The inaugural African Governance Report (AGR) makes a set of widespread recommendations, based on its assessment of the state of governance on the continent. The report is intended as a basis for future monitoring and evaluation of controls by the African Union (AU) member states and envisions a great deal of work to be undertaken to improve institutions and checks and balances in the future.
The report is significant as it is the first far-reaching report by an African institution, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), into the state of governance on the continent; previous studies were undertaken by multilateral institutions and donor agencies. The APRM relied heavily on countries’ internal data and worked collaboratively to compile the document, launched in March in Pretoria.
The APRM is a voluntary specialised arm of the AU that aims to promote review and accountability mechanisms. The institution is hopeful that the broad recommendations in the inaugural report will be implemented by countries that participated, as there was greater buy-in during the process.
The report found overall gains made in governance but does not shy away from highlighting the very serious challenges to development that the continent faces. Providing a broad picture of the state of governance across a continent as diverse and large as Africa is also challenging. Some pockets of Africa enjoy relative prosperity and development or have high economic growth rates while others remain mired in conflict and are among the poorest nations in the world.
The first AGR examined five aspects believed to be crucial for governance on the continent: transformative leadership, constitutionalism and the rule of law, the relationship between development and governance, peace, stability and security and the role of regional blocs in championing good governance.
A set of proposals was put forward for each category that was assessed by the APRM. As each country is a sovereign nation, the success of their proposals will depend on the willingness of governments to see their nations progress.
Leaders ready to take radical action
Africa does not need to look abroad for examples of inspirational leaders. Individuals who remain icons on the continent include Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere, Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. However there have been few leading lights in recent times. Sudanese billionaire and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim founded the Ibrahim Prize for African leaders, to try and promote the concept of dedicated heads of state.
He bemoaned the lack of good governance in Africa, citing the last 10 years as a decade of “lost opportunity” for the continent, when he launched the Ibrahim Index of African Governance in October 2018.
The APRM highlights the importance of leaders who are committed to bringing about radical change and transforming the lives of citizens. To do this, member states are encouraged to align their national visions with the AU Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Agenda 2063 refers to the master plan for the next four decades for the continent. This blueprint was adopted in 2013 under the former AU commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. It involved countries deciding to shift away from the struggle against apartheid and colonial rule, the focus areas of African leaders committed to focusing on inclusive social and economic development, continental and regional integration, democratic governance and peace and security as well as repositioning Africa to become a global heavyweight.
The 50-year plan recognises the need for structural transformations, the promotion of peace and security gender equality and youth empowerment. All of these objectives must be undertaken while the world is transforming and increasingly digitising. The reality is that Africa as a primary product exporter and manufactured goods importer often falls far behind in global innovation and skills adoption. Agenda 2063 also provides for plans to grow value-added manufacturing from natural commodities.
The report states that attention should be paid to AU Agenda 2063 Aspiration One, which calls for a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development and Aspiration Six, which sketches a vision of an Africa with development that is people-driven instead of resource based.
The AU’s Agenda 2063 flagship projects are also linked to the UN SDGs, which say that states should align with gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production in the age of climate change.
Countries are also urged to end all forms of discrimination and exclusion of ethnic groups, religions, gender and people with disabilities. They are encouraged to promote democratic principles and institutions, and popular participation in governance and policy formulation. There is a wealth of instruments and documents relating to governance on the continent, developed by African institutions. However there has not been universal commitment, ratification or compliance with these. Committed leaders should further promote and protect human rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments, according to the APRM.
The report also states that countries should ensure that they hold regular national governance reviews to assess their own performance.
Sign and ratify all legal instruments
The AGR found that while there has been an overall improvement in respect for the rule of law, there are mixed success stories in compliance across the continent.
The APRM recommended that all 55 AU member states should ratify documents relating to shared values and legal instruments as well as comply with the decisions of legal entities.
Furthermore, to promote good governance, countries are urged to establish monitoring mechanisms of anticorruption programmes and on the pressing issue of human rights, the AGR maintains that African countries should submit periodic reports related to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. They should also comply with decisions made by continental bodies such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Every nation should also establish a National Human Rights Institution as an autonomous body.
When it comes to public service and administration, the role of continental institutions is emphasised again. The APRM encourages member states to ratify the African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration and they should also adopt inclusive electoral systems on a proportional representation system.
With the prospect of election violence and claims of rigging often associated with African elections, the report believes that member state should ensure the independent administration of elections, and fair and speedy resolution of electoral disputes to promote good governance.
The power of the executive often overshadows civil society and opposition parties in some African states. To this end the report recommends that countries should ensure the independence of the legislature and judiciary.
There has been overall a decrease in inter-country wars over the last two decades but there is a worrying rise in intra-country violence, which often takes the shape of ethnic violence and terrorism. The APRM recognises the need to increase the number of countries that have signed, ratified and complied with various continental initiatives to promote peace and security.
There are currently limitations in the harmonisation and co-ordination of the functioning of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the African Governance Architecture (AGA).
