I too hold the mantle: International Day of Democracy

Today, 15th September 2015, little or not so little fifteen year old Muteteli from Rwanda aspires to one day be Member of Parliament. She aspires to represent constituents from her region, help young children grow up to be the best they could possibly be; to live to their full potential. Young Muteteli aspires to assist farmers to produce more food for internal use and export, teachers be well qualified, hospitals to have well run facilities and to overall harness the energies and innovation of the promising Rwandan youth.

“I will one day be Member of Parliament, I will make good decisions and I will make Rwanda proud,” she muses amidst a smile. Are her dreams valid? Very much so.

(The Bring Back Our Girls Movement)

If one asks Muteteli whether she is aware of what a civil society organization is, she will quickly respond with a resounding yes. “They are the people who hold my Member of Parliament representative accountable and raise issues on what needs to be done more of.” If one probes further on whether she would want a civil society during her parliamentary tenure, the answer is also a resounding yes. “Just as my mother holds me to account on my wrongs, I too want people to tell me where I should focus my energies.”

Ban Ki moon rightly put it when he stated that civil society is the oxygen of democracy. It acts as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth and plays a critical role in keeping Government accountable; helps represent the diverse interests of the population, including its most vulnerable groups; that being the women and youth.

Article 29 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance stipulates that, ‘State Parties shall recognize the crucial role of women in development and strengthening of democracy.’

What does this mean?

In the words of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, “No one benefits if women are held back; we have to change mind sets, not just laws. In Rwanda, more women than ever before are serving in positions of responsibility and leadership in government and in the work place. These role models, in turn, shape the expectations and the missions of the next generations”.

Pic Credit: Huffington Post

Democracy and its ideals as defined by the United Nations is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. This means that there is rule of law whereby constitutions are upheld, term limits are respected, civil society groups can exercise their freedoms whilst holding government to account, elections are free and fair and the institutions within the state are free to deliver on public services equitably without interference from bureaucratic red tape and corruption.

This year’s International Day of Democracy theme is on creating spaces for civil society and a study by Civicus indicates a nexus between democracy, civil society engagement and women’s leadership.

Beginning with its leadership, it is reported Rwanda claimed the world’s highest percentage of women in parliament in 2003 and today, its women hold 64% of the country’s legislative seats. Rwanda is arguably run efficiently and effectively with a fast rising private sector and civil society which is steered by pragmatic sound policies and legislation from its political institutions. The study indicates that Rwandan civil society’s greatest strengths is its relatively positive values; that its civil society, to a great extent, nurtures and upholds positive values such as anti-corruption practices, gender equity, poverty eradication, tolerance and democracy promotion. This is a country that survived genocide in the 90’s and more or less built its economy from scratch.

The African Union came to the succinct realization that women hold the mantle in promoting democracy and good governance and as such, during its 24th Heads of State Summit in January 2015, ended with a strong call for women’s empowerment in Africa as a step towards achieving the goals of Agenda 2063, its blueprint development strategy for the next 50 years.


Pic Credit: Afronline.org

It cannot be overemphasized how crucial the role of civil society and more so women’s participation in democracy building is.  Ban Ki moon also rightly put it when he stated as follows:

Women hold up more than half the sky and represent much of the world’s unrealized potential. They are the educators. They raise the children. They hold families together and increasingly drive economies. They are natural leaders. We need their full engagement… in government, business and civil society.

How can we design democracy so that it better fits African realities?

The state of democracy in Africa is one of the most controversial and difficult questions facing the continent today.

  • Is Africa getting more or less democratic?
  • Why have so many countries become stuck in a murky middle ground between democracy and authoritarianism?
  • How can we design democracy so that it better fits African realities?

Academia, researchers and media commentators all give different answers to these questions. Some would give up on democracy in Africa, seeing it as a dangerous experiment that too often goes wrong. Others believe that the early signs are promising and that if we keep up the struggle for another generation, democracy will become entrenched within African societies.

AGA (African Governance Architecture) is conceived as the overarching framework for promoting and sustaining democracy, governance and human rights in Africa

In my book, I argue Africa should not be thought of solely as a place in which to analyse the fragility of democracy. Rather, it is a continent that has much to teach us about the different pathways through which even the poorest and most unstable countries can break free from authoritarian rule.

Lessons Africa can teach

It is important to place democracy in Africa in its historical perspective to demonstrate how the experiences of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s shaped the kinds of political systems that we see today.

In doing so, it reveals an often overlooked fact: African democracies are distinctive not because they face so many challenges, but because they have managed to make so much progress. This is true despite the absence of many of the supposed “pre-conditions” of democratic consolidation.

Political scientists have identified a long wishlist of factors that make it easier to establish and consolidate a democracy. Topping the list are a coherent national identity, strong and autonomous political institutions, a developed and autonomous civil society, the rule of law and a strong and well-performing economy.

Adam Przeworski, for example, has famously shown that countries that enjoy a per capita GDP of more than US$6000 when they introduced democracy almost always succeed. Those where it is less than US$1000 almost always fail.

Both in the 1960s and in the 1990s, few African countries fulfilled this – or any other – wishlist criteria. Yet many of them have nonetheless made significant progress towards establishing stable and accountable multiparty systems. This set of countries is bigger than you might think.

Roughly one-quarter of Africa’s 54 states are now “free” – meaning that they feature high levels of both political rights and civil liberties – according to the American think tank Freedom House. This includes Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mauritius, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa.

In other words, a significant proportion of the continent is democratising against the odds.

How to avoid democratic disasters

While it is very important to recognise achievements of the continent’s success stories, it is also important to recognise the way in which elections have encouraged corruption and exacerbated ethnic tensions.

In Kenya, for example, it was the onset of multiparty politics, and the threat that this posed to Daniel arap Moi’s government, that led to the rapid escalation of graft and, ultimately, the Goldenberg scandal.

