Table of content

By Prof. R. Omotayo Olaniyan

African Union Regional Delegate to South African Development Community

As the development process in Africa came under more intensive scrutiny in the late 1990s, the attention of observers shifted to the relevance of governance. Governance was perceived as a critical factor in accelerated and sustainable economic growth and development. The divorce from the old pattern of governance was considered necessary for the advancement of economic development. Some countries were deemed to be operating under critical circumstances including doubtful political legitimacy and flawed economic management. Many African countries continued to rely on centralized and highly personalized forms of government and some had also fallen into an unacceptable pattern of corruption, ethnically based decision-making and human rights abuses. It was clear that there was need for more progress in the majority of countries to provide an environment in which individuals were protected, civil society was able to flourish, and Governments executed their responsibilities efficiently and transparently, through adequate institutional mechanisms that would ascertain accountability. These assumptions led to the convening of the 2005 Governance orum which attempted to define the character of governance and the related fundamental issues. Thus, this paper will first examine the outcome of the Forum. Subsequently, it will look into the progress that has been made before shedding light on some of the critical obstacles. In the last section, the way forward, attempts will be made to make some recommendations on the key challenges to governance.

The 2005 Governance Forum

The 2005 Governance Forum was jointly organized by the AUC and the Alliance in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 26 November 2005. The Forum was informed by current initiatives and convened against the background of the urgent need to adequately address development problems in the continent. Following extensive debate, the Forum concluded with a Declaration which among other things emphasized that governance was central to the difficulties militating against rapid development of African countries. The Declaration associated governance with societal ills, persistent poverty, and the political crisis, as well as the prevalence of conflicts in some countries. For this reason, the Declaration stated that Africa would need to adopt a system of governance in which the various actors would recognize themselves and that the system should also respond to their aspirations.

The Declaration further clarified that the process of renewing governance would occur at the local, national, regional, and continental levels, and should entail linkages with existing initiatives. It was noted that the local level should be the vital strategic level for the renewal of governance in Africa. Decentralization at the local level affords a suitable environment to devise and apply innovative methods in the management of public affairs and promote local development. According to the Declaration, localization is fundamental for the improvement of the living conditions of the people and the prevention of conflicts. In this connection, it was recommended that there should be representation of local government associations at the level of the AU through relevant mechanisms, and through the integration of local governance in the Draft Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance.

At the national level, the Declaration flagged that the major challenges confronting states essentially relate to principles of respect for human rights, democracy, and governance, including effective public action, which are the pillars of the legitimacy of government. In other words, the capacity of the State should be enhanced to regulate, to ensure social dialogue, and to create an enabling environment for economic growth and for the informal sector, on which many people depend.

At the regional level, the Declaration stipulated that the renewal of governance could be promoted by ensuring that the integration process rests firmly on local actors, spatial dynamics, and through targeted delegation of responsibilities to regional organizations, which should be reinforced at the institutional level. Furthermore, at the continental level, the Declaration stressed that the renewal of governance in the AU would, inter alia, entail the consolidation of its institutions. It would involve the strengthening of its financial basis and the reinforcement of its implementation, monitoring, and evaluation capacity. These were deemed essential for the advancement of continental integration and meaningful development of Africa. In effect, the Declaration provided additional understanding and a framework for the promotion of governance in Africa.

Progress in Governance

While it is too early to evaluate the progress made in governance based on the 2005 Declarations and recommendations, it is not out of place to note some of the cumulative actions that have been taken in the overall desire for sound governance in the continent in recent years. The Declarations had to a large extent provided a dynamic for the on-going efforts on governance in the continent. To begin with, it is relevant to state and acknowledge that African countries have, at the national level, in recent years, initiated certain national governance programs to address specific governance issues. However, there are some challenges in the various areas in which actions have been taken. Generally, there were interventions to review management systems, processes, and mechanisms targeting the strengthening of institutions, including leadership and human resources capacity building, as well as effective operation of the State and the improvement of service delivery. Besides this, these interventions were also designed to promote the implementation of resolutions emanating from international bodies. In addition, many initiatives have been undertaken in the areas of conflict management and prevention, reduction of corruption and increasing transparency, promoting economic growth and reduction of poverty, unloading of debt burden and public aid for development, and on the issue of HIV/AIDS. Generally, these interventions and initiatives have been handicapped by poor institutional support, inadequate human resources, and paucity of funding. In effect, there is an urgent need to resolve these critical limitations in order to have sound governance systems in these countries. All these have provided the premises for the implementation of the Declaration of the 2005 Forum.

