Cultivating a democratic Africa
Created by the African Union (AU) in 2007, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (ACDEG) entered into force on February 15 2012.
The main goal of the ACDEG is the encouragement and promotion of democracy and human rights on the African continent. In essence, it has been designed to encourage better governance across the continent.
It was the first legal instrument adopted by member states of the AU that acknowledges that an unconstitutional change of government includes any amendments to the constitution or legal instruments of a member state that infringe on the principles of democratic change of government.
The ACDEG requires African states to nurture, support and consolidate good governance by promoting democratic culture and practice, building and strengthening governance institutions, and inculcating political pluralism and tolerance.
South Africa was the eighth country to ratify the ACDEG on December 2010, having signed it in February 2010. The country completed the process with the deposit of its instrument of ratification in January 2011.
According to Patrick Glen from the Georgetown University Law Centre, the ACDEG represents the culmination of more than two decades of thinking on democracy promotion and consolidation within the institutions of the AU and its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
“Democracy and the striving for democratic governance has long played a central role in how the OAU and AU have sought to address the problematic issues in African society, ranging from economic development and poverty alleviation, to increasing literacy and encouraging environmentalism,” says Glen.
But does the ACDEG really have a significant impact on elections of a country? Following the South African general elections held in May, the AU Election Observer Mission filed a preliminary report stating that the political and electoral environment was generally peaceful across the country with voters being able to exercise their right to vote.
“The Mission observed that the Independent Electoral preparation and management of the entire electoral process were such that it contributed to the overall integrity of the process and enhanced public confidence,” states the report.
Based on its observation, the Mission has come to the preliminary conclusion that elections were free, fair, transparent and credible. The Malawian elections that were held a few weeks after the South African one, was also labelled a success by an AU Election Observer Mission.
“The 2014 elections provided an opportunity for Malawians to choose their leaders at the polls. The elections were conducted in a largely transparent manner in accordance with the legal framework of Malawi and international standards,” according to the Mission.
However, there is not necessarily a correlation between signing the ACDEG and peaceful elections. As the AU Election Observer Mission found following the Egyptian presidential election (Egypt is not a signatory to the ACDEG), the election was held in an environment that allowed willing voters to effectively participate in the process and exercise their right to vote. Furthermore it found that the election was conducted in a stable, peaceful and orderly environment.
Problems still exist
Steven Gruzd and Yarik Turianskyi from the South African Institute of International Affairs believe there are common problems that characterise many elections in Africa. These include electoral manipulation and fraud, electoral conflict and violence, accountability to the party rather than voters, and the blurred lines between party and state.
They also believe that election challenges exist through the ACDEG. “The ACDEG commits members to regularly holding transparent, free and fair elections, but does not include provisions for penalising countries that do not do so. Sanctions are envisaged only for unconstitutional changes of government, but not for tampering with elections or abusing democratic institutions. In addition, the AU has a small department of political affairs to manage the ACDEG,” says Gruzd.
Where to now?
In April, the Political Affairs Department of the AU organised a consultative workshop in Senegal to address concerns around the slow acceptance rate of the ACDEG.
Dr Mamadu Dia, head of democracy, governance, human rights and elections at the AU, noted that the Africa Governance Architecture and Platform of the organisation is rallying its various organs and institutions as well as non-state actors in ensuring norm implementation in member states.
“This will help improve and accelerate the ratification, domestication and implementation of the ACDEG,” she said. Dr Jinmi Adisa, director of citizens and diaspora organisations directorate at the AU, said the issue of democracy, elections and governance should be seen as a community concern.
“The solution to the problem is one that should involve all stakeholders. The AU must factor in the issue of capacity support, capacity building and accountability as part of the process to achieve the set goals.” While the workshop was expected to outline better ways of going about to promote the ratification, domestication and implementation of the ACDEG, only time will tell on its effectiveness.
Countries that have ratified the ACDEG
- Burkina Faso
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
Countries that have signed but not ratified the ACDEG
- Central African Republic
- Côte d’Ivoire
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
- Sao Tome and Principe
The contents of this article were supplied and signed off by the Southern Africa Trust.