Do Constitutions Matter? The Dilemma of a Radical Lawyer

AuthorIssa G. Shivji
Publication Date01 December 2019
DOI10.1177/2277401720986004
Date01 December 2019
SubjectArticles
Article
Do Constitutions
Matter? The Dilemma
of a Radical Lawyer
Issa G. Shivji1
Abstract
Constitutions do not make revolutions. Revolutions make constitutions. No
constitution envisages its own death, for that is what a revolution entails.
But constitutions matter. Some of the finest constitutions have been erected
on ugly socio-economic formations wrought with extreme inequalities and
inequities. South Africa and Kenya are examples. But constitutions do matter.
They rarely herald fundamental transformations. They are the product of major
transformations to consolidate a new status quo. Yet, constitutions do matter.
Why do they matter? Why do we need them? Why does every revolution and
major change in modern societies give birth to a new constitution? This is the
question I want to reflect on: why do constitutions matter?
Keywords
Criminal justice, human rights, LAW, legal
Introduction
Constitutions do not make revolutions. Revolutions make constitutions. No con-
stitution envisages its own death, for that is what a revolution entails. But consti-
tutions matter. Some of the finest constitutions have been erected on ugly
socio-economic formations wrought with extreme inequalities and inequities.
South Africa and Kenya are examples. But constitutions do matter. They rarely
herald fundamental transformations. They are the product of major transforma-
tions to consolidate a new status quo. Yet, constitutions do matter. Why do they
matter? Why do we need them? Why does every revolution and major change in
Journal of National
Law University Delhi
6(2) 79–83, 2020
© 2021 National Law
University Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
in.sagepub.com/journals-permissions-india
DOI: 10.1177/2277401720986004
journals.sagepub.com/home/jnl
Disclaimer: This is a revised version of the Keynote Address on the 10th anniversary of Kenya’s
2010 Constitution celebrations.
1 University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania.
Corresponding author:
Issa G. Shivji, University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam 953, United Republic of Tanzania.
E-mail: issashivji@gmail.com

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