Moreover, governance was an important feature of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and has been accorded priority by the African Union (AU) which replaced it in 2002. In this context, there is a culture of progressive developments on governance at the continental level. During the second half of the 1990s, the bases of renewal of governance were to be found in a number of instruments, namely: (1) the Cairo Agenda for Action (1995), a program for re-launching Africa’s political, economic and social development which aimed at a comprehensive solution to the accumulation of development problems of the continent in the first half of the 1990s; and (2) the African Common Position on Africa’s External Debt Crisis (1997), a strategy for addressing the Continent’s external debt crisis, through which the continent sought to unload the external debt burden in order to release resources for economic development.

In 2002, the Constitutive Act articulated the guidelines on governance for the continent. It defined the parameters of political, economic, and institutional governance of the continent. Further elaborations were made in the Durban Declaration on Elections, Democracy, Governance, and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic, and Corporate Governance. In the same vein, the Protocol on the Rights of Women and the Algiers Decision on Unconstitutional Changes of Government (1999) addressed the rights of women and their integration in the development process and the promotion of democratic governance in the continent respectively. The Lomé Declaration on the framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Changes in Government (2000) dealt with unconstitutional changes and the need to adhere to the electoral process in governance. The 2000 Solemn Declaration on the Conference on Security, Stability, Development, and Cooperation elaborated the fundamental principles for the promotion of democracy and good governance in the continent. The African Common Position on the review of the MDGs articulated Africa’s approach for the successful implementation of the eight issues in the MDGs. The Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (2004) that aims at effective mainstreaming of women into development process in Africa was adopted at the Summit of the AU.

Other measures on governance involved the establishment of organs of the AU, the Peace and Security Council that deals with conflict prevention, management, and resolution; the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) that engages the participation of civil society, trade unions, and academics in the governance process of the African Union. The Pan-African Parliament is providing the forum for the input of African parliamentarians into AU processes. In addition, the Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is an important system for the renewal of governance at the continental level; it is an arrangement facilitating the sharing of experiences in development by African leaders. Furthermore, the protocol on the relations of the AU with the RECs was signed in January 2008 at the Summit of the AU. The protocol has articulated the relations and method of coordination with the RECs in the pursuit of continental integration.

In addition, it is important to add that the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has also been at the forefront of the governance debate in the continent. It has repeatedly pointed out the centrality of governance factors and stressed the current African predicament and the interrelationship between good governance and sustained economic development. UNECA has stressed the relevance of proactive, democratic States vis-à-vis the prospects for Africa’s development and recovery. It advocated that a reversal of the economic decline would require proactive governments with improved capacity to effectively formulate policies, manage essential services, and show evidence of transparency and accountability. Also, in its efforts to promote African development, and in its capacity as the lead agency of the “governance” component of NEPAD, it has committed itself to assist in the enhancement of government capabilities in the area of governance and to consolidate institutions and good governance practices in the continent.

Challenges in Governance

National Level

Decentralization: At the national level, the policy of devolution of power and authority to sub-national governments is perceived as a method of re-establishing the African State and rebuilding its legitimacy from the bottom up. This process, although increasingly being implemented in Africa, is subject to some constraints, which include the lack of capacity of local administrations and the voicing of the population’s needs towards legitimate local governance. Other limitations are the low level of accountability of local government institutions and the necessity to improve the quality of service delivered.

Rule of law and Human Rights: The lack of respect by leaders and citizens for the rule of law and human rights often poses a great challenge to stability. The judiciary in many states is handicapped by structural difficulties and inadequate funding. The independence, integrity, and performance of the judiciary would only be guaranteed through adequate funding, remuneration, modernization, professional staff, and regular training.

Public Administration: In this area, there are challenges in the reform initiatives undertaken by African countries. There is an urgent need to enhance public service capacity, the provision of adequate incentives to public servants to retain highly qualified and motivated staff, increase performance and accountability, as well as reducing corruption. The use of ICT in government requires further encouragement and service delivery improvement.

Peace and Stability: At the national level, wars, civil strife and the proliferation of light weapons militate against the efforts of some countries in the establishment of sustainable development. Some countries are still handicapped following current conflicts, and others by the challenges of recovery following the termination of conflicts. The challenges following these include the consolidation of national capacities for the prevention of governance crises, conflict and natural emergencies and taking initiatives on peace-building. Furthermore, relating to national security, there are challenges in the capacity to manage cross-border population movements and coping with drug and small arms trafficking, epidemics, and human trafficking, to mention a few.

Other challenges: Other important challenges at the national level include the lack of civic education among citizens and civil society leading to low participation in the political process at both national and local levels, low gender participation especially in the legislature, weak exploitation of the potential of traditional rulers in the governance process, and the lack of credibility of the electoral system, especially of the Electoral Commissions.