Similarly, it was the threat of losing power in the 1992 elections, when the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy opposition had so much momentum, that led to the instigation of ethnic clashes to displace and intimidate the supporters of rival parties. That violence, we now know, was the forerunner of the post-electoral crisis of 2007-08.

We therefore need to think really hard about how to design political systems in such a way that minimises the risks of democratic disasters. One of my core arguments is that Africa has suffered from unbalanced political systems that have been poorly designed to foster sustainable multi-party politics.

The problem with winner takes all

History tells us that while elements of competition and inclusion strengthen multiparty systems, too much of either can be fatal to the process of democratisation. Let us start with competition.

In places like Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya, winner-takes-all politics and the concentration of power around the president mean that losing parties could expect to be excluded from access to state resources.

Elections, therefore, encouraged the collapse of political order by exacerbating ethnic tensions and giving leaders an incentive to use irresponsible and destructive strategies to retain power – such as the exclusion of rival leaders from electoral contests and the deployment of militias.

(Opposition supporters protest in Nairobi after a disputed vote that convulsed Kenya.Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

The experience of these countries was so harrowing that it is tempting to conclude that countries should try and be as inclusive as possible. This could be done, for example, by forming a permanent power-sharing government. But maximising inclusion is also problematic because it inevitably stifles political competition, which is the lifeblood of representative democracy.

It is by kicking out bad leaders that voters can hold their governments to account. In Ghana and Senegal, democratic reform was driven by opposition parties, campaigning for freer and fairer elections to improve their own chances of winning power.

Because power-sharing systems guarantee all parties representation in government, they threaten to undermine the very mechanism through which elections can drive democratisation. Excessive inclusion is therefore just as bad for democracy as excessive competition.

The task facing those who draft or adapt state constitutions is thus to decide on the appropriate balance between competition and inclusion. Such balance must allow for sufficient accommodation that all parties feel they have a stake in the system, while also maintaining as much competition as possible in order to promote accountability.

Unfortunately, there is no ideal constitutional template that can be deployed across the continent to achieve this goal. Different countries may require different degrees of inclusion in order to achieve political stability. Judging whether a political system can bear the strains associated with greater competition requires an intimate knowledge of a country’s demography, geography and political history.

Given this, it is remarkable – and worrying – just how few African countries feature inclusive political mechanisms that prevent certain communities from losing out systematically. For example, very few states feature meaningful decentralisation. Constitutional change, such as the new political system introduced in Kenya in 2010, is very much a step in the right direction. It locates the country in a reasonable middle-ground between majoritarian competition and forced inclusion.

Although the presidency continues to wield great power, the capacity of opposition parties to check the executive within the legislature has increased – at least in theory. And while there is no provision to ensure representative government, many communities who feel excluded from power nationally have been able to wield it locally by their choice of senators and governors at county level.

Devolution is no a panacea, however. In countries such as Nigeria, the creation of sub-national governments led to heated contestation and often violence as different communities campaigned for the right to be given their own state.

Similar tensions are likely to emerge in the run up to the next Kenyan general elections, especially if the Jubilee Alliance Party fails to build an effective political machine.

Although Nigerian federalism may have exacerbated tensions at the local level, it has eased them at the national level. That reduced the prospects for a second civil war, which is surely a trade-off worth making.

We therefore have good reason to think that constitutional reform like that enacted in Kenya will significantly improve the prospects for political stability – so long as it is respected. Given this, it is far too soon to give up on African democracy.


Nic Cheeseman Associate Professor in African Politics at Jesus College at University of Oxford

This article was originally published in The Conversation

Saved by the Boda


Pic Credit: mediamaxnetwork.co.ke

It’s 22nd May, approximately 4.30 pm and it’s raining heavily in Nairobi, Kenya. For reasons, un-known to me, I am particularly calm taking into consideration that it is a Friday evening and its raining cats and dogs. For those who are well versed with this city one knows that when it rains, traffic comes to a standstill. And I mean stand still, no movement no nothing; you might as well switch off the car and wait for 3-4 hours to move an inch. To paint a clearer picture for those not familiar with the area; barely a week prior, a former school mate had posted on Facebook how she had left her office at 5pm only to arrive home at 5 am the next morning in time for a hot shower, breakfast and head back to the office. She wasn’t the only one. My timeline for the rest of the week was telling of such like catastrophic incidences. One may wonder why this is the case. I think this is partly due to the poor drainage coupled with torrential rainfall and poor visibility on the roads.

This blog post is to share about my experience on a boda-boda in the rain and elucidate on why I would do such a thing.

I was headed to the airport to catch a flight to Johannesburg for a youth engagement strategy workshop which I will talk on a little later on. Seated in the car with my brother who had offered to drop me, we begin to calculate the fastest route. To make it to the airport in time, we had 3 options and settled on one which proved to be the worst; a new road in Upperhill. Nonetheless, my flight was for 9.30 pm so I was still a bit calm, little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

As we approached the road, I could spot 5 or so cars whose engines were switched off; this was a sure sign of what to expect. I asked my brother to turn around but he reminded me of the traffic we had witnessed on the other side as we drove past. “This should be interesting,” I muttered. Just as I shifted in my seat to try and get comfortable, a cousin called me and inquired on where I was. It’s like she knew. “I really hope you make your flight considering how difficult this trip has been.” To take you back a little further, I had already missed this very flight two days prior. This was my second attempt. But that is a discussion for another day.

It’s 6.30 pm and we’d barely moved. Meanwhile, my colleagues in Johannesburg who I was meant to be joining for the workshop were frantic. Honestly if it were not for their continuous encouragement and concern I would have long gone given up on this trip and called it fate, destiny if you may. George, Rotimi and Ruth, thank you.

I then go to the boot of the car and begin removing things from my suitcase as my brother looks on waiting for an explanation. He sees me put on a shower cap and jacket. He had read my mind. “Let me call that boda guy,” he says.

