Make Peace Happen

Strengthening political governance for peace, security and stability in Africa

A research report based on the AU High-level Retreat held in Cairo, Egypt, from 4-5 September 2011, organised by the African Union Peace and Security Department in cooperation with the Government of Egypt, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and the Cairo Regional Centre for Training on Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa.

From 4-5 September 2011, the African Union (AU) convened its second High-level Retreat on the Promotion of Peace, Security and Stability in Africa in Cairo, Egypt. The AU Retreat was convened in collaboration with the host country, Egypt; the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD); the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre) and the Cairo Regional Centre for Training on Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa (CCCPA). The overall theme of the 2011 AU Retreat was ‘Strengthening political governance for peace, security and stability in Africa’, primarily as an opportunity to respond to governance-related challenges to the peace and security landscape in Africa.

The AU Retreat took place against the background of unprecedented developments and unrests in North Africa. It brought together approximately 150 participants, including senior officials and special envoys/representatives of the AU, regional economic communities (RECs)/regional mechanisms (RMs), the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the League of Arab States, the International Organisation of La Francophonie, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, research institutes and think tanks, and experienced private mediators. Through sharing experiences, challenges and possible solutions, the retreat aimed to strengthen African peacemaking efforts in relation to conflicts that emerge from governance-related issues.

Through both plenary and break-out sessions, the AU Retreat provided the opportunity to exchange perspectives on the following topics:

  1. trends, challenges and prospects for political governance in Africa
  2. the role of governance in preventing conflicts, including leadership and accountability
  3. the restoration of peace when governance breaks down, with a focus on election-related conflicts, constitutional crises, security sector reform (SSR) and the management of national resources.

The imperative for good governance on the African continent cannot be overemphasised. This is due to the intricate connection between governance and other socio-economic issues including economic growth, development, security and democracy. In the African context, the governance of public office is prominent in discussions of good governance, hence the use of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) definition, which conceptualises governance as the “exercise of power or authority to manage a country’s resources and affairs. It comprises mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations, and mediate their differences” (UNDP, 1997). Good governance emphasises values such as participation, representation, accountability, transparency, responsiveness and respect for the rule of law.

Since its establishment, the AU has undertaken new commitments in the field of good governance, expanding on earlier pledges made by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The Constitutive Act (AU, 2002) confirmed the AU’s determination “to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights, consolidate democratic institutions and culture, and to ensure good governance and the rule of law”. In July 2002, the AU supplemented the Constitutive Act and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) with a Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance, which states that member states “believe in just, honest, transparent, accountable and participatory government and probity in public life” (NEPAD, 2002).

While every country faces the challenge of developing its national infrastructure and putting in place functioning governance mechanisms, the governance environment in Africa must be understood in terms of the pressing socio-economic conditions that characterise much of the continent. Despite the achievements that have been registered in a number of African countries, the majority of the countries classified by the UN as ‘least developed countries’ (LDCs) are found in Africa. This reality underscores the importance of improved governance to realise the needs of society, and contextualises the challenging context in which governance structures operate. It is against this backdrop that, in recent years, several efforts have been initiated to assess and measure the quality of governance of countries around the world – including those with a particular focus in Africa.

Measuring and comparing governance across different countries is a controversial and political exercise, which is by definition an extremely challenging undertaking. That said, governance measures such as the NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), the African Governance Report (AGR), the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the African Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP) and the Human Development Index do still yield powerful comparative assessment tools capable of capturing the societal conditions that drive governance efforts. Developing statistical tools for comparisons between countries allows for the ability to monitor change, identify problems and contribute to priority setting and policy formulation – thereby revealing in a country an understanding of the governance environment that would otherwise be invisible.

In recent years, there have been a number of initiatives and interventions intended to enhance governance in Africa. A key initiative was the adoption of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance at the 8th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly, held in Addis Ababa on 30 January 2007. This charter highlights the commitment by member states to the universal values and principles of democracy, good governance, human rights and the right to development. It is intended to provide member states with a reference point to measure reform and to improve governance processes.

