ANALYSIS | AGA, ACDEG and Africa’s pursuit of good democratic governance

The African Union has always championed the cause of promoting democracy, good governance, human rights and rule of law in Africa; although the continent has made significant progress in its democratization drive – with many AU Member States currently enjoying quite stable democracies – the story in others is still not very encouraging.



What is AGA and ACDEG?

It was against this backdrop during the occasion of the 8th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly in 2007, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), was adopted by the Assembly as the Union’s main normative framework  setting the standards for better governance across the continent. ACDEG however  only came into force in 2012 (the year of AU Shared Values) after its ratification by the required fifteen (15) Member States, with the objective of enhancing quality of elections, promoting human rights and strengthening rule of law in Africa.

Others are improving political, economic and social governance namely addressing issues relating to unconstitutional changes of government on the continent, amongst others.

In the same vein, the African Governance Architecture (AGA) was inspired by the Constitutive Act of the AU and established by the mandate of the 16th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly held in 2011. The 16th Ordinary Session of the Assembly had called for the need to put in place a “Pan-African Architecture on Governance” thus the establishment of the African Governance Architecture Platform (AGA Platform) as a mechanism for dialogue between continental stakeholders mandated with the task of promoting democracy, good governance and rule of law in Africa.

Thus, it was in a bid to operationalize the Pan African Governance Architecture that the African Union Commission (AUC) established the African Governance Architecture Platform (AGA Platform) also referred to as African Governance Platform (AGP) in June 2011 – as the main basis for facilitating the harmonization of all instruments and coordination of all initiatives aimed at promoting democracy and good governance on the continent. The Platform operates under five clusters namely: (a) Democracy and Elections; (b) Human Rights and Transitional Justice; (c) Constitutionalism and Rule of Law; (d) Socio-Economic, Service Delivery and Urbanisation; as well as (e) Humanitarian Assistance.

The AGP also serves as the institutional framework for the various AU Organs, Institutions, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and other stakeholders formally mandated to promote good governance and strengthen democracy and human rights in Africa, in accordance with the AU Shared Values and as enshrined in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance  also known as Democracy Charter. In other words, the AGA Platform is meant to operationalize and coordinate programmes and initiatives of AGA as provided for in ACDEG.

The AGA Platform Members are the African Union Peace and Security Council (AU PSC); the African Union Commission (AUC); Regional Economic Communities (RECs); the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); as well as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court). Others are the Pan African Parliament (PAP); the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM); the African Union Economic, Social and Cultural Council (AU ECOSOCC); the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption (AUABC) as well as the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), among others.

Since coming into force on February 15, 2012 after its ratification by fifteen (15)  AU Member States, the Democracy Charter has yet been signed and ratified by forty-six (46) and thirty-four (34) Member States, respectively. However, only the Republic of Togo, has once reported to the AU on progress made in its implementation of ACDEG, in accordance with Article 49 of the Charter which calls on Member States that have ratified the Charter known as State Parties to: “Submit every two years, from the date the Charter come into force, a report to the Commission on the legislative or other relevant measures taken with a view to giving effect to the principles and commitments of the Charter.”

The stipulation for State Parties to submit bi-annual report is to facilitate evaluation on compliance and implementation of ACDEG, which shall take the shape of constructive and open dialogue between AU organs, Institutions, RECs, State Parties and their respective national stakeholders.

In other words, State Parties’ reporting on progress made in the implementation of the Charter is meant to avail them with the opportunity to (1) reaffirm their commitments to uphold the provisions of the Charter; (2) report on efforts undertaken to fulfill their obligations under the Charter; (3) measure progress towards the implementation of the Charter; as well as (5) assess the effectiveness of national mechanism involved in the process. Other opportunities presented to the State Parties by reporting on ACDEG are (6) the chance to identify obstacles and establish successful collaborative relationships with other State Parties, AU organs, Institutions, and RECs as well as (7) the chance to identify challenges encountered in the fulfillment of their commitments in the Charter so as develop home-grown solutions to the identified challenges.

In terms of its configuration, the Democracy Charter is made up of fifty-three (53) articles clustered around eleven (11) chapters further assembled into six (6) thematic areas: (1) Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights; (2) the Culture of Democracy and Peace; (3) Democratic Institutions; (4) Democratic Elections; as well as (5) Sanctions in Cases of Unconstitutional Change of Government; and (6) Political, Economic and Social Governance. Simply put, ACDEG’s vision is to strengthen AU Member States’ commitment to democracy, rule of law, human rights, peace and socioeconomic development.


AGA/ACDEG: The journey so far

In her forward to a special issue of the African Journal of Democracy and Governance (AJDG), published (2018) in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of ACDEG, African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs Her Excellency Minata Samate Cessouma, had stated that beyond its relevance as a vehicle for the enhancement of democratic governance in Africa, the Charter had also provided impetus for various continental, regional and national policy and institutional frameworks.

“Since its adoption, modest gains have been recorded in deepening a culture of democracy and participatory governance. Specifically, there are regular elections, zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government; inculcation of respect for human rights; entrenchment of constitutionalism and rule of law; improvement in service delivery and concerted efforts to combat corruption and illicit financial flows; vibrant civil society activism, enhancing horizontal accountability; and improvement in gender equality and youth empowerment, creating inclusive political spaces,” she wrote.

