I was invited to a High Level Consultation, convened at the King Fahd Palace Hotel in Dakar from the 25 to the 27 of November 2013 by the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union (AU) in collaboration with the host country, Senegal, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the African Governance Institute (AGI). Before this High Level Consultation holding in Senegal for the second time, the Youth Programme of the African Union had also organized at the same venue, a High Level Dialogue on Governance and Democracy on Africa. These Consultations coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) now the African Union (AU) and offered a unique opportunity to review the progress made in the area of Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law among Member States during this period. There was equally a need to reflect upon emerging challenges and prospects. It was hoped that the Consultations would also provide the AU and its strategic partners the opportunity to consider ways in which the AU could enhance Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law thereby improving its role on governance and democracy on the continent.
Constitutionalism is considered as the respect for the fundamental law empowering and limiting government. It is premised on well-defined concepts such as the need for an independent judiciary, the need for human rights, as well as the need for separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary and the legislative branches of government. On the other hand, the rule of law focuses on the need of the legal system to function effectively and efficiently, thus ensuring equality of all persons before the law.
Participants taking part in these consultations were expected to examine the socio political dynamics of constitution making and reforms processes in Africa, to share comparable experiences on reinforcing constitutional order and safeguarding the rule of law among African Member States. They were also expected to address the emerging phenomenon of popular uprisings and protests and their political and legal consequences on the principles of constitutionalism and rule of law in Africa. They were equally expected to assess the emerging trends, challenges and opportunities to strengthen constitutional order and rule of law in Africa and develop an agenda for promoting constitutionalism and the rule of law in Africa.
Two breakout sessions took place on the 26 of November 2013 during the African Union’s High Consultation on enhancing constitutionalism and the rule of law in Africa. The first breakout session focused on how African member states would accept and come to terms with the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The second breakout session was on furnishing a roadmap for an African 2063 agenda in the area of strengthening constitutional order and rule of law as a key ingredient of continental integration and development. After these breakout sessions, I realized that in as much as the African Union had good intentions on enhancing constitutionalism and the rule in Africa, there was actually no concrete modus operandi on how this regional institution was going to achieve these dreams. I also realized that there was actually little harmony with the African Union’s agenda and the agenda of member states when it comes to enhancing constitutionalism and the rule of law in Africa.
Member states especially in the Central African region remain the most corrupt and undemocratic states in the World, despite the AU’s efforts in enhancing constitutionalism and the rule of law on the continent. States like the Central African Republic and part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are still plagued by armed conflict. During the Dakar encounter several participants purported that most of the public and economic policy of Francophone Africa is still decided by France, reason why there has been no integration between these states, let alone Africa’s integration.
It is obvious that the AU has not adequately enhanced constitutionalism and the rule of law on the continent. How can the AU try to set an agenda for 2063 when immediate concerns like conflict in Central African Republic and the DRC have not been adequately addressed? How can the AU be trying to set an agenda for 2063 when member states especially in the Central African region have not domesticated the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance?
In as much as the AU has been considered weak in enhancing constitutionalism and the rule