Democracy and Good Governance as Tools for Africa’s Development: The role of the African Peer Review Mechanism
At the turn of the millennium, Africa faced an array of challenges, not least the eradication of poverty and the urgent need to foster socio-economic development. The adoption of the Constitutive Act of the African Union in 2000, which established the African Union, underlined the determination of African leaders to overcome these challenges and to position their countries, both individually and collectively, on the path of sustainable development. African leaders sought to promote and entrench the policies and practices of good governance in member states through the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance (2002) through which they underlined their belief in “just, honest, transparent, accountable and participatory government and probity in public life”. The focus on good governance aimed to lay the foundations for socio-economic development at all levels, from grassroots to the district and village levels, thereby encouraging and empowering citizens to make critical and informed decisions on a range of issues that affect their lives directly. The Declaration set out an action plan with four main themes: democracy and good political governance; economic governance; corporate governance; and socio-economic development. The creation of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in 2003 embodied the new spirit of cooperation, transparency and accountability for better national and continental governance outcomes.
The drive towards better governance on the continent has been gaining in momentum since establishment of the APRM as well. The adoption of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007) and the AU Declaration on Shared Values adopted at the 14th Session of the AU Assembly in January 2011, which established the African Governance Architecture (AGA), are only some of the most prominent initiatives which underline the determination of the continent at the highest levels.
The APRM in particular is built on recognition of the need for deepening democratic practices through, inter alia, review of national policies and practices against established standards of good governance, identification of deficiencies as well as best practices, and development of tools and methods by which the deficiencies would be rectified and the best practices disseminated and replicated across the continent.
Democratic governance presupposes public participation in decision-making processes. It requires the active involvement of all stakeholders in society, including government, civil society and the private sector. Properly implemented, good governance is a tool for ensuring domestic accountability, citizen participation and peer learning. A focus on “quality of governance” lays the foundation for broad-based and sustainable socio-economic development at all levels – from national to the district and village levels.
In the first 13 years of its operation, the APRM has pursued the good governance agenda consistently, systematically and vigorously. With a total of 20 reviews almost completed, and several others imminent, the APRM has been in the vanguard of the continental effort to translate the good governance agenda to reality. The APRM country review reports have revealed challenges that are unique to each country, as well as those shared across Africa. Among the shared challenges consistently appearing in APRM reports are corruption in the public sector, conflict over land (including tensions between modern and traditional land tenure systems), weak political organisation often dominated by a ruling party which controls state resources – including the media – weak or non-existent safeguards for workers in the form of trade unions, non-adherence to the principle of separation of powers, compromised electoral management bodies, weak institutions for the management of diversity and protection of ethnic minorities, frequent human rights violations – including child labour – and marginalisation of women in the workplace, as well as high child and maternal mortality rates, especially in underserved communities which are experiencing conflict and post-conflict situations.
APRM reviews do not just record the number of governance deficiencies; they go further and make detailed recommendations on how to rectify those deficiencies. In this respect, it is gratifying to observe that a number of countries have used APRM recommendations to achieve significant improvements in their governance policies and practices. In Tanzania, for example, as a direct result of the review, the government has promised to review the national constitution. In South Africa, the government has eliminated the practice of floor-crossing, which threatened to undermine democratic elections, on the basis of APRM recommendations to that effect. Likewise in Sierra Leone, the review helped support good governance reforms of the mining laws and the management of natural resources.
Also notable are aspects of the APRM country review reports which also highlight best practices that are worthy of emulating in other African states. A ‘best practice’ can be a technique, method, process or activity that has proven to be effective at producing a desired outcome. In 2011, the APRM published a manual entitled “Best Practices in Good Governance” in order to share best practices among member states. The manual highlighted 107 good practices that had been identified in the first 13 APRM country review reports, including 42 best practices in the Democracy and Political Governance theme, 25 in the Economic Governance and Management theme; 15 in Corporate Governance; and 25 in the Socio-Economic Development theme. Examples of identified best practices include Benin’s framework for interfaith consultation whose main objectives are to maintain peaceful coexistence among all religious groups, the promotion of peace and harmony in facilitating interfaith dialogue and the peaceful coexistence of institutions of state and civil society; Nigeria’s Council of State, which is a broad-based non-partisan organisation incorporating the elite leadership of Nigeria which advises the head of state and helps to achieve peace and stability; and Mozambique’s General Peace Agreement (GPA) between the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), which enunciated principles and values that are the foundation of today’s multiparty democracy in that country.
Scholars researching in the field recognize the accomplishments of the APRM over the past 13 years. As Professor Asante observed in his 2013 book on the APRM and Ghana’s experience: “Since the inception of the NEPAD and the APRM process… there are visible improvements in Africa’s governance. Constitutionalism, the rule of law and multiparty elections, however fraught with challenges, are increasingly enjoying wider acceptance than ever before in many African countries… Significantly, conflicts are receding in many parts of the continent, with post-conflict reconstruction accorded the top priority by African leaders and institutions.”
Indeed it is testament to the success of the APRM that the African Union’s Agenda 2063, a combined Vision and an Action Plan for the next 50 years, has put as one of its seven aspirational goals “an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law”. The APRM is tasked with the responsibility to help make this aspiration a daily reality in the lives of the ordinary citizens of Africa. The APRM has overcome a number of challenges over the past few years. But, today, a new leadership is in place, a new five-year Strategic Plan has just been adopted and the future is looking bright – the APRM is in a position to deliver on its hallowed mandate more than ever.