There is also room to improve co-operation and collaboration to “silence the guns” between the AU and regional bodies, the AU and the United Nations, and between the AU and other international entities.
The AGR recommends that the AU should operationalise the African Standby Force (ASF) and increase efforts to secure sustainable funding of peace and security activities. The ASF is one of five efforts of the African Peace and Security Architecture that allows the AU to intervene within member states. This is only under the most serious circumstances, which includes genocide and crimes against humanity.
What came first, governance or development?
Prosperity and economic growth have been uneven on a continent historically reliant on raw materials, vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and external shocks in the global economy.
Ethical governance is crucial to achieving inclusive development, management of natural resources and combating threats to the implementation of development agendas, such as illicit financial flows and corruption.
The APRM encourages member states to come up with national development plans and programmes that aim at inclusive human development instead of widening inequalities as economic growth rises. The report notes that the existence of national plans usually correlates with higher economic growth rates. However, the APRM cautions that an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) does not always translate into economic prosperity across the board.
To this end, countries should align their plans with the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to create dignified lives through sustainable economic development.
Mining plays such a huge role in Africa that the report makes several recommendations to enhance the benefits this crucial sector provides to the continent. The APRM urges nations to ensure their natural resources such as mineral wealth and oil are utilised in a sustainable way to benefit citizens and future generations.
Recent discoveries of oil, gas and minerals in some African countries could significantly boost government revenues in future, especially if commodity prices and demand surge. The AU’s Mining Vision adopted called for “Transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socioeconomic development”. The report found that if the plans for sustainable mining are implemented, the potential for African countries to finance the AU Agenda 2063 and UN SDGs could be significantly boosted.
If countries manage their mineral wealth correctly, this sector can be a catalyst for investment and the diversification of the economy away from the primary sector to greater industrialisation, skills development and the transfer of technology.
Revenues from the minerals sector could also see a surge in social spending due to higher revenues, which would improve health and education provision. This sector needs to be handled carefully and, as a note of caution, the report warns that if commodities are abused, they have the potential to ignite major conflict, corruption, environmental damage and human rights violations.
The African Mining Vision (AMV) should therefore be implemented in a phased approach to integrate the minerals sector into the economy of each country. The AU established the Africa Minerals Development Centre in 2013, to support member states in its vision for the development of the extractives industry. Member states have also been encouraged to review and align their national mineral policies and regulatory frameworks with the AMV.
It is almost impossible to accurately measure how much money the continent loses due to Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs). This refers to money illegally leaving Africa in the form of tax evasion, poor invoicing and transfer pricing of commodities. The outflows of money away from local revenue agencies and government undermine Africa’s autonomy and ability to increase social spending. IFFs are there because of weak tax systems, poor governance and corruption.
The APRM recommends that African governments should address IFFs to maximise their tax revenues, keep resources within their countries, and prevent criminal activities. The high-level panel on IFFs recommends that continental and regional bodies develop a systematic and coherent anti-IFFs project.
Africa as largest receiver of official development assistance or aid is a direct consequence of the large outflows of money and colonial legacies. However well intentioned, aid can have the effect of weakening national autonomy, creating a reliance on donors and the implementation of policies and projects deemed essential by external forces, instead of the public.
The APRM recommends that countries increase their own revenue collection and make use of their natural resources more effectively, to become less dependent on foreign aid.
An important consideration for Africa to become more prosperous is the need to diversify away from the reliance on the primary sector, mining and agriculture, with greater focus on industrialisation and cross-border value chains to promote regional integration and the movement of goods and services.
Governments are also encouraged to establish strong regulatory and legal mechanisms for businesses that require them to address fundamental and structural economic challenges beyond their corporate social investment projects.
The continent has been rife with examples of international companies — especially in the mining sector — flouting regulations, which they would not dare try when operating in developed nations, due to their strong legal frameworks. This has a profound impact on people and the environment.
Nineteen AU member states have established a collaborative network called the Corporate Governance Network that aims to enhance their institutional capacity towards the sustainable development of public- and privately-owned corporations.
The rise of regional blocs
The eight regional blocs play a role in creating continental integration, the expansion of infrastructure across borders, peace and security while being sensitive to regional, language and cultural nuances.
To improve governance in Africa, the report advises the AU and the regional blocs should co-ordinate and harmonise their policies, programmes and activities. There are often overlaps, with some countries belonging to several regional communities, which hinders the implementation of their plans.
The AU’s member states are encouraged to sign and ratify the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area. This is a major goal of the Agenda 2063 and has been called an economic “game changer” for the continent by the International Monetary Fund.
Of the 55 AU members, the only signature that is still outstanding is Eritrea’s. Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, joined the common market in July. The country had previously been reluctant to sign the agreement, citing concerns over cheap imports flooding its local market.
Just 15% to 18% of all trade in Africa is intra-continental. The free trade area will promote the free movement of goods, but there have been warnings that the expected positive impact will not be felt immediately due to infrastructure bottlenecks and the slow speed of implementation.