Umpiring Federalism in Africa: Institutional Mosaic and Innovations


  • Adem Kassie Abebe


Federalism institutionalizes the division of powers and creates the circumstances that render inter-governmental disputes almost inevitable. It is therefore necessary that federal constitutions establish mechanisms for the peaceful umpiring of such disputes. This article explores the institutional and normative innovations in relation to the umpiring of federalism disputes – disputes between the federal and state governments—in the three prominent federal states in Africa, namely Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia. It argues that the political safeguards theory is unsuitable in the context of federal states in Africa. Federal states in Africa have established both political and judicial or quasi-judicial safeguards of federalism. However, the organs in charge of resolving federalism disputes are different in each of the federal states. Nevertheless, the constitutional review of disputes between the different levels of government is centralized. The jurisdiction of the constitutional adjudicator extends to both state and federal legislative and executive decisions. The level and form of participation of the states in constituting the constitutional adjudicator varies. In terms of access to the constitutional adjudicator, the federal constitutions are not clear on which organ of each level of government may submit inter-governmental disputes to the constitutional adjudicator.