Continental Level

Institutional Capacity: The transformation from OAU into AU in 2002 redefined the objectives of the continental organization with priority accorded to the complex problems of economic development. There are still challenges in institutional capacity in spite of the institutional reforms that were carried out over the last decade. There are challenges in attracting the best African brains to work in the organization. The limitations are to a large extent emanating from inadequate funding and the non-competitive professional staff remuneration, but there is an on-going process to resolve.

Supranational Authority and Transfer of Sovereignty: There is the challenge of the transfer of sovereignty to the supranational authority. Regional economic integration ultimately implies the creation of a unified political state following its process of market integration. As of now, market integration is gradually occurring at the regional level in the regional economic communities (RECs), eight of which are designated as the pillars of continental economic integration. In effect, the transfer of sovereignty may be deemed to be made partially only to the RECs. As of now, there is no transfer of authority to the African Union Commission, but an Audit Report on the AUC is currently being considered by the ministers of Foreign Affairs. It is envisaged that the ministers will, in their recommendations, pay attention to this concern.

Financial Resources: There are also the challenges of inadequate financial resources for the operation of the organization. The assessed contributions from some Member States are not paid up sufficiently regularly to ensure smooth operation of the institution and the implementation of programs and projects. Governance of the organization is weakened and compromised as a result of unpredictable resources.

Other challenges: Other important governance challenges are to be found in the development of infrastructure, including the harmonization of commercial and transport laws and regulations. Progress in the development of a continental infrastructure, network of roads, railways, and air transportation is constrained by inadequate political commitment, human resources, and capital. In some cases, where agreements have been reached in regional road transport development, implementation projects run into delay difficulties as a result of mismanagement and corruption.

The Way Forward

African countries have taken a number of necessary and bold initiatives on governance as one of the essential factors for sustainable economic growth and development for the alleviation of poverty. But these initiatives are still constrained by a number of critical challenges that should be tackled to enhance the prospects of governance and if development objectives are to be attained.

National Level In the way forward there is a need for further improvement in public sector management and delivery. The financial, human resource, and ICT limitations in these areas should be removed to ensure meaningful progress.

There are also financial, human resource, ICT, and capital limitations in the process of decentralization. These should be removed in order to enhance the functioning of local authorities.

The private sector is critical to accelerated economic growth and development but this sector still suffers major constraints in its full operation; mismanagement and corruption are some of the hindrances in governance in the private sector that should be eliminated to ensure sound governance.

The three arms of government still suffer from linkages and influences of one arm on the other. Stronger application of the principles of separation of powers between the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary are required to guarantee excellent and effective governance.

There are legal and judicial reforms underway in many countries but progress has been slow as a result of a lack of adequate experts, ICT, and financial resources. The strengthening of legal and judicial reforms are preconditions for the monitoring of human rights and robust governance.

Parliamentarians are representatives of their constituencies and are obliged to be responsible to them and serve their interests. There should, in this context, be consistent forward and backward linkages between constituents and their parliamentarians. There is a gulf between parliamentarians and their constituencies deriving from poor communications arrangements and or lack of interest on both sides. The communications linkages with parliamentarians should be improved and built where they do not exist. There should be an increase in information to the public on the responsibilities of parliamentarians to their constituencies. Also, efforts should be made to elevate the calibre of parliamentarians representing constituencies. Parliament is a law making body; those who operate as parliamentarians should comprehend the art of government and the processes of law making for sound governance.

There continues to be improvements in the electoral bodies in many countries but they still operate under some constraints deriving from inadequate skilled personnel, funding, and technology. It is therefore vital that the capacity of electoral bodies should be enhanced to guarantee better governance during elections and ensure smooth transition from one government to the other.

The management of post-election crises needs to be improved. Postelection crises emerge either from perceived or real flaws, including rigging and manipulation of voting results, in the election processes. There should be strict adherence to the stipulations of the constitution and electoral laws. The announcement of the results should be effected as stipulated by the Constitution and Electoral Laws and not be unduly delayed in order to avoid negative speculation and, at the extreme, of political crisis and social violence.

The emerging democratic systems in many African countries are leading to the creation of several political parties within countries. This, to a large extent, is a good development for emerging democracies. But the presence of several political parties with similar objectives, policies, and manifestos could be frustrating to electorates. Also, the organizational and operational structures of most of them are weak for reasons of lack of adequate human and financial resources. Thus, there is a need to streamline and strengthen multi-party systems for effective democratic governance.