It’s 6.45 pm and I know that I have to be at the airport in 45 minutes. First, because I needed to sort out the mess that was missing my previous flight and secondly, for obvious reasons I just did not want to miss this flight. The boda guy whose name is Philip was very encouraging.

Philip hii ni mara yangu ya kwanza kwa boda tafadhali enda pole pole lakini nahitaji kuwa airport 7.30.” (Philip this is my first time on a boda please go slow though I need to be at the airport by 7.30) “Such a tall order, poor guy,” I thought. I bid my brother good bye and off we went. If my brother was at all worried at that point he deserves an Oscar for the calm and confidence he exuded; there was no sign of worry or strain in his voice and face. It’s only he’s frantic calls in 30 minutes that gave him away. Bless him.

Philip then guides me on where/how to place my suitcase and where to place my feet as he hands me the helmet. I whispered a short prayer loud enough for Philip to hear and we both said amen in unison. We were well on our way to the airport in the rain.

Now, if I had decided to brave the traffic there’s no way I would have made it, not even by midnight. The roads were in disarray with cars overlapping left, right and centre. My gestimate (guess-estimate) is that people arrived at their respective destinations past 2-3 am.

I had periods of oscillating faith, periods of doubt when I quietly pondered my fate with the wet tarmac as Philip zoomed past. He tried to ease my tension by talking about his life as a boda driver. In fact he mused with pride, “I go home every fortnight on this boda, it takes me 4 hours.” I could tell that I was constraining his breathing and flow from how he kept shifting in his seat as he talked. I was clutching on way too tight and had lean in way too hard but Philip said nothing, my comfort was key. It only hit me on Mombasa road. By this time the rain had subsided somewhat and I could feel my clothes drying out.

We arrived at the airport in 10 minutes. I was in utter disbelief. The policeman at the airport was in utter disbelief too. “Madam umeshinda leo,” (Madam you have won today) he said as he hailed a cab for me. I thanked Philip profusely for the ride as I paid him his dues and we bid our good byes. I definitely will be calling him for the next exhilarating boda-boda ride.

My colleague and friend Ibraheem came to receive me at O.R Tambo looking more beat than I. It was then that it dawned on me the high adrenaline levels still pumping through my system 4 hours later!

But why was this trip so important to begin with?

About a year ago, I met a group of forward looking individuals within the African Union Commission, particularly the African Governance Architecture secretariat which is within the Department of Political Affairs(DPA). These individuals have made it their paramount goal and objective to ensure that youth regardless of their education, professional background or affiliation pervade all spaces within this regional body. Here was an opportunity to learn and brainstorm with them on how to push the buttons a little more, take it a notch higher in ensuring youth take ownership of this institution that is essentially here to serve them. I will be sharing more on these engagement spaces in due course.

Every generation must recognize and embrace the task it is peculiarly designed by history and by providence to perform,” Chinua Achebe.

Governance Ahead: Understanding the African Union’s African Governance Architecture, African Peace and Security Architecture and the linkages between them.

Africa has made considerable strides in striving towards democratic and participatory governance. Today, African leaders are convinced, more than ever before, that democratic governance and durable peace are a fundamental sine qua non for sustainable human development. All major Organization of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU) normative frameworks bear testimony to this firm conviction by African leaders including the 2000 Solemn Declaration on the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA), the 2000 Constitutive Act of the African Union and the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The AU has undergone a paradigm shift from the old OAU doctrine of non-interference to the new doctrine of non-indifference to human rights abuses, mass atrocity and crimes against humanity within its Member States. However, while we have made tremendous progress, existential threats of democracy persist. This is the context within which the African Governance Architecture (AGA) was established.

The African Governance Architecture in a nutshell

The AGA is a direct by-product of the AU Shared Values Agenda. In February 2010, the 14th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly endorsed a decision taken earlier by the Executive Council (EX.CL/Dec.525(XVI), recommending the theme of the 16th Ordinary Summit to be on Shared Values, while also putting in place a Pan-African Architecture on Governance. Subsequently, in January 2011, the 18th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council endorsed the strengthening of the AGA, through the launch of the African Governance Platform as an informal and non-decision making mechanism to foster exchange of information, facilitate the elaboration of common positions on governance, and strengthen the capacity of Africa to speak with one voice.

The AGA and its Platform became operational in 2012, the very year declared by AU policy organs as the Year of Shared Values. The AGA was established to translate the objectives of the legal and policy pronouncements on AU Shared Values, as the implementation framework for the promotion and sustenance of democracy, human rights and governance in Africa. By AU Shared Values, we mean those values, norms and standards as enshrined in the Union’s various instruments such as freedom, human rights and the rule of law, tolerance, respect, community spirit, gender equality, youth empowerment, unity in diversity, constitutionalism, democratic governance, peace, security stability, development, environmental protection, popular participation, accountability and transparency, strong democratic institutions, anti-corruption, improved service delivery, equality, credible and democratic elections, durable solutions to humanitarian crises and free movement of African citizens across borders of AU member states.

The principal goals of the AGA are to connect, empower and build capacities of AU Organs, Regional Economic Communities and relevant stakeholders, including civil society, in order to enhance good governance and democracy in Africa. Through the AGA, the Union is facilitating the implementation, support and complementing the efforts of AU Member States to achieve the above commitments enshrined in the AU Constitutive Act and other relevant standards and norms. To ensure coordination and synergy amongst all the various organs, institutions and the RECs on governance, democracy and human rights issues, the Africa Governance Platform serves as the dialogue and information-sharing forum for the achievement of the goals of the AGA. It provides an avenue for consultations, coordination, dialogue and collective action among the various AU Organs and Institutions for lesson learning and experience-sharing on how best to deepen democratic and participatory governance on the continent.