Some of the prospects and opportunities for Africa’s governance that were discussed by stakeholders at the retreat included:

  • The role of social media and technologies – Governments in both the developed and developing world continue to make huge strides in using new technologies to bridge the gap between the state and its citizens, and to ensure efficient and effective service delivery.
  • The strengthening of governance architecture and norms in Africa – Strengthening governance architectures and norms in Africa speaks to how states are made accountable in promoting and implementing the principles of good governance.
  • Strengthening the role of regional organisations – Regional organisations play a significant role in calling for and advocating fair, credible and non-violent elections, and providing opportunities for engagement among member states to increase their efforts in enhancing good governance.
  • The gender dimension of governance – Governance from a gender perspective means not only creating the spaces for women to engage and actively participate, but that they are seen as legitimate actors in governance processes.

Challenges of governance in Africa that were discussed by stakeholders at the retreat included:

  • Poverty, underdevelopment, food insecurity – Inefficient and ineffective governance is experienced daily by a great number of Africans who become affected by poverty, underdevelopment and food insecurity.
  • The democracy deficit and election-related violence – The inability of many African states to exercise effective and truly inclusive democracies, including conducting free and fair elections, remains a leading governance concern.
  • Weak institutions and leadership – Weak institutions are considered a fundamental reason for poor governance, and the absence of strong institutions can lend itself to a lack of accountability and poor leadership.
  • Entrenched structures of poor governance – Weak or poor governance finds its expression through the absence of rule of law, limits to democracy, lack of accountability and transparency, and multifaceted corruption. Across different states, these issues are engrained in state structures, undermining the very concept of governance.
  • Security sector reform – The failure of African security organisations in the past has often stemmed from poor governance of the state and, in particular, the security sector – making this a key factor in developing strategies and mechanisms for improved governance on the continent.
  • The impact of natural resources and climate change on governance – The ability of a state to benefit from the presence of natural resources within its borders is often a function of its governance strengths or weaknesses. Also, the majority of people in Africa depend on agriculture for food production, which relies heavily on a predictable climate. As global warming alters climatic conditions, leading to threats to food security, the large-scale displacement of people and the possibility of conflict, concern is heightened as communities struggle over access to dwindling resources – a real challenge for governance globally, and more specifically in Africa.
  • The ‘youth bulge’ – Youth unemployment will likely pose a threat to durable peace on the continent and will serve as a conflict driver, since they can be more susceptible to armed violence and militarisation. The capacity of African governments to engage the youth meaningfully will, therefore, continue to be a challenge.

During the deliberations, participants stressed the need not only to strengthen existing frameworks of good governance, but also to call for the operationalisation of existing instruments. The conclusion of the AU Retreat witnessed a call to the AU to support ongoing transition processes in North Africa fully, to ensure that the quest for democracy and good governance is met. A key outcome of the AU Retreat was the Cairo Declaration (AU, 2011), which reiterated the need for renewed efforts by different actors and stakeholders in governance to address implementation gaps. In addition, the following recommendations emerged:

  • The AU and regional organisations should enhance the tripartite partnership of government, civil society and the private sector to augment the development-governance nexus. The private sector should partner with government and civil society in enhancing good governance through the support of institution-building initiatives and economic growth endeavours, as well as through the creation or maintenance of socio-economic capital among citizens. There is also a need to enhance efforts towards inclusive development and decision making to facilitate democratic governance in public-sector agencies.
  • Civil society should play a role in highlighting gaps or failures of government and the private sector, especially in promoting good governance, which includes transparency and accountability in policy-making and the expenditure of state resources.
  • There is a need for regional organisations, governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector to promote youth-focused and women-focused initiatives in promoting good governance.
  • The AU and RECs should consolidate and fully operationalise the non-indifference policy on governance in member states, by taking a stand on those who disrespect constitutionalism and the rule of law. Innovative monitoring and evaluation tools – such as the APRM, AGR and the Ibrahim Index of African Governance – should be fully utilised by the AU, RECs and member states to promote accountability, facilitate transparent economic management and, ultimately, consolidate good governance and democracy.

In addition to the above recommendations, participants called for the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) to exercise its powers fully under Article 7(m) of the PSC Protocol. This stipulates that the PSC, in collaboration with the Chairperson of the Commission, shall “follow up, within the framework of its conflict prevention responsibilities, the progress towards the promotion of democratic practices, good governance, the rule of law, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for the sanctity of human life by member states”. Greater involvement of the AU Panel of the Wise (PoW), the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and the African Union Commission (AUC) on Human and People’s Rights were also encouraged towards the overall efforts to promote good governance.