The history of Africa reveals unexpected surprises. The Kingdom of Mali, dating back to the 13th century, produced the oldest Constitution in the world: the Mandé Charter (or Kouroukan Fouga), almost unknown to most.
In the early thirteenth century, following a major military victory, with which the African Middle Ages began, Soundiata Keïta, the founder of the Mandingo Empire, and his assembly of wise men proclaimed in Kurukan Fuga the new Manden Charter, named after the territory situated above the upper Niger River basin, between present-day Guinea and Mali.
The Charter, one of the oldest constitutions, promulgated in 1236, albeit mainly in oral form, in oral form was transmitted for centuries by the Malinké, an initiatory group of hunters, and by the griots, the storytellers of West Africa. In the 1960’s, of the 20th century, the Malian historian Youssouf Tata Cissé put it on paper; in 2009, UNESCO included it (with various errors) in the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
It consists of a body of laws that, inspired by traditional values, regulated community life, organized coexistence between power and citizens, between individuals and society, and between generations. The inviolable freedoms of individuals were codified in this way for the first time in the history of humanity.
The Charter contains a preamble of seven chapters advocating social peace in diversity, the inviolability of the human being, education, the integrity of the motherland, food security, the abolition of slavery by razzia (or raid), and freedom of expression and trade. Although the Empire disappeared, the words of the Charter and the rituals associated with it are still transmitted orally from father to children in a codified way within the Malinke clans. To keep the tradition alive, commemorative annual ceremonies of the historic assembly are organized in the village of Kangaba (adjacent to the vast clearing of Kurukan Fuga, which now lies in Mali, close to the Guinean border). The ceremonies are backed by the local and national authorities of Mali and, in particular, the traditional authorities, who see it as a source of law and as promoting a message of love, peace and fraternity, which has survived through the ages. The Manden Charter continues to underlie the basis of the values and identity of the populations concerned.
The opening words? Extraordinary. "The spirit of man lives thanks to three things: seeing what he wants to see, saying what he wants to say, doing what he wants to do. So now everyone answers for his person, he is free in his acts, in compliance with the laws of his country."
Here are some articles taken from the forty-four that make up the Charter.
About life. “Every person has the right to life. One life is not superior to another. Respect for others is the rule and tolerance must be the principle.”
About the enemy. "Don't humiliate the enemy, because doing so would be considered cowardly."
About the young. “The education of young people is the responsibility of the whole society. Each one has to take care of his children and correct them.”
About the woman. "Let no one offend women, who are our mothers."
About divorce. "Divorce is legal and is granted at the request of one of the spouses, for some specific reasons: the madness of one of the two spouses, the inability of the husband to assume his obligations (procure adequate food), the breach of conjugal obligations and the lack of respect for in-laws.”
About slavery. “No one will gag a neighbor to sell him. On this day, the existence of slavery is extinguished.
Finally, "Whoever breaks these rules will be punished." "Every person is responsible for ensuring compliance with the law."
A body of laws that was revolutionary for the time and that is still enlightening today.