How complementary are the AGA and the APSA?

The AGA cannot succeed without a strong complementarity with the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). One of the specific objectives of the AGA indeed is to ‘facilitate joint engagement in preventive diplomacy, conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction and development associated with governance challenges in Africa’.(1) Thus both the AGA and APSA are supposed to address the structural root causes of crisis and conflict in Africa. It is only when democratic and participatory governance is institutionalised and peace and political stability prevail that Africa stands a better chance for sustainable human development and prosperity for its citizens. This is also the vision of the AU elaborated in the Africa Agenda 2063 and the Common African Position on Post-2015 Development Agenda.

We are mindful that while inter-state conflicts have subsided in Africa, intra-state conflicts have persisted even in the post-Cold War situation. These conflicts continue to derail our development goals, postpone democratic gains and generate humanitarian crises in different ways;

(i) weak state institutions are unable to exercise authority over their territorial jurisdictions;

(ii) given weak institutions, provision of development and services to the people suffers thereby generating crisis of legitimacy of the state;

(iii) a militarisation of society and establishment of military formations contest space with the formal security establishment thereby generating disorder and near-anarchy;

(iv) mismanagement of diversity through, inter-alia, politicisation of ethnic identity and ethnicisation of politics which triggers intra-state conflict;

(v) mismanagement of and contestation over natural resources;

(vi) environmental degradation and climate change which in turn exerts pressure on rural communities resulting in violent conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, and

(vii) socio-economic exclusion, inequality, unemployment and marginalisation. These are the structural root causes that propel violent conflicts and instability in Africa with devastating impacts on peace, democracy and development. Failure to address these root causes will confine all our responses to mere symptoms of the problem.

The AGA is designed as the comprehensive, overarching and consolidated framework for addressing issues of governance and governance related challenges aimed at addressing structural causes of political instability and crisis through inter alia, preventive diplomacy, mediation, negotiated settlement of conflicts, humanitarian assistance and durable solutions, reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction and development. The AGA addresses the governance and democracy mandate of the AU, the APSA addresses the peace and security agenda and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) deals with the developmental agenda of the continent.

Strengthening the institutional linkages between the AGA and the APSA

There are various Shared Values instruments that facilitate cooperation between the AGA and the APSA. These include most notably the 2000 AU Constitutive Act, the 2000 Solemn Declaration on the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA), the 2003 Protocol Establishing the Peace and Security Council, the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the 2009 Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development Policy Framework. More recently, the Africa Agenda 2063, which is to be adopted during the Summit of Heads of State and Government in January 2015, and the Common African Position on Post-2015 Development Agenda are additional policy frameworks which underline the need for cooperation between and among the AGA, APSA and the AU development architecture.

In practice, however, the AGA and APSA do not yet have strong institutional connections. The main arenas that provide glue between the two AU architectures are the technical and political meetings of the AGA and the operations of the Peace and Security Council. APSA institutions, such as the Peace and Security Council, are supposed to take part in the AGA technical and political meetings. The technical meetings are attended by technical staff of the AGA member institutions while the political meetings are attended by the political heads of the institutions. The other arena relates to the workings of the Peace and Security Council. AGA Clusters regularly provide situational analysis to members of the Peace and Security Council on various issues including

(i) elections in Africa,

(ii) human rights situation in Africa, and on the

(iii) humanitarian situation in Africa.

A great opportunity for further strengthening the linkages between the AGA and APSA can be found in the African Union Post-Conflict Recovery and Development (PCRD) policy framework, and the African Solidarity Initiative (ASI). The African Solidarity Initiative was launched by AU Ministers of Foreign Affairs/External Relations on 13th July 2012 with the view to mobilising support from within Africa for post-conflict reconstruction and development in those countries emerging from protracted violent conflict. The main objective of the ASI is to promote African solidarity, mutual assistance and regional integration, and propel the continent to a higher level of development and self-confidence, driven by the motto: ‘Africa helping Africa’.

A more comprehensive approach tested in Central African Republic

(Pic courtesy of aljazeera.com)

One concrete example of collaboration between the AGA and APSA is the initiative in Central African Republic (CAR) where the Department of Political Affairs  and the Department of Peace and Security work together to assist the country in implementing a post-conflict reconstruction and development programme. This intervention is guided by the AU Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development Policy Framework.

The initiative focuses, partly, on rebuilding CAR’s governance system. Specifically, the initiative prioritised the following areas of governance reforms in CAR:

  • The drafting of a new Constitution
  • The electoral process
  • The public sector reform
  • Inclusion and management of the diversity

The long-term plan is to replicate PCRD interventions in CAR in other countries. Resources permitting, we aim to do so in the seven other pilot countries of the African Solidarity Initiative, namely Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and South sudan, as well as Mali and Madagascar.

Annual High Level Dialogue which focuses on the nexus between governance and conflict

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(Dr. Khabele Matlosa, Director for Political Affairs at the Department of Political Affairs at the 2014 High Level Dialogue in Dakar, Senegal)

Finally, a good opportunity for further strengthening the synergy between the AGA and APSA can be found in the Annual High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, which is one of the key flagship initiatives of the AGA that started in 2012. This forum is one of the knowledge generation and dialogue series which has proved extremely useful in providing a frank, open and inclusive platform for Member States, AU Organs and Institutions, RECs, African citizens, think tanks, civil society, media, private sector, philanthropists, and development actors to engage and share comparable experiences and lessons on how to improve governance, consolidate democracy and foster effective realisation of human and peoples’ rights on the continent.