Cessouma nonetheless noted that ten (10) years after ACDEG came into being; the African Union was still battling with a number of challenges in its pursuit of intensifying the culture of peace and democracy across the continent. “These have included political violence especially post-elections; persistent mismanagement of diversity in certain zones; limited decentralization of power to local governance authorities; and undemocratic changes of constitutions to prolong presidential term. Other challenges have included prevalence of intra-state conflicts; lack of institutional mechanism to harness democratic potential of Africa’s traditional governance institutions; and underdevelopment characterized by poverty, inequality and unemployment etc.”

Furthermore, the editorial of the special edition of AJGD, penned by Khabele Matlosa, director of political affairs at the AU Commission, vividly traced Africa’s journey towards democratization; it observed that following post-independence Africa’s “false dawn of multiparty democracy in the early 1960s”,  the continent had fallen into authoritarianism of both military and civilian nature, with one country after another experiencing military coups and one-party or rather one-person rule.

Matlosa however argued: “Africa has made considerable progress on its democratization path since 2007 when ACDEG was adopted. For starters, one-party rule is no longer fashionable, although the dominant party system remains pervasive. One-man rule is a thing of the past, although executive monarchies still prevail. Military regimes have become a taboo on the continent, although the military has not fully retreated to the barracks, leaving politics to politicians. Personality cult has receded, although dynastic politics in which families tend to capture the state persists. Multi-party elections have become more frequent, even though some are marked by political violence.”

Likewise, the introductory chapter of a supplementary issue of the Journal of African Law of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London published (2019) also in commemoration of the African Charter on Democracy, Election and Governance at Ten, had noted: “While the ACDEG has clearly shown its capacity to impact the behavior of governments and political leaders in some member states, in others it has arguably had limited influence on the actual state of governance. The level of acceptance, societal ownership and implementation of the ACDEG remains highly uneven, which is one of the key challenges in making the charter’s objectives a reality across Africa.”

That is to say, in spite of having led to changes in some Member States’ approach to democracy, elections and governance, the Charter remains shelved in many countries across the continent. Therefore, level of knowledge, acceptance and implementation of ACDEG remains highly uneven; these are some of the key challenges in the efforts towards making the Charter’s goals a reality in Africa. Notably, although members of the AGP (AGA’s operating arm) are also organs of the AU; AGA itself is not an official policy organ of the AU hence it lacks decision-making power, according to a report titled: Political Economy Dynamics of Political Organisations in Africa by the policy think tank ECDPM.

The report further argues that although, in principle, AGA has a broad mandate, in practice, it lacks the administrative and operational capabilities and resources to monitor, coordinate or otherwise stimulate or enforce compliance with the AU’s agreed governance positions. In addition, it posits the AU’s high level of dependence on donor funding – which though has allowed the African Union Commission (and by extension the AGA Platform) the leverage to “exercise some agency and push for the governance agenda”, – has also strengthened Member States in their suspicion towards the activities of AGA Platform.


Findings of citizens’ report

Moreover, findings of a recent continental citizens’ report that tracked the implementation of ACDEG in eight (8) countries across the continent – produced under the auspices of the global nonprofit Action Aid’s Mobilizing Civil Society Support for Implementation of the African Governance Architecture in Africa Project – showed there was limited knowledge and understanding among African citizens about the Democracy Charter, in the first place. The report, which was researched in Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe had revealed varied and uneven level of implementation of ACDEG’s fifty-three (53) articles across the surveyed State Parties.

For example, whereas Article Six (6) says: “State Parties shall ensure that citizens enjoy fundamental freedoms, and human rights taking into account their universality, interdependence and indivisibility,” the report’s data showed freedom of expression was largely not guaranteed across all the countries, particularly when it comes to demanding for accountability in governance and end to corruption. And whereas Article Seventeen (17) requires State Parties to commit to “regularly holding transparent elections, free and fair elections in accordance with the Union’s Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa,” the citizens report’s findings revealed a general sense of fear about election-related violence and intimidation namely vote buying, rigging as well as heavy deployment of state security apparatus to intimidate electorates – with  Ghana, Tanzania and Sierra Leone being the only exceptions.

Also, even though Article Fifteen (15) says: “State Parties shall establish public institutions that promote and support democracy and constitutional order” as well as “Ensure that the independence or autonomy of the institutions is guaranteed by the constitution,” the study revealed generally low public trust in national institutions; which are not seen to be independent by citizens since most leaders of the electoral umpires  are nominated  or rather appointed by the president thus predisposed to been swayed by the ruling party.

Based on this, the report had concluded that although there was legal and constitutional framework in place to implement ACDEG across the eight (8) focal countries, there was regrettably, limited knowledge of ACDEG across the countries and also limited political will to fully implement the provisions of the Charter . Against this backdrop, the report had recommended that the AU assists Member States to report about progress made in the Charter’s implementation, by developing regional monitoring reports and external assessment tools for compliance. While the civil society continues to raise awareness among citizens on national obligations and commitments to domesticate and implement the Charter so they (civil society and citizens) can jointly hold governments accountable.