Good governance can refer to so many different sectors and aspects that it is often hard to assess or measure. The definition of governance refers to the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage the running of a country. While it is impossible to precisely define what “good governance” looks like on the ground, it can broadly be measured by legitimacy and the consent that the government has from the public; accountability that ensures transparency and liability for actions; respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights; and the competence of governance through effective policy-making, implementation and service delivery.
African Governance Report: context
The inaugural African Governance Report (AGR) was launched in March in Pretoria. It aims to assess and measure the implementation of the African Union’s (AU) shared values by the 55 member states through an African approach to African issues. This is the first continental governance report undertaken by the body. Previous assessments have been undertaken by multilateral institutions and aid agencies.The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which undertook the study, believes that the integrated and participative approach to the governance review will ensure greater buy-in from states and the implementation of its recommendations.
Five key areas of governance were examined: transformational leadership; constitutionalism and the rule of law, the relationship between peace, security, and governance, the nexus of development and governance; and the role of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in African governance.
The development of the AGR was guided by the Constitutive Act of the African Union and the AU Agenda 2063. The Act is the basis of the continental body’s objectives and principles. Agenda 20623 sets out goals to achieve the AU vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.
The AU envisions in Agenda 2063 a continental-wide rail system, an African passport to ensure the free movement of people, a massive free trade area to enhance economic co-operation and the “silencing of the guns” for peace and security.
The aims of Agenda 2063 are in line with the global United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 that aim to eradicate poverty, improve the quality and access to healthcare and education as well as protect the environment.
To achieve these lofty goals, good governance is crucial, so the AGR was launched to provide the basis for regular and continuous tracking of governance, and to highlight and share best practices among African countries. The report was undertaken by APRM, which is the AU’s primary institution responsible for the voluntary assessment of governance in participating member states since its establishment in 2003.The AU is encouraging African countries to join the APRM where uptake has been relatively slow.So far 38 of the 55 member states have signed up to the APRM, while 21 have undertaken the review.
African Governance Policy Framework
The AU’s Constitutive Act is the foundation of the governance framework used by the APRM for its assessment. The Constitutive Act includes shared values for African countries, which broadly fall under democracy and good governance; rule of law and human rights; peace and security; and continental development and integration.
The AU’s predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), established in 1963, is seen as the first consensus by African states towards the adoption of shared values and is considered a starting point in analysing trends of governance and leadership on the continent.
The African Governance Report highlights the importance of leaders who are able to bring about “radical change”, which will lead to widespread improvements in people’s daily lives.
Transformative leadership is seen as central to governance, because it determines the rate and pace of change, the trajectory of human and social progress and the usage of national resources for sustainable development.
The movement towards democracy across Africa gathered momentum in the 1990s and since then there have been many reforms, which include the (re)establishment of multi-party political systems and regular elections for legislatures and executives. Some African leaders also championed institutional checks and balances through the establishment of audit authorities, offices of public protectors, and independent prosecution authorities, judiciaries and legislatures.
There has also been a focus on expanding the private media and communication networks (albeit with regulations) in some countries, while African citizens have increased their role in participating in democratic principles and practices through civil society and electoral processes.
However, away from the broadly positive move towards democracy, the report found that 35 governments still have discriminatory laws; they represent 64% of the 55 AU member states. Furthermore, just over half of the African countries assessed have mechanisms for public participation and official strategies to deal with corruption.
There has been an overall improvement in African governance since 2008, which is partly due to economic growth development in some countries, and the analysis also found satisfactory performance in economic governance and management as well as corporate governance. However, democracy and political governance remain weak and pose an obstacle to good governance.
The report identifies several issues that are hampering good governance, which include: the existence of discriminatory laws; the exclusion of minority groups; inadequate mechanisms for public participation; inadequate freedom of association and of the media; and the absence of anti-corruption strategies.
Constitutionalism and the rule of law
The Constitutive Act of the AU in 2000 established several principles to guide African countries, including sovereignty, non-interference by member states in the internal affairs of other nations, the promotion of gender equality and the condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of governments.
The AU is also duty bound not to look away when gross crimes against humanity occur and under the principle of non-indifference, it has the right to “intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as serious threats to legitimate order, to restore peace and stability”.
The AGR highlighted several factors that negatively affect the respect for law in African countries. These include selective application of the law; disregard for public procurement rules and procedures; failure to respect court decisions; neglect of local and customary practices for dealing with crime; and incumbent presidents manipulating the law and legal processes to retain power.
When it comes to human rights, many African countries have established legal frameworks to protect and promote human rights, however this often still does not translate into people’s lived reality. Many human rights institutions across the continent are underfunded and cannot operate effectively.
Several countries have never submitted reports relevant to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. These are: Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, South Sudan and Somalia. South Africa is among the 14 that are up to date with reporting on human rights, alongside Angola, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Kenya, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Togo.
The Africa Governance Report emphasises the importance of public participation in fostering good governance to ensure public decision-making processes are transparent and match people’s needs.
Several African countries have moved to ensure greater access to the public through information laws that give individuals the right of access to government information, but citizen participation remains limited due to the absence of clear procedural mechanisms, poverty, discrimination, and the failure of government agencies to provide feedback.
Most countries in Africa currently have a form of multiparty democracy, with many having term limits in their Constitutions.The report highlights concerns that opposition parties pose a weak system of checks and balances while the executive remains dominant and in some cases has unfettered powers.