The 2014 High Level Dialogue had its theme as ‘Silencing the Guns: Improving Governance for Preventing, Managing and Resolving Conflicts in Africa’. This provided a platform for exploration of how democratic and participatory governance could be leveraged to silence Africa’s blazing guns in line with the agenda of the Peace and Security Council. A pre-forum to interrogate issues around the contribution of young Africans to building a culture of democracy and peace in Africa was held in Nairobi on 15-17thSeptember 2014, while the Nairobi Forum focused on the role of youth in this process of ending wars on our continent, on 7-10th October 2014, another forum aimed at exploring the specific role for women in this drive towards inculcating a culture of peace and democracy. The outcomes of these preparatory meetings were fed into the High Level Dialogue on 30-31 October 2014 in Dakar, Senegal. This provided another impetus to further strengthen the synergies between AGA and APSA.

Operational elements of the APSA

The operational elements of the APSA are:

  • The Continental Early Warning System
  • Peace and Security Council
  • Panel of the Wise
  • African Standby Force
  • African Union Commission
  • Regional Economic Communities

In addition, The AU’s work to support post-conflict transition processes is guided by the:

  • Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development Policy (PCRD)


[1] AGA Framework Document, June 2014.

Interviewee:Dr. Khabele Matlosa, Director for Political Affairs at the Department of Political Affairs, African Union Commission conducted by Faten Aggad, Head of Africa’s Change Dynamics Programme at ECDPM.

This article was published in GREAT insights Volume 4, Issue 1 (December 2014/January 2015)

Video series: Experiences and Lessons from the field on Silencing the Guns in Africa: Strengthening Democratic Governance

What are experiences and lessons if they do not evoke an emotion out of you to do better?

This session was moderated by the eloquent, graceful and beautiful Ms. Belinda Moses, Co-founder and COO, San Media.


In beginning this discussion, Ms. Moses raised the pertinent aspect of embracing media to showcase, complement and enhance the discussions being held.The video below depicts the atrocities of war and undoubtedly does have some graphic images but all the more reason to watch it to the end.

Prof. Ndioro Ndiaye, former minister for Women and Children, Republic of Senegal, a panelist in the session reiterated the need for promotion of good governance from the ground up and not in the reverse. Her point of view was expounded further by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Former Executive Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria, who emphasized the need for creating social safety nets for young people to implement the same. “We must turn around corrupt and unaccountable governments in Africa by strengthening democratic governance institutions,” he stated.

“We have a diverse youth in Africa and unfortunately there is a segment of the youth becoming poorer, we need to cater to them,” reiterated his counterpart H.E Mme Maya Sahli, Fadel Commissioner, African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.

Dr. Vasu Gounden, Executive Director ACCORD took us down memory lane as he recollected the sobering misdeeds that were undertaken in 1994 when South Africa avoided a massive blood bath. This is when the right wing movement attempted to curtail all progress made on democracy. This included 50,000 armed men who had been thoroughly trained to kill and destroy during the country’s first elections. How the country was able to surmount this challenge is a miracle. Kindly watch below:

Dr. Gounden informed the audience of the consequences brought about by profound socio-economic inequality. Today, South Africa has one of the highest numbers of social protest and it comes as no surprise. “We need to close the gap in development and education. When people enter politics because they have no other alternative to close their own personal gaps, then we are in trouble,” he stated.

Ibraheem Sanusi  rightly put it when he stated that we should strive to not only want a continent not at war, but one that respects and upholds human rights and builds peace together.

Here’s a video that sums it up. #DGTrends

Scene-setting: “Silencing the Guns by 2020” What is at stake?

For those who were old enough then, remember the period between 1970 to 1990? When single parties were the talk of day, military coups and attempted military coups the order of the day?

Fast forward to the ‘90s; competitive politics came into play and countries far and wide within the African continent celebrated multiparty elections; thus true democracy was born.

Today however, we still grapple with challenges in democracy, good governance and human rights. A good number of countries are experiencing impunity, violent conflict, corruption,  rigged elections, lack of participatory and inclusive development and violation of human rights especially of women and youth but to name a few.

So how then does the African state intend to silence the guns in 5 years knowing full well the challenges being faced? What really is at stake here?

H.E Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the Africa Union Commission has consistently emphasized the role of democratic governance in doing so. She has often times spoken on the fact that stable peace and national prosperity can only be achieved when the institutions and systems in place are representative of all groups in a given society. “Efforts must include fostering democratic governance, social cohesion and harmony as encapsulated in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, among other AU normative frameworks. Only through democratic governance and durable solutions can durable peace and sustainable human development be achieved.”

She continues by informing that to surmount the aspirational and inspirational milestone of silencing the guns within the framework of AU Agenda 2063, we would require translating AU resolutions into solutions through concrete policy interventions at member state level. In achieving this, we would need to focus on addressing the structural causes of conflict on our continent which are rooted in both governance deficits and development malaise.

Prof. Gilbert Khadiagala, Head of International Relations Department, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, raised the poignant aspect of silenced the guns being feasible not only in five years, but today. “When heads of state decide to lead from a conscientious point of view, wars in Africa will be nothing but history,” he stated. This is only possible where leaders decide to silence their own guns and not turn them on the societies that they lead. “To end wars we just have to be honest about what we are doing wrong,” the Prof. informed.

“As a continent we need to harness the inspirational element of doing things, we must dissuade ourselves from engaging in pessimistic tenets of life. We have managed to build a culture of competitive politics in 25 years, in that same spirit we can strengthen institutions of participation, accountability and transparency,” he stated.

“Some say it is impossible, but take a look at Costa Rica, they are a well functioning and successful country without having a military. No one ever thought this would be possible, but it has been done.”

The fundamental aspect of all this is that we cannot achieve our goals without including the youth. Today and in the the year 2020, they will be the leaders, in 2063, they will be the ones passing the baton to the next generation. Incorporation of the future in the present cannot be underscored. Youth have to be at the genesis of the problem solving process in the continent.

