International Alert is helping to build peace in Africa by encouraging governments to deliver on their obligations under the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG).
Hailed as one of the most comprehensive legal instruments ever passed by the African Union (AU), the ACDEG emphasises the promotion and strengthening of good governance through transparency, accountability and participatory democracy.
Unlike most international treaties, which are often criticised by African leaders as being too western-led and with little or no connection with Africa, the ACDEG was drafted and passed by African heads of state. Yet there seems to be a general lack of political will from member states to take up its provisions, judging by the lag in implementation.
Since it was first adopted in 2007, 46 AU member states have signed the ACDEG but only 23 have ratified it, and eight are yet to sign it at all. Like so many treaties, conventions, protocols and charters passed by the AU over the years, for a long time the ACDEG was seen as just one more forgotten legal instrument.
At Alert, however, we believe the charter has the potential to help ameliorate conflict on the continent. It can promote the rule of law, consolidate African unity through regional trade, and enhance transparent and credible elections – especially important given the role that contested elections have played in recent conflicts in Africa.
In light of this, last year we began a three-year project with the Peace and Security Department (PSD) of the African Union Commission (AUC), the executive/administrative branch of the AU, to support and accompany the African Union Liaison Offices (AULOs) in increasing awareness, ratification and ‘domestication’ (i.e. implementation) of the ACDEG. Funded by the Swedish government, the project focuses on five pilot countries: Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Sudan.
Over the last year, we have been providing training to government officials, AULO staff, the media and members of civil society to help them work closely with their respective governments in the ratification and implementation of the charter, and to then respect, protect and fulfil the obligations under it. In August this year we organised a five-day training on conflict-sensitivity, gender and peacebuilding, political economy and communicating in conflict and fragile contexts. The training brought together AULO representatives from the five pilot countries, civil society members, AUC headquarter staff and officials from the ministries of foreign affairs from the respective countries.
As a follow-up to the training, from 17–21 November Alert staff travelled to Sudan, where, under the auspices of the national AULO, we held discussions with government officials and members of civil society on implementing the charter in the country. Sudan ratified the ACDEG in 2013, but there has not been significant progress on its implementation. With the country set to hold a general election in April next year, improved awareness of the charter could prove significant. As one participant noted:
"We know the emphasis in the country is now on the promotion of national dialogue between the many different parties to the conflict, but we also believe that this sort of initiative is necessary. A national dialogue must happen in a framework that allows for the rule of law and while it is good to know that our government has ratified the charter, it would help if its provisions were implemented for the good of all."
We are currently carrying out similar work in Cote d’Ivoire, where the contested election in 2010 led to civil unrest and chaos. Presidential elections are scheduled for late 2015, so the principles of ACDEG could prove incredibly important.