. These topics were addressed by expert speakers in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, law, public health, public policy and philosophy. A keynote address was presented by Prof Amita Dhanda (Head of the Centre for Disability Studies and the Centre for Legal Philosophy and Justice Education, NALSAR University of Law). The conference was generously supported by a grant from the Medical Research Council of South Africa. It resulted in a special edition of the South African Journal on Human Rights, which was published as 2016 (3) volume of the journal.


LGBT Rights and Legal Reform

In 2015, SAIFAC formed a partnership with one of the major universities in China, the Renmin Law School, to run the first major conference in China on 'LGBT Rights and Legal Reform: a Comparative Approach'. This ground-breaking conference involved top academics from around the world – including Prof Kendall Thomas from Colombia, Mr Nicholas Bamforth from the University of Oxford, Prof Pierre de Vos from the University of Cape Town, Prof Frans Viljoen from the University of Pretoria, and Prof David Bilchitz from SAIFAC/UJ – engaging with prominent Chinese academics around questions of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights.


IALC Round Table: The 'New' Separation of Powers: Can the Doctrine Evolve to Meet the C21 Context?

2015, SAIFAC hosted a round-table of the International Association of Constitutional Law (IACL). Very few universities are privileged to have an official round-table approved by the Executive Committee of the IACL as well as to host an Executive Committee meeting at their university: only two such events are held per year. Some of the luminaries of constitutional law from around the world attended the conference including Prof Vicki Jackson from Harvard University, Prof Manuel Cepeda who was a former Chief Justice of Colombia and is currently President of the IACL, Prof Mahendra Singh from the National Law University in New Delhi, Prof Adrienne Stone of Melbourne University and First Vice-President of the IACL and Prof Xavier Philippe of the University of Aix-en-Provence. There were over 40 international guests including presenters who attended the conference and over 100 people who attended the conference throughout. Thanks to a partnership with the Gauteng Convention Centre, international guests were also treated to a tour of Johannesburg and Soweto. The conference received sponsorship from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. SAIFAC's Director of SAIFAC, Prof David Bilchitz, and Prof David Landau of Florida State University – have secured a book contract with the esteemed international publisher in law Edward Elgar to publish some of the contributions from the conference. The book is likely to be published in 2018.


Political Rights since 1994

To celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa, SAIFAC held a conference on 'Political Rights Since 1994' in May 2014. Academic papers were presented on the issues of robust democracy; the internal regulation of political parties; electoral system reform; and the rights of prisoners and party political funding. There were also panel discussions with leading journalists which explored the media's relationship with democracy. The conference resulted in a special edition of the South African Journal on Human Rights in 2015.


The Legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda

In 2013, SAIFAC hosted a conference entitled 'The legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda. The conference attracted the support of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) and saw the attendance of an extremely high profile group from the Tribunal including the president of the ICTR; the former President; the head of prosecutions; and a range of other important actors in the Tribunal. It also attracted leading scholars in international criminal law and transitional justice, as well as survivors of the Rwanda genocide. Papers were presented over the course of two days and dealt with some of the most important issues connected to the legacy of the tribunal itself. The conference resulted in the publication of a special edition of the African Yearbook on International Humanitarian Law.


Egalitarian Liberalism and its Possible Futures in South Africa

In early October 2013, SAIFAC ran a one and a half day conference on Egalitarian liberalism and its possible futures in South Africa. This multi-disciplinary conference was organised together with the Political Studies Department at the University of the Witwatersrand and attracted scholars in the fields of political science, political philosophy, history and constitutional law, as well as politicians from the two major political parties. The conference sought to engage with the notion of egalitarian liberalism and explored its history, possibilities and critiques. It resulted in the publication of a special edition of the journal Theoria in 2014. I


Tax Justice and Human Rights

Together with Oxfam, the Law Society and Lawyers for Better Business, SAIFAC helped organise a one-day workshop on Tax Justice and Human Rights. This under-explored field has recently become highly topical and attracted scholarship and the attention of the International Bar Association.


Business and Human Rights

In 2012, SAIFAC hosted a major conference in the field of business and human rights, attracting 16 top academics from around the world. The conference was held at Constitution Hill and attracted a large audience of interested parties. The focus of the conference was to critically consider the United Nations Framework and Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Cambridge University Press accepted a book edited by the organisers of the conference (one of them a member of the Faculty) published in 2013 and titled 'Human Rights Obligations of Business: Beyond the Corporate Responsibility to Respect?'.


The work of Frank Michelman

In 2012, SAIFAC organised a conference which focused on the work of Frank Michelman, a famous Constitutional Lawyer in the United States who has written extensively on South Africa. Prominent judges were in attendance, including the late Chief Justice Chaskalson, Judge Dennis Davis and Judge Edwin Cameron. Prof Michelman gave a keynote lecture in the foyer of the Constitutional Court which attracted many members of the legal profession. A special edition of the Stellenbosch Law Review comprised of papers submitted at the conference.