African countries have taken varying measures following the AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa to increase the participation of women in politics and national economic development. They are increasingly involved in policy formulation and implementation. But there are still substantive difficulties in the mainstreaming of women into the development process. In some cases, the difficulties include lack of information, weak capacity to take up positions, limitations imposed by culture, and insufficient legislative procedures to enhance the mainstreaming of women. These difficulties should be resolved to ensure effective participation of women in development and unassailable governance in the continent.

Several African countries have taken measures in the fight against corruption and graft in the public and private sectors. The degree of success in this initiative varies from country to country. But it is clear that the institutions established for this purpose in many countries suffer from several limitations that, inter alia, include a lack of the requisite experts, inadequate remuneration, and weak funding for the operation of these bodies to mention a few. Thus, it is important to strengthen the institutions established to combat corruption in both public and private sectors in order to promote reliable governance.

In spite of the efforts made in the system of tax collection in many countries, there is still a wide gap between the potential and actual tax collection as a result of the persistence of fraud, corruption, mismanagement, insufficient human resources, and lack of ICT etc. Solutions to these problems would improve the system of tax collection and raise the volume of revenue available for development.

The emerging Public-Private Partnerships are still fraught with problems of inadequate policy, management, etc. It is necessary to put in place more innovative measures to improve governance of Public-Private Partnerships in order to advance economic growth and development.

There are several international Charters, Conventions, Declarations, Agreements, and Decisions, which African countries struggle to implement. In this endeavour, they are confronted with various limitations in human and financial resources. The capacities of these countries should be strengthened to enable them carry out their obligations to the international community.

In the way forward, there is a need for reliable external resources to support all processes of governance to make it sustainable. Additional new resources will be required from development partners to complement national resources for the meaningful consolidation of governance.

Continental Leve

There are still significant institutional challenges. The operational capacity of continental organization should be strengthened through further employment of adequate human resources at the AUC.

There is a need for additional efforts in the orientation of the organization in governance to enhance the program and project implementation of the continental organization.

Studies are underway to consider alternative sources of funding the AUC for sustainable operationalization. This is a good development, however in the meantime Member States should be encouraged to commit themselves to prompt payments of their assessed contributions. Sound governance of the organization will ultimately depend on predictable internal resources.

The Member States have shown increasing awareness of the authority and goal of AUC. It is anticipated that the Ministerial and Summit considerations in Arusha, Tanzania will lead to acceptable solutions. An improvement in the authority of the AUC and well-defined goals are essential for governance and successful continental integration.

Measures on compliance of the implementation of Charters, Conventions, Declarations, and Decisions should be devised for effectiveness in the process of governance. It is important that the organization should establish a relevant mechanism to address dysfunctional behaviours.

Ensuring and strengthening the operation of AU ECOSOCC is necessary for more vigorous continental governance. This organ should ensure effective contributions of civil society, the private sector, trade unions, academics, etc. to AU processes. There should be sufficient resources to assure the participation of these bodies in the Assembly of the ECOSOCC.

Strengthen the operations of African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights through adequate funding and additional human resources. Effective guarantees of human rights are vital for the consolidation of democracy.

The AUC has already started on the development of a policy framework for the involvement of the local government into AU processes. This process should be accelerated.

More consideration should be given to the strengthening and empowering of the Pan African Parliament in legislative areas. The Summit of the AU may need to consider ceding some areas to the Pan African Parliament as a legislative body. In this case, the mode of composition of the Parliament may need to be reconsidered.

With the RECs as the building blocks for African integration, the deepening of their integration should be further encouraged and supported as appropriate by the AU.

The discussion on harmonization and rationalization are already on-going at ministerial level in the AU. Rationalization of the RECs should, in particular, be encouraged to prevent overlapping of membership, allow the consolidation of RECs, and the speeding up of continental integration.

The Protocol on Relations with the RECs was adopted in January 2008. This will be the framework for better working relations with them, and for better coordination for continental integration.

The APRM has been a useful exercise across the continent. As of now, about five countries have been reviewed and 27 countries have enlisted to be reviewed. But rapid review is hampered by paucity of finance and by weak and poor preparatory processes in African countries. There is a need to strengthen the funding process and improve on the national processes of the APRM to make it more beneficial to governance and to the learning process for African countries.


African countries are paying attention to the significance of governance in their development process. They have, over the years, taken a number of vital initiatives that are gradually transforming the pattern of governance. But the progress made this far, though somewhat commendable, is not sufficient for accelerated and sustainable economic growth and development. There is an urgent need to consolidate the achievement made in order to sustain economic growth and the development process. African countries will need to increase their political will to support the process. They need also to continue to mobilize internal resources to support the process. But in addition, there is a need for reliable financial and technical support of the development partners for a robust governance system in the continent.