Dr. Mustapha Mekideche, member of the APR Panel of Eminent Persons informed the group that growth without inclusive development would consistently pose an imminent threat to the progress of Africa. He informed the audience of the need to foresee the objectives of the Africa Peer Review Mechanism being met; that includes fostering the adoption of policies, standards and practices that lead to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated sub-regional and continental economic integration through experience sharing and reinforcement of successful and best practices. This includes addressing deficiencies and assessment of requirements for capacity building. Evidently, the peer review mechanism goes a long way in addressing political, social and economic governance however in respect state sovereignty, membership of the same is on a voluntary basis. This has led to the unfortunate challenge of some states avoiding to commit to the objectives of the institutions or even to adhere to the recommendations given.

“The APRM reflects African values, who is afraid of these values?” Prof. Khadiagala asked.

I urge you to gain a better understanding of it to keep abreast and hold your governments accountable.  Public participation could not be emphasized at a more befitting time. For more information kindly visit here

We cannot afford to wait for external or regional pressure to get the systems in place working. Let us make a conscientious effort to enhance developmental governance; the success of this continent is ours for the taking,

Final Outcome statement: Third High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance in Africa #DGTrends

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30 – 31 OCTOBER 2014





  1. The 3rd Annual High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance in Africa: Trends, Challenges, Prospects and Opportunities was held in Dakar, Senegal, on 30 to 31 October, 2014. The theme of the Dialogue was “Silencing the Guns – Strengthening Governance to Prevent, Manage and Resolve Conflicts in Africa.” It was attended by representatives from African Union (AU) Member States (Permanent Representatives Committee), African Governance Architecture Platform Members (AU Organs, Institutions and Regional Economic Communities (RECs), United Nations Agencies, Development Partners, Think Tanks, Civil Society, including women groups and youth organisations, Eminent African Personalities and Academia.
  1. The 50th Solemn Declaration committed Africa leaders to ending wars and violent conflicts by 2020. The overall objective of the Dialogue was to explore strategies for ending violent conflicts in Africa, and to propose policy recommendations for implementation at both African Union and Member States levels. The Dialogue reiterated the need for articulating perspectives and strategies for silencing Guns by 2020 through strengthening democratic governance as articulated in the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration.
  1. This ‘Outcome Statement’ is a summary of the key issues and recommendations made at the High Level Dialogue towards “Silencing the Guns” in Africa by 2020.


  1. Since independence, African states have made remarkable progress to build sturdy institutions of statehood and nationhood for managing diversity, encouraging participation, promoting equitable development, and encouraging regional integration. Furthermore, Africa has made profound strides to establish systems of democratic governance that have broadened competitive politics, improved democratic leadership changes, invigorated and enthused civic action, and resuscitated economies for growth and development.
  1. Yet some parts of Africa remain saddled by violent conflicts and instabilities that are linked to competition over power and resources and the mismanagement of diversity. Conflicts in Africa are driven by governance and development deficits that reflect the challenges faced by institutions and mechanisms that seek to address the strains and pressures of pluralism and poverty. Widespread state fragility and national fragmentation combined with socioeconomic inequities continue to fuel violence and social discontent in many African countries. Democratization in the face of ethnic, sectarian, and religious fissures has exacerbated conflicts that have further strained efforts aimed at building effective, legitimate, and representative states.


  1. The High Level Dialogue reiterated the fact that ending wars and silencing the guns should be a collective responsibility of African citizens, AU Member States, the African Union, Regional Economic Communities, Civil Society Organizations, the Private Sector, Faith-Based Organizations, the Academia, and the international community. Participants noted, with a sense of optimism that AU Shared Values instruments, including the Constitutive Act of the African Union, African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the ProtocolRelating to the Establishment of the Peace. and Security Council of the African Union, the African Peer Review Mechanism and the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa all aim to strengthen democratic and participatory governance as well as peace and security in Africa. Democratic and participatory governance is both a pre-condition and outcome of durable peace, inclusive, equitable and people-centred development.

Re-Invigorating the Spirit of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance

  1. Transformational regional integration requires that the processes of establishing inclusive and sustainable development are anchored on effective, efficient and accountable governance. Such democratic developmental governance dictates that African citizens are enabled to become drivers and owners of their own development and not just recipients of development projects and programmes without their effective participation. The AU Agenda 2063 and the Common African Position on the post-2015 development Agenda calls on African leaders and citizens to embrace the spirit of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance anchored on both people-to-people as well as institutional integration.
  1. The operationalization of Agenda 2063 requires specific programmes and actions at national, regional and continental levels. The aim is to deepen a shared African identity, unity, integration, solidarity, self-confidence, collective self-reliance and self-respect all of which are integral parts of ending violent conflict on the continent. AU, RECs, Member States and the global pan-African community have to make a concerted effort to revive the Pan-Africanist Movement and support the convening of the 8th Pan-African Congress in Accra, Ghana in 2015.
  1. The solidarity and unity of all Africans and Afro-descendants is critical to the achievement of the Agenda 2063. To ensure sustainable implementation of agenda 2063, Africa’s wealth and the resources it generates domestically should be deliberately applied through agreed mechanisms to finance and sustain the operationalization of Agenda 2063 and the common Africa position on post-2015 development agenda.

From Norm-Setting to Norm Implementation

  1. The AU and RECs already have an expansive and robust set of normative frameworks for promoting democratic and participatory governance for peace and development. However, a huge gap exists between norm-setting and implementation of agreed norms and policies at national level. In some instances, AU Member States have limited human, material and financial resources to effectively domesticate and implement agreed continental policies and standards. This gap needs to be addressed by the AU, RECs and Member States as a matter of urgency. As a first step the Conference called for the establishment of time-bound implementation frameworks that have dedicated budgets as well as systems, competencies and capacities for monitoring, evaluation, reporting and follow up.
  1. The conference called upon all AU Member States to ratify, domesticate and implement key AU Shared Values Instruments by the year 2020. They called upon the African Union Commission to ensure synergy and harmonization of the internal coordination, resourcing, capacity development and evaluation systems.
  1. In particular, the Conference recommended stronger synergy and complementarity between the African Governance Architecture (AGA) and the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). It was recommended that a joint working group of the AU Permanent Representative Committee, Peace and Security Council and AU Commission should be established and tasked with ensuring that APSA and AGA structures, processes and work plans are harmonized before the next High Level Dialogue in 2015.

