Governance in Africa: Monitoring the Pulse of the Continent

As the African Union Summit takes place this week, the crises in Ivory Coast and Tunisia will be headlining the discussions. The overarching issue between these countries signals a major problem throughout the African continent—a lack of good governance. The tenets of good governance include upholding the rule of law, accountability, transparency, participatory governance and an effective judicial system. The situations in Ivory Coast and Tunisia in particular show a very specific type of governance problem: the inability of these countries to adequately accommodate the voices of their citizens.

The failure to respect election results in Ivory Coast and the oppressive regime of Ben Ali that plagued the people of Tunisia are prime examples of the governance failure that is seen throughout the African region. Hopefully, leaders attending the AU Summit this week will not only find ways to address the problems in these two countries, but also consider proactive ideas for improving governance monitors for Africa moving forward.

The African Union and various regional groups in Africa, like Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have performed admirably in mediating governance problems in recent months. However, finding ways to proactively deal with issues brewing on the ground should also be a priority. The enthusiasm and expectations that characterized the launching of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) 10 years ago needs to be revived. The African Union through NEPAD already has in place systems that could be useful if scaled up, like the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The APRM is designed to be a self-monitoring initiative to promote good governance through objective evaluation by other African nations. Effective use of the APRM could help keep a pulse on situations like the outburst in Tunisia by ensuring that proactive policy solutions are being made to address concerns as they arise. These demonstrations have sparked protests in other nations, like Egypt, and show that unaddressed tensions in the region have been brewing for far too long. Currently, the APRM has done little to provide timely monitoring of the political temperatures of civil society. However, adjusting this system going forward could start a regional policy dialogue on issues that African countries would not otherwise pursue themselves.

The African Union also needs to be more pro-active in dealing with autocratic regimes and leaders in Africa. The clock is ticking in countries like Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, where leaders are refusing to gracefully retire from office. Imposing term limits and increasing accountability throughout the region will be instrumental in fostering better governance. The club of longstanding leaders should not be able to continue ruling with support of those nations who claim to favor democracy. AU leaders have been adamant about seeing Gbagbo leave office and they need to have similar enthusiasm for seeing peaceful and democratic transitions of power take place throughout Africa. The donor and international community must also support a common African voice in condemning repressive regimes and continue to advocate for principles of democracy and human rights as part of their aid strategy.

Beyond regional accountability, African governments must look internally to find governance solutions that work for their people. There are certain countries where elections are working, but in many others people’s voices are not being heard and there is little being done to change this. African governments must evaluate their populations, understand the divisions and differences and design institutions that empower their citizens to have a representative and inclusive voice. The separation of Sudan, while not a suggested solution for other nations, illustrates how important having a voice is in a strongly divided nation. In some cases, more decentralized systems of governance may be necessary, but regardless, solutions that are designed around indigenous norms need to be incorporated. The AU Summit’s theme of “Towards Greater Unity and Integration through Shared Values” provides a key opportunity for African countries to work together in seeking out appropriate good governance solutions.

Over 18 countries in Africa are yet to hold presidential or legislative elections this year. Hopefully the disregarded citizens of the Ivory Coast and the oppressed demonstrators of Tunisia will force leaders at the AU Summit to reevaluate their approach to regional governance and accountability and ensure that this year is a step forward for good governance in Africa.