Constitutional rules are taken seriously, and presidential term limits are now widely respected. The AU has also shifted the focus from merely election observation to diplomacy, by making the observer missions more technical and independent. The observer missions make recommendations, which the member states are expected to implement before their next elections.
Peace, security and governance
Peace is seen by the APRM to mean a situation when there is an absence of conflict and a environment conducive for social and political stability. Peace, together with governance and security, are considered vital prerequisites and are complementary to economic development.
The African Peace and Security Council has acknowledged that most of the violent conflicts and crises are rooted in governance deficits. Internal armed violence is significantly higher in low-income and lower-middle-income countries than in upper-middle-income or wealthy countries.
The AU identified 21 conflicts in the 55 member states, as of July 2018. There are several countries with internal conflicts and other forms of unrest, and there are violent disturbances involving economic issues, race, religion, political divisions, violent extremism and terrorism. The four major conflict zones identified by the AU are: the Mano River Region in West Africa, the Great Lakes Region straddling central and East Africa, the Horn of Africa on the east of the continent and the Sahel/Maghreb Region in north Africa.
The nature of conflicts has changed over the last two decades. Large inter-country wars have declined since 2001, but political violence within states such as riots and violence against civilians has increased.
The AU Peace and Security Council is tasked with preventing conflict through an early warning system and diplomacy, and managing conflicts through creating peace. At the same time the regional blocs on the continent have become increasingly involved in peace and security issues, including mediation, as the threat of violent conflict affects all neighbours.
The report acknowledges that despite the existence of the African Peace and Security Architecture to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts in Africa, there are pockets of violent conflict that have not been resolved and the goal to “silence the guns” by 2020 is unlikely to be achieved.
The relationship between development and governance
The definition of development is broad and can be defined as a process to become more advanced. The African Governance Report found that most states on the continent Africa have both long-term national visions and medium-term development plans that reflect aspirations to progress as a country.
There is a clear relationship between planning and economic growth. In all regions in Africa, aside from northern Africa, the countries with high prevalence of national development plans have higher real gross domestic product (GDP) growth patterns than those with low prevalence of long-term visions.
There are mixed patterns of economic development across Africa, with countries facing differing issues based on the legacy of colonial rule and raw commodities.The global financial crisis of 2008/2009 left countries that are vulnerable to external shocks in a weak position.The continent rebounded after this, with a high growth rate of 5.4% in 2010. However, recent movements in commodity prices have had mixed fortunes, with non-oil exporting countries recording increases in GDP growth rates, while the weaker price of oil has negatively impacted oil-exporting countries.
It is dangerous to punt GDP growth as the panacea to the continent’s development problems. North Africa records low to medium GDP growth, while posting the lowest incidence of poverty as measured through the Poverty Headcount Ratio. In the south, where all countries have national development plans and relatively high GDP growth rates, there are very high levels of poverty.
The AGR singles out several issues that are crucial to ensuring national development plans are implemented. The availability of adequate resources, governance structures and institutional capacities at deemed to be at the centre of importance for long-term planning.
Africa is a rich continent with 30% of all global minerals, including more than half of the world’s rare minerals, but the report notes that that this does not adequately translate into improved prosperity, broad-based development and industrialisation.
The paradox of vast mineral wealth alongside massive poverty can partly be attributed to the lack of adequate governance around natural resources, due to weak institutions and policies in this sector. This often has the effect of short-term gains for the elite at the expense of long-term development.
Another issue affecting Africa’s prosperity are the billions of dollars estimated to leave the continent illegally every year through Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs). Money leaves the continent illicitly through tax evasion, transfer pricing and the drug trade. IFFs erode the tax base for public investment and social spending, which weaken governance and capacity.
The continent also remains heavily dependent on official development assistance from developed countries, which impacts on sovereign policy decision-making and implementation, according to the AGR.
While much of the focus by the APRM is on AU member states improving governance and accountability in government structures, the private sector also plays an important role in promoting good corporate governance. Businesses boost the development of corporations to benefit the public and their own bottom line.
The APRM states that economic diversification is an important priority due to Africa’s historic reliance on the primary sector, such as mining and agricultural industries.
The AGR also highlights the importance of gender equality as a key element to unlocking development potential, and while progress has been made on this front, the situation remains far from ideal. Progress in achieving gender equality has been slower than hoped and is inconsistent in many African countries.
When it comes to gender equality, there is often a gap between plans and budgets and the translation into improved quality of life for women.
Role of the regional economic communities in African governance
The regional blocs in Africa are voluntary associations and exist largely to promote economic co-operation and integration across borders.
The AU acknowledges the roles of the regional blocs and their efforts to improve continental unity. They allow for political and cultural nuance within the vastly diverse continent while working towards common goals such as infrastructure. There are eight regional organisations which are officially recognised; the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas), Economic Community of West African States (Ecowa), intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Some of the regional blocs allow for intervention in member states where there are “serious and massive” violations of human rights and the rule of law. The organisations have also included the promotion and protection of human rights in their treaties, recognising that human rights play a crucial role in economic development.
The African Governance Report recognises that there should be greater harmonisation and integration between the broad objectives of the AU and regional blocs. The issue of overlapping membership for several countries within the associations also hinders their work and effectiveness.