Investing in Conflict Prevention, Early Warning and Early Recovery

  1. The Conference noted that the AU, RECs and Member States have various forms of early warning and disaster response systems that operate with varying degrees of efficiency and effectiveness. It called for increased investment of time, energy and resources in preventive diplomacy, strengthening early warning and early recovery of conflict-affected countries.
  1. This requires robust systems of detection of crisis signals, preventive diplomatic entry in volatile situations and candid analysis and reporting of conflict situations. Where such systems already exists, Member States, AU Organs and Institutions, Regional Economic Communities as well as civil society and the international community should share real and timely intelligence and pool the requisite resources and expertise for timely preventive responses before the eruption of full blown conflict as is the situation in Burkina Faso.

Building Capable, Effective and Legitimate States

  1. The African State is central to developmental democratic governance, policy formulation and implementation, post-conflict recovery, building national cohesion, guaranteeing human and State security, decentralization and local economic development, enforcement of human rights and the social contract.
  1. The conference called for redoubling of efforts to build institutional and administrative capacity of the African States. Capable, responsive, accountable and democratic States engender a culture of values and performance-based leadership and institutions. Such States have the requisite legitimacy and authority which leaves little room for social upheavals and rebellion born out of discontent, marginalization and exclusion. Effective state capacity is crucial for efficient service delivery and the fight against impunity, corruption and abuse of public office. State capacity is crucial for regulating illicit financial and capital outflows that are driven by vested internal and external interests and actors.
  1. Capable democratic developmental African states stand a greater chance to silence the guns. The Conference called for capacity needs assessment in African countries that may require technical support especially those emerging from conflict. The AU, RECs and Member States through the existing governance, peace and security architectures should improve coordination and share comparable practices, lessons as well as human and financial resources to countries that require rebuilding and re-establishment of norms and institutions of democratic governance, peace and security.

Constructive Management of Diversity

  1. The Conference called upon AU, RECs and Member States to harness African socio-cultural and intergenerational diversity for sustainable development anchored on the spirit of Pan Africanism and African Renaissance. Africa’s diversity should not be a curse, it should impel the continent towards greater unification and organic integration. Constructive management of diversity, including through: youth engagement and empowerment, specific language policies; proportional representation in electoral systems; political tolerance; local economic development, decentralization of power and resources as well as federal systems of governance should be strengthened by AU Member States as a tools of diversity management.
  1. The African Union in partnership with African CSOs, youth and women formations, the Academia, and Media should create communities of practice for African countries to share lessons learnt, innovations and effective practices as a way of entrenching a culture of constructive management of diversity on the continent.

Preventing Electoral Violence

  1. The conference noted that some elections in Africa have promoted democratization and peace-building. However, others have reversed the development and democratic gains made in the recent past and ignited bloodshed. Some aspects of electoral violence have resulted from electoral cycle factors such as inefficient management of elections, while others have structural root causes deeply hidden within socio-economic malaise such as unemployment, poverty and inequality.
  1. The Conference recommended that in addressing and redressing electoral violence, AU, RECs and Member States should deal with both the electoral cycle related and structural causal factors so that policy responses go beyond mere symptoms of the problem. Member States, AU, RECs and civil society should thus make greater investment in long term pre-election assessments that integrate mediation, preventive diplomacy and effective management of potential electoral processes disputes.
  1. The Conference noted a growing tendency to pressure countries emerging out of serious crises and conflicts into immediately holding elections as an ill-conceived policy option. African countries emerging from violent conflict should consider seriously the timing of post-conflict elections to ensure that they are premised upon solid foundations of peace, stability and political legitimacy. There is need to ensure that elections held soon after episodes of violent conflict or social upheaval have no potential of plunging countries back into cycle of political violence.

Demilitarising Politics

  1. After decades of limited or absent coup d’etats, Africa has witnessed a resurgence of militarization of politics as an undemocratic phenomenon. The conference reiterated that demilitarization of politics is a crucial step in silencing the guns. It called for an end to the politicization of the security establishment and securitization of politics characterized by the politicization of formal security agencies or instances where political elites establish and control militias that work parallel to formal security agencies. In order to reverse this trend, the conference called upon African countries to recommit to professional security establishments accountable to civilian authority through parliament.
  1. Formal security agencies should not compete for space with informal militias. African states should invest more resources in managing, regulating and controlling private security companies, which operate in national settings and across borders. The conference called upon the African Union Commission to propose a code of standards and practice for private security companies that operate at a regional level or in multi-country settings as well as mechanisms for ensuring their regional/continental accountability by December 2015.

Expanding the Frontiers of Human and Peoples’ Rights

  1. In silencing the guns, Africa needs to do much more in the area of expanding the frontiers of a human rights culture. Human rights, especially the rights of women and girls must be protected and promoted. It is largely deficiencies in embracing a culture of human rights that has led to some of the tragic cases of mass atrocities and genocide in Africa.
  1. Silencing guns in Africa entails committing to eradicating conditions that lead to international crimes, such as genocide and impunity, among others. African transitional justice mechanism should be embedded in the continent’s human rights architecture. This is where Africa-specific methodologies and culturally embedded strategies for transitional justice and conflict transformation, such as the Gacaca courts in Rwanda, the Ubuntu system in South Africa and Mot Oput in Northern Uganda become extremely useful and these should be strengthened and reinforced.
  1. In support of the declaration by the African Union that 2015 is the Year for Women’s Empowerment in the Context of Agenda 2063 and 2016 as the Year for Human Rights, with special reference to the Rights of Women, the conference called for the theme of the 2015 High Level Dialogue to focus on women empowerment and leadership.

