Meaning and Limitations of Sovereignty

Sovereignty is the supreme authority and power of a state to create and enforce laws, using all necessary coercive means,


In this post, we shall discuss the concept of sovereignty and its limitations. At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • define sovereignty; and
  • identify five factors that limit sovereignty.


Sovereignty is the supreme authority and power of a state to create and enforce laws, using all necessary coercive means, without being influenced or controlled by external forces.


It is a foundational concept in government. It signifies a state’s independence and autonomy in governing its territory and citizens.

Image Credit: MabelAmber on Pixabay.

Factors that Limit the Sovereignty of a State

  1. Resources: The lack of adequate human and material resources may restrict a state’s ability to exercise its authority effectively.
  2. Pressure Group Activity: Influential pressure groups and individuals may need to be consulted before enacting and implementing laws. Their influence can shape public opinion and potentially hinder compliance.
  3. The Constitution: A state’s constitution formally establishes the state and defines the scope and limitations of its powers. Constitutional provisions can place constraints on the exercise of sovereignty.
  4. The Electorate: Through elections, the electorate can check the government’s actions and curb any excesses, thereby limiting the exercise of sovereignty.
  5. International Laws and Memberships: States voluntarily accept limitations on their sovereignty when they become members of international organizations like the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), or ECOWAS. Compliance with international laws and resolutions is required as part of their membership obligations.
  6. Public Opinion: Both local and international public opinions can influence or prevent a country from taking certain actions. Fear of sanctions or embargoes might deter a state from exercising its sovereignty in certain ways.
  7. Customs and Traditions: Customary practices and traditions of the people can impact the making of laws and may influence the exercise of sovereignty by the state.
  8. Coup d’├ętat: A coup d’├ętat, or overthrow of the government by force, can erode popular sovereignty and disrupt the legitimate exercise of authority.
  9. Types of Governmental Power: Sovereignty may be better exercised under a unitary government compared to federal and confederal systems, as the concentration of power allows for more decisive decision-making.
See also  Rule of Law | Advantages and Limitations


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