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History, Challenges, and Achievements of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance

The African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance (ACDEG) was adopted on 30 January 2007 as the African Union’s main normative instrument to set standards for better governance across the continent. It came into force in February 2012 after ratification by fifteen (15) States.

The ACDEG is different from previous instruments as it combines, in a holistic manner, the key elements of democracy, human rights and governance. Its objectives are to enhance the quality of elections in Africa, promote human rights, strengthen the rule of law, improve political, economic and social governance, and address the recurrent issues relating to unconstitutional changes of government in the continent. The African Democracy Charter complements the African [Human Rights] Charter by adding the right to democracy, free and fair elections and good governance to the human and peoples’ rights provided for in the African Charter.

It adoption coincided with an overall trend in African politics to demand better democratic governance, including peaceful and credible transfers of power, transparent and accountable exercise of power, and the progressive realisation of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in national and international legal frameworks.

the African continent were facing various challenges including coups d’états, corruption, abuse of state power, and human rights violations. These lasting democratic governance deficits formed the background against which a continental solution was sought to assume collective responsibility and offer new perspectives to improve the African democratic governance landscape, and States domestic politics and elections processes, namely The African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance.

For its implementation, the Charter foresees a multi-level governance framework. At the continental level, different AU institutions are referred to, including the Assembly; the Executive Council; the PSC; the AU Commission; the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the African Peer Review Mechanism; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Pan-African Parliament; the Economic, Social and Cultural Council; and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. At the regional level, the Regional Economic Communities are are expected to designate focal points for the co-ordination, evaluation, and monitoring of the implementation of the Charter in order to ensure the participation of stakeholders, particularly civil society organisations, in the process.

At the national level, the Charter requires the involvement of government, parliament, judiciary, political parties, electoral bodies, armed and security forces, public administration, public institutions that promote and support democracy and constitutional order, media, private sector, civil society organisations, and citizens.

To what extent has the ACDEG been implemented and the lessons that have been learnt form its application.

Roughly one decade after the adoption of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), fascinating developments, challenges and questions have emerged, some of which were arguably not anticipated by its drafters. For example, who envisaged that the ACDEG might become a justiciable instrument before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights? In the wake of popular uprisings in response to gross undemocratic practices, what normative guidance does the ACDEG offer in response to such developments?

While the ACDEG has shown its capacity to impact the behaviour of governments and political leaders in some member states, in others it has arguably had limited influence on the actual state of governance of members States. 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.

A wide variety of approaches can be deployed to gauge the effects of the ACDEG, providing an avenue for further research on its effectiveness and challenges in this regard. One of the most instrumental mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the ACDEG – established by the Charter itself – has still not fully been operationalised: the ACDEG state reporting mechanism. This compliance mechanism based on self-reporting by ACDEG State Parties through a multi-actor focal point composed of relevant state and non-state actors would provide more systematic and comprehensive data on various democratic governance areas the ACDEG has an impact on.

Imagining a better future, like Agenda 2063, fundamentally presumes a qualified statement about the state of affairs of the present. To bridge this gap between “the present” and “a better future,” inspiration is generally found in developments in the past. This scrutiny of history allows the identification of factors and processes that produce a transition from one status quo into another. Citizens should be included in domestication and application of the Charter in order to develop concrete incusive governance in Africa.

By achieveing inclusive governance, we would achieve inclusive and sustainable development in Africa. The fndamental question is how do we nfluence democratic governance lamdscape in Africa without Africains themselves.

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