Managing Africa’s Natural Resources for Sustainable Development

  1. Africa has normative frameworks at the Continental, RECs and national levels to govern the extractive sectors and natural resources generally. The intricate linkage between security and natural resource rent abuse or usage is a key factor to silencing the guns. The conference reiterated that Africa requires optimum and transparent extraction and beneficiation of its resources in order to sustainably combat insecurity and achieve sustainable development and peace.
  1. It noted that the mismanagement of Africa’s natural resources has resulted in massive corruption that has left the African economy bleeding as clearly demonstrated by the Thabo Mbeki Panel Report and the Kofi Anan Africa Progress Report on illicit resource outflows and exploitation of Africa’s natural resources respectively. The conference noted that a growing number of Africa’s violent conflicts are over distribution of rents and benefits from these natural resources. Resource based conflicts often find virulent expression in religious and ethnic sectarianism and radicalisation.
  1. The AU, RECs and Member States have to ensure effective governance, distribution and redistribution of Africa’s natural resources to address issues of corruption as well as illicit financial and capital outflows as envisaged by the African Mining Vision.

Addressing the Special Circumstances of Marginalized Social Groups

  1. African nation-States are constituted by heterogeneous nation groups that sometimes are bounded by spatial, economic, social and political inequalities. These inequalities and class differences are often exacerbated by uneven development within regions in the same nation States. In their efforts to silence the guns, AU, RECs and Member States will need to address the specific circumstances and situations of marginalized social groups including women, children, young people, minorities and people with disabilities.
  1. It is imperative that women and youth empowerment constitute part of the broader package for silencing guns. Interest of children, minorities and people with disabilities need to be taken into account during conflict situations, during processes of peace-building and development process in peace time. The consolidation and effective implementation of various national and continental women and youth engagement strategies by Member States, the African Union, RECs, and civil society formations is a critical component of efforts geared towards silencing the guns by 2020.
  1. The conference recommended that existing continental benchmarks and frameworks on empowerment of vulnerable and marginalized social groups should be made an integral part of AU democratic governance, peace building and conflict transformation processes. In order for this to be sustained, tools and mechanisms for mainstreaming the existing normative expectations should be developed and AU Mediators should be sensitized on how to use the same.

Addressing Forced Displacement Due to Violent Conflicts

  1. The Conference noted that the disproportionate impact of violent conflicts on the continent includes the massive forced displacement of communities leading to millions of internally displaced people, refugees, stateless people or irregular migrants. In most conflict zones such as the Horn, the Sahel, the Great Lakes regions and parts of North Africa especially Libya forced migration accounts for over 10 million refugees and equally high numbers of internally displaced persons. Data sources indicate that 43 000 young Africans have died since the year 2000 trying to cross the high seas to seek perceived better opportunities in Europe. While some of these are economic migrants, others are political refugees fleeing violence in their countries.
  1. The conference called upon the AU, RECs and Member States to find durable solutions to forced displacement in Africa due to wars and violent conflicts by strengthening early warning and response systems. But once wars erupt, remedial measures are needed to mitigate their adverse impact on civilian populations.
  1. The AU, RECs, Member States and international community should work closely to establish locally owned and led support systems for the affected communities and States. The AU, RECs and Member States need to work closely together on the Common African Position on Humanitarian Situation in Africa in readiness for the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey in June 2016.

Promoting Reconciliation, Social Healing and National Harmony

  1. The Conference noted that national and local systems and cultures of peace are linked to governance mechanisms and processes designed to guarantee justice, freedom and human rights. A key foundation to achieving national cohesion is national reconciliation and recovery processes. In pursuance of the Decision Assembly/AU/Dec.501 (XXII) declaring 2014-2024 as the Madiba Nelson Mandela Decade of Reconciliation in Africa, the AU, RECs and Member States should invest a lot more in efforts aimed at reconciliation and social harmony with a view to facilitating successful nation-building in Africa.
  1. In countries emerging from violent conflicts, a good mixture of social healing, justice and accountability mechanisms is required for sustainable peace and democracy building. The conference called upon AU, RECs and Member States to adopt and implement the AU Transitional Justice framework as a means to addressing issues of impunity, national reconciliation and recovery anchored upon the principles of justice, peace, and reconciliation as encapsulated in the AU Shared Values instruments.

Promoting equitable, inclusive and participatory socio-economic development

  1. Democratic and participatory governance and peace and security are key pre-conditions for sustainable human development, which is people-centered. Most of violent conflicts in Africa have their root causes in both development failure and governance deficits. In order to address the structural root causes of violent conflict, socio-economic challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality should be addressed effectively. The conference reiterated the need to ensure that economic policy is rationalized with social policy and adequate investment in the productive capacities of African States and peoples. In particular, the conference called for economic and social policies that evolve out of participatory processes and advance a culture of democracy and peace.
  1. The conference reaffirmed the imperative of greater engagement and participation of African citizens in state and continental affairs especially policy making and implementation towards silencing the guns. The conference commended the AU for improving its social media engagement strategy with African citizens and called for revamping and strengthening of the continental platform for engaging civil society and citizens – the Economic Social and Cultural Council – and the use of traditional media and other participatory processes such as people to people dialogues, information sharing and feedback with Member States in order to ensure continental and national policies are owned and driven by beneficiaries.

Promoting Knowledge Generation, Policy Analysis and Dissemination

  1. The AU, RECs and Member States should engage, partner and cooperate more with African think tanks, universities, research institutes and the media in generating and disseminating evidenced based knowledge, research and policy analysis on strengthening democratic governance, addressing violent conflicts with a view to sharpening their policy responses and interventions aimed at silencing guns on the continent.

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