n Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Revolutions in the Maghreb - resisting authoritarianism and accessing the right to self-determination and democratic governance

Volume 45, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



In December 2010 popular unrest erupted in Tunisia. This resulted in the exit of President Ben Ali who had been in power for twenty-three years. The revolt quickly spread to other parts of the Maghreb region and the Arab world. A common feature of the countries in these regions is that power is concentrated in the hands of a small ruling class, and fundamental rights and freedoms are a scarce commodity. Essentially, the demands of these revolts are centred on the quest for more freedoms and popular participation in government. Against this backdrop, this article examines the limits of the right to self-determination. With the aid of international norms, it is argued that the right to democracy is a fundamental requirement of governance. In this regard, the right to democracy is sequential to, and a logical consequence of the right to self-determination. It would appear, however, that several governments in post-independent Arab and African countries failed to create space for the articulation of democratic governance after attaining self-determination. Colonial regimes were merely replaced by authoritarian ones. Recent events in North Africa and the wider Arab world indicate a desire among the populace to participate in the process of governance. Perhaps, sub-Saharan Africa should learn some lessons from the North African revolutions.

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