On 13 April 2022, the Charter Project Africa Civil Society Secretariat and the ECDPM convened a dialogue in commemoration of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (ACDEG): being 15 years since it was adopted by the African Union (AU) member states and 10 years since it came into force. The event brought together representatives from the AU, the European Union Delegation to the AU, civil society organizations and members of the general public to discuss the progress achieved thus far, share experiences, and identify gaps and challenges in the implementation and enforcement of the instrument.
The deliberations revealed that the ACDEG remains an essential tool in realizing the AU’s enriching goals of good governance, peace, and security. This is signified by the fact that 35 out the AU’s 55 member states have signed on to the instrument while 12 of those states have gone on to fully ratify it. While the ultimate goal would be universal ratification of the ACDEG by all member states, Adv. Batlokoa Makong, the acting chief of staff of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), noted that the current level of support for the instrument is a positive signal that African states are committed to working towards achieving good governance, human rights, and rule of law.
However, Makong also highlighted with great concern, the resurgence of military coups, unconstitutional changes of government, contested elections, and manipulations of constitutions in some countries. These worrying trends he observed, have attributed to the failure of some governments to deliver on promises of service delivery. Furthermore, the EU representative to the AU, Alban Biaussat suggested that the rise in popular support (especially among youth) towards these coups could be an indication of the growing frustrations of citizens which come from the loss of trust in leadership coupled with corruption tendencies and the reality of high unemployment. This signals that deeper underlying issues such as equitable socio-economic development and marginalization affect the state of governance on the continent.
On the whole, the participants deliberated on the challenges hindering the operationalization of the instrument at the national, regional and continental levels while reflecting on the ways to enhance enforcement by state parties.
The head of the AU’s African Governance Architecture and African Peace and Security Architecture (AGA-APSA) Secretariat, Amb. Salah Hammad suggested that the slow rate of ratification and implementation of the ACDEG was due to the lack of sufficient political leadership on matters of governance and the capacity constraints (technical and financial) that some states continue to face. He explained that it was essential to enhance awareness of the ACDEG’s provisions among state public officials who are better placed to enforce the instrument at national level. Lidet Tadesse, the Associate Director at ECDPM, attributed the slow progress of the ACDEG’s implementation to the deterioration of security in some countries and the internationalization of some conflicts, which has in turn negatively affected socio-economic progress and undermined the value of some civilian governments in the eyes of their frustrated public. This has hampered the enforcement of the ACDEG as a continental instrument which is highly dependent on diplomacy, peer pressure, and accountability.
What can be done to strengthen domestication and implementation?
At the national level
The first step was a call for a multi-stakeholder approach towards sensitizing and creating awareness programs among key state entities such as relevant government officials, parliamentarians, and the judiciary as well as with non-state actors such as civil society and the private sector. The media stands out as a potential ally in strengthening the awareness of the relevance of the ACDEG, but most importantly, the inclusive use of digital innovations within civic technology provides the opportunity to expand a continental constituency to campaign for improved democratic governance and increase the prospects for accountability on the governance agenda. The expanding tech-driven youthful population in Africa could be a potential avenue for sharing and dissemination of information, said Nerima Wako-Ojiwa from Siasa Place. However, the potential for civic technology can only be fully realized if certain challenges are addressed, and they include the rise of misinformation in the digital space, limited penetration of internet connectivity on the continent, restricted access to the internet and state backlash against digital advocacy as part of a wider concern on shrinking civic space.
Regional and continental level
There is a need to strengthen the utilization of existing platforms, such as the AGA platform; which provides ample opportunities for synergies among AU organs as well as with member states, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), civil society, and the African citizenry at large. Amb. Hammad invited civil society organizations to maximize and operationalize the existing citizenship engagement strategy of the AGA platform, such as the AGA Youth Engagement Strategy.
The different AU organs such as the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Sub Committee on Human rights, Democracy and Governance within the AU’s Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC) and the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) Committee on Justice and Human Rights should work collectively and cohesively to undertake the multi-pronged work of (1) pushing for universal ratification of the ACDEG, (2) sensitizing state and non-state actors on the instrument’s provisions, (3) enhancing state compliance with ACDEG obligations through periodic reviews and (4) providing technical assistance and enabling citizen engagement through availing space for dialogue within their procedures and encouraging dialogue between state and non-state actors at the national level.
All things considered, the main takeaway of the event was that the ACDEG remains a significant instrument in fostering Africa’s sustainable development and realizing the vision of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens”. However, daunting challenges remain and need to be dealt with in order to translate the ACDEG’s promise into tangible progress in the everyday lives of the African people. Notably, Ms. Lindiwe Khumalo, the Ag. Executive Secretary of the ACHPR, indicated that the AGA platform is currently focused on the issue of unconstitutional changes in government and that the 2023 edition of the Africa Governance Report will make recommendations to member states on this issue.
Strengthening multi-stakeholder engagements through the different AU organs and with the effective participation of civil society and the youth, is key to making the ACDEG relevant to the current governance challenges on the continent. This is because civil society can provide valuable evidence-based research and advocacy to inform implementation of the ACDEG and also provide spaces for dialogue between the people and those in power. These engagements should also be alive to the realities of youth-led informal social movements that are convened through non-traditional means such as social media and which now play an increasing role in mobilizing and interacting with the citizenry.
Indeed, there is a need to embrace innovation in the form of civic technology to enhance access to information, promote transparency in public affairs and expand the possibilities for accountability. Such innovation and the advancements in digital technology over the last 15 years raises the parallel need to adapt the ACDEG and other legal instruments to respond to the related challenges, such as misinformation, disinformation, and the digital divide.
Ultimately, there is the need to build a strategic coherence to ensure that all the stakeholders on democratic governance work collaboratively and constructively towards the advancement of the ambitions within ACDEG; the heart of which is the promotion, nurturing, strengthening and consolidation of democracy and governance.