'Silencing the guns': Toward a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa

Weapons seized from suspected members of extremist group al-Shabab in Somalia. Is a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa possible by 2063? Photo by: Stuart Price / United Nations

The African Union’s short-term goal of ending all conflicts on the continent by 2020 and long-term vision of building a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa by 2063 are both no easy feat.

So how does the regional organization — to which all African states except Morocco belong to — plan to accomplish this, and at the same time develop a regional framework to implement U.N. human rights principles on doing business in Africa?

We asked Salah Hammad, a senior human rights expert with the AU’s Department of Political Affairs, on the sidelines of the 2014 Annual Democracy Forum in Gaborone, Botswana. The forum was co-organized by the government of Botswana and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a Stockholm-based intergovernmental organization focused on policy development, analysis and support for global democracy.

Below are a few highlights from our conversation.

Why does democracy matter to you?

I'm from Sudan, the "big Sudan," not the North or the South, because my mother is from the South and my father from the North. When I was growing up a number of coups d’etat took place in Sudan. People are talking now about young men and women of Africa enjoying democracy, but at that time there was no such thing because from one coup to another the military took charge ... several times. Later, I became very familiar and aware of the consequences of having a military regime running the affairs of a country and from that point on, I became an advocate for democratic changes in Africa. This experience influenced my career choice too: Instead of studying to be a doctor, I felt like I would be doing better if I studied law and political science, and then tried to advocate for good governance and democracy in Africa.

Does democracy really matter that much in Africa, or is authoritarianism a genuine alternative model?

The new Africa is only 50 years old. And by "new Africa" I mean the Africa after colonialism. The last 50 years saw Africa busy trying to liberate parts of African countries or states. So the concept of democracy was not really an issue that kept Africans busy at that time — Africans were not concerned about democracy but were busy liberating the continent.

After the liberation was completed, after the transformation of the Organization of the African Unity into the AU, heads of certain governments realized the need to really build a foundation for democracy and good governance in Africa in order for us to have sustainable development and sustainable peace that would lead us to continental integration. At that time, the way of introducing democracy took different forms. There were of course forms that insisted in linking aid to Africa, rather than something that better supported the promotion of democracy. In many cases Africans were forced to accept democracy as a Western term.

Although we were told democracy is not an African concept, we all came to realize that it is indeed an African concept and it is part and parcel of our shared values. The heads of governments took the lead and supported the endorsement of the African Governance Architecture as a tool for the promotion of good democracy and governance on the continent.

What legal frameworks and standards of resource management would you recommend to democracies in order to maintain the democracy you said young men and women now enjoy?

We have a long set of instruments from an African point of view: We have over 43 instruments in which issues of governance, democracy and development are cross-cutting issues; keys for sustainable development and a peaceful environment in Africa.

The Constitutive Act of the AU has a lot to say on this issue as well as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the African Convention on the Management of Natural Resources, which was amended in Algeria. So many instruments are there, we have norms and standards. The issue here is about making the instruments part of our daily life at national level, which is a challenge.

That said, with the establishment of the African Governance Architecture we are taking this challenge to the people of Africa as we want [them] to be part of the solving of mechanisms. We don’t want them to just wait for governments or the AU or other entities or stakeholders to solve problems for them, but to participate in solving the problem.

In that sense what has been the role of civil society organizations and citizens in the formulation and implementation of the framework and standards?

Look, for example, at the development of the AU’s Agenda 2063. This is the agenda we hope will give us a different Africa in 50 years — well-developed, peaceful, united and prosperous. The agenda was fueled by the participation of civil society at all levels and also by the African citizens. It was an open document for African civil societies and the African people to participate in, contribute to, input into using different kinds of tools and mechanisms.

From meetings directly with the African peoples, from the use of the social media and different other ways and means — the main purpose was to strengthen the sense of ownership, saying that if they are not involved in this process nobody else can really make Africa a better place for them.

So if they want to be a part of the process, this is the way. If they want Africa to be a better place for their children and grandchildren 50 years from now, this is also a way for them to do so by being an active part of the process.

Does the AU’s Agenda 2063 advocate for groups that do not benefit fairly from resource revenues, even in countries that have good democratic and sound management practices? I'm talking about groups such as women, youth and those living with disabilities. Does the agenda have measures to ensure the sound and equitable management of natural resources?

Aside from the African Convention on the Management of Natural Resources, we have — or are going to have as part of the African governance report — a chapter on how our member states are responding to this matter, how they are managing natural resources for better development that is built on democratic principles.

The African governance report, which will be issued annually, will focus on this. But we also benefit from reports that come in from the African Peer Review Mechanism, reports that come from governments, as well as reports coming in from the civil society. We have different avenues, too: The post-2015 development agenda for the AU has laid out the foundation to monitor access of our member states to natural resources and have that linked to the issues of development, democracy and governance.

One last issue is that we are currently working with the United Nations on trying to have an African Union platform or framework for the implementation of U.N. guiding principles on business and human rights, so that we make also the issue of human rights part and parcel of doing business in Africa.

We have so many initiatives, but the objective is only one: to link development to democratic practises and human rights promotion and protection.

Can you mention an area of particular urgency that the AU is working on concerning the promotion of democracy in Africa?

Our objective as an AU, as Africans, is to build a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa as soon as possible. Our immediate goal is to focus on the post 2015 development agenda linked to democracy, good governance, transparency and accountability. Our midterm goal is to silence the guns in Africa and end conflicts by 2020 and our long term is to have a prosperous united Africa, if not anytime soon then hopefully by 2063.

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About the author

  • Sharon tshipa profile

    Sharon Tshipa

    Sharon Tshipa is a media practitioner, writer and social entrepreneur based in Gaborone, Botswana. She currently works for Chinese news agency Xinhua and as a freelance video journalist for French newswire service AFP. Tshipa is also co-founder and chairperson of the Botswana Society for Human Development, a local NGO.