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Insights from the Third High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance in Africa


Panel discussion on day 2 of Dialogue

The Third Annual High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance in Africa took place in Dakar, Senegal from the 30th to the 31st of October, 2014. It was jointly convened by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) of the African Union Commission (AUC), organs and institutions that form the African Governance Architecture (AGA) and its platform (AGP) and the Government of Senegal.

The theme for the Third High Level Dialogue was “Silencing the Guns: Strengthening Governance to Prevent, Manage and Resolve Conflicts in Africa”. The main objective of the Third High Level Dialogue was to explore the structural root causes of conflicts in Africa and propose policy measures through which governance systems can be strengthened to address violent conflicts on the continent.

The theme's focus was in direct response to the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration adopted by the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government on 26 May 2013. The Declaration marked the beginning of the year-long celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the African Union (AU), where African leaders committed to ending "all wars in Africa by 2020".

The dialogue was attended by representatives from African Union (AU) Member States, AU Organs, Regional Economic Communities (REC), United Nations Agencies, Development Partners, Think Tanks, Civil Society including women groups and youth organizations, Eminent African Personalities and Academia.

Some of the dignitaries present at the 2-day High Level Dialogue included, His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Her Excellency, Dr. Aisha Abdullahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs, AU, His Excellency Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, UN Special Representative and Head of United Nations Office for West Africa. Other dignitaries included Dr. Mustapha Mekideche, member of the African Peer Review Mechanisms’ Panel of Eminent Persons, Her Excellency, Mme Maya Sahli-fadel, Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, His Excellency Khadim Diop, Minister of African integration, NEPAD and Promotion of good governance (Government of Senegal).

Representing the African Union Youth Working Group (AUYWG) at the dialogue was Benjamin Kweku Nettey Larbi, a technical assistant at Regent and member of the group.

Ben, together with Ida Nyanga from Kenya and Kawsu Sillah from Gambia were nominated to represent AUYWG, a group created to provide African youth with a platform to contribute towards the development and implementation of policies passed by the African Union.  Ben and Ida's participation in the Dialogue was made possible through a United Nations Development Programme sponsorship.

Addressing the delegates, the Chair of the Permanent Representatives Committee and Mauritania's Ambassador to Ethiopia, His Excellency, Mr. Hamadi Meimou spoke about various issues relating to peace and security, youth development and the development of the continent.

"Scientific knowledge is absolutely crucial to ensure the progress of our African society", Mr. Meimou emphasized. "If you look at national budgets dedicated to research, you would see that the share of the budgets allocated to research and education in general is not very substantial, compared to other countries" Mr. Meimou further noted. 

"In Africa, the illiteracy rate is high. In countries in which the illiteracy rate is high, how can we not expect to have conflicts?" he added.

The role of youth in strengthening governance and creating a conflict-free continent:

The role of African youth in strengthening governance, and helping create a conflict-free continent was well-emphasized during the various sessions of the dialogue.

‎"65 percent of our continent is made up of the youth. There is no way we can talk about silencing the guns on this continent without involving them", Ibraheem Sanusi, Deputy Head, Africa Governance Architecture (AU Commission) said. 

Recommendations from Youth consultations held prior to the dialogue were incorporated into the dialogue discussions.

"The increasing recognition of youth as national stakeholders by African policy makers and regional bodies, is an encouraging trend, especially considering the fact that majority of the populations of most countries in Africa are youth", Benjamin Larbi said. "That this figure is projected to double by 2045 shows the urgent need for mechanisms to be implemented to ensure the involvement of young people in decision-making processes at various levels of governance". 

"History has shown us all too often the unsettling consequences of excluding a large percentage of a nation's youth from decision making processes regarding issues that affect them", Ben added.

Benjamim LarbiBen continued by noting that, "The African Governance Architecture's development and commitment to executing a Youth Engagement Strategy to ensure that the young people across Africa participate in the achievement of transparent and accountable governance in Africa is highly commendable", Ben said.

 

A number of key issues and challenges to achieving the goal of a conflict-free Africa were identified during the plenary sessions of the dialogue. These issues were captured in the outcome statement published at the end of the dialogue. They include:

  1. Lack of credible and legitimate democratic governance institutions for the prevention of violent conflicts; such as the rule of law, democratic access to power and effective wealth distribution
  2. Inadequate empirical data and research driven understanding and interventions to prevent and resolve violent conflicts.
  3. The propensity to resort to the use of violence for the resolution of contestations on real or perceived differences or on the distribution of resources within communities. 
  4. Cultural, political, social and economic gaps between the minority at the centre and the larger population-rural or urban and intergenerational.
  5. New practices and forms of confrontation and mobilization by citizens and youth that cut across historically established borders and renders national level responses ineffective.
  6. Limited state capacity which leads to corruption, lack of accountability and impunity are factors that restrict the provision of social-economic services, impacting upon government credibility and legitimacy.
  7. Emerging new threats such as radicalization, terrorism and religious extremism.
  8. Numerous norms and frameworks have been adopted to promote democracy and the rule of law. However, a persistent implementation deficit prevents these norms from being translated into reality and often there is no follow up to ensure substantive compliance.
  9. The continued monopoly of power by male political elites, a lack of political will, socio-economic challenges, as well as patriarchal traditions and beliefs continue to limit the formal and meaningful involvement of women in governance, peace and security, and development processes.
  10. Distrust and in some cases outright rejection of organized politics impacts upon social cohesion and creates social unrest.

Some of the key recommendations that emerged from the deliberations include:

  1. African research institutions, universities and think tanks should collaborate and partner with continental and national democratic governance institutions to ensure interventions to resolve violent conflicts based on a holistic understanding and empirical research;
  2. Member States should expand and promote the frontiers of human rights culture through the doctrine of non-indifference to human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
  3. Policy and implementation interventions need to address the specific circumstances and situations of women and the youth. These interventions must secure their empowerment for actions directed at silencing the guns.
  4. Silencing the guns is the responsibility of all stakeholders on the continent and must include non-state actors such as civil society organizations, the private sector, faith-based organizations, the academic community, the women's movement, the youth movement, and the international community.

The 2 day High Level Dialogue ended with a renewed conviction that Africa's best days were still ahead of it. The need for an "all hands on deck" approach to create a conflict free continent was reiterated. "Failing forward is better than suffering from paralysis of analysis. Africa's potential will be realized only when we apply ourselves", one delegate said.

The Third Annual High Level Dialogue was convened by the African Union Commission in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Africa Governance Institute (AGI), the Government of the Republic of Senegal and supported by Germany, via the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH