Dealing with the African Governance Transfer Tangle

AU Commission headquarter and Peace and Security Council buildings in Addis Ababa.

At the end of October, when the streets in Ouagadougou were filled with protesters calling attention to a reverberating crisis that is not unique to Burkina Faso, the African Union convened the 3rd High Level Dialogue on Democratic Governance in Africa in Dakar, Senegal, themed “Silencing the Guns: Strengthening Governance to Prevent, Manage and Resolve Conflicts in Africa”. This was the third workshop in a series of meetings organized under the auspices of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) of the African Union Commission. While the inaugural High Level Dialogue in November 2012 was broadly framed as “Governance and Democracy in Africa: Trends, Challenges and Prospects”, the follow-up consultations focused on constitutional order and the rule of law in 2013 and the governance-conflict nexus this year.

The High Level Dialogue is meant to bring together actors involved in the promotion and protection of governance standards in domestic contexts: AU organs and officials, actors from the regional economic communities, civil society, African citizens, and numerous stakeholders. These dialogues will hopefully initiate and promote the exchange of ideas and best practices amongst various governance actors, and help develop a common understanding and mutual support in fighting the governance gap in Africa’s domestic contexts. The consultations involved a social media campaign. Documents can be retrieved from the DPA’s Scribd page and some buzz was created via Twitter – see #DGTrends and #SilencingTheGuns. [The very informative DGTrends Website has been off for some days now.]

The High Level Dialogue sessions are part of the AU’s ambitions to develop and strengthen an African Governance Architecture (AGA) and the AGA Platform – the equivalent to the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). The AGA was developed in 2010 and 2011 and established in 2012 in Lusaka, Zambia. While the APSA deals with all direct security and defense concerns hopefully restoring peace (i.e. conflict intervention, peace keeping), the rules and norms promoted through the AGA aim to strengthen state institutions to prevent conflict escalation well in advance, and to effectively deliver services and goods to its citizens.

Governance Transfer by the African Union

The AGA is only the newest step in a development that kicked off in the 1990s, and flourished around the turn of the millennium and in the early 2000s. Regional organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa have increasingly taken on the role of governance promoters and protectors in addition to their economic, social and politico-diplomatic mandates. This process also took place around the world for that matter, despite all regional differences and trajectories, or what Tanja Börzel and I refer to as “governance transfer in regional colors”.1

The AU governance agenda has come a long way from the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1981 to the Lomé declaration on unconstitutional changes of government and the Durban declaration on governing democratic elections. The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) as the youngest offspring entered into force when the necessary quorum of ratifications by AU member states was reached in February 2012. By now, the governance agenda of the AU encompasses five interwoven pillars: governance of public administrations (sound public management, decentralization, anti-corruption), human rights and transitional justice, constitutionalism and the rule of law, democracy and elections, and humanitarian assistance especially for internally displaced people, such as disaster victims, refugees, returnees, and migrants.

A long way ahead for the African Governance Architecture

Add to this the mandates of sub-regional organizations, such as SADC and ECOWAS, and you get a complex and dense system of rules, standards, and actors all aiming at roughly the same goal. The AGA Platform seeks to handle these various efforts, and is the only such attempt to my knowledge.

Yet, the AGA and its Secretariat are still in the early stages of institutional development. They will have to face some serious obstacles in order to become the hub for African governance transfer, and decision-makers within the AU will have to show their serious commitment to this process. I do have my concerns, some of which are shared and have been expressed by the Head of the AGA Secretariat, George Mukundi Wachira, in a recently published policy briefing on Consolidating the African Governance Architecture:

  1. The number of ratifications needs to increase or existing ratification processes need speed up to ensure that all African states are bound by the same rules. Until now, only 23 out of 54 member states have ratified the ACDEG – although the Charter was signed in 2007.
  2. Yet, ratification does not mean implementation. We have witnessed the implementation gap in regional policy-making all too often. The AGA needs to ensure closing this gap and, hence, make sure that governance standards will be made truly available to African citizens.
  3. The AGA Secretariat and concerned actors need to deal with and / or overcome fragmented, parallel and overlapping structures of regional organizations. This holds also true for the respective peace and security and governance agendas, standards, and organs (for instance, will the AGA or APSA be in charge of post-conflict reconstruction?).
  4. To make all of this happen, the AGA Secretariat must receive the necessary human, financial and technical capacities to ensure a smooth functioning. These resources should best not excessively rely on external partners.

There’s still a long way to go for the African Union and its Governance Architecture. Regional organizations have rarely shown lack of rhetorical commitment. Much will depend both on how the actors will deal with the concerns mentioned above, and member states’ behavior when the first round of compliance reports are due next year. Wachira claims that “[c]ollaboration and co-ordination […] have been ad hoc and unpredictable. The results have been inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and duplication of efforts and resources” thus far. It remains to be seen how much the AGA and its Platfrom can contribute to efficiency, effectiveness, and unraveling of the African governance transfer approaches.


1 The book chapter is forthcoming in Börzel / van Hüllen “Governance Transfer by Regional Organizations: Patching Together a Global Script“. I think it should be available by February 2015, just in time for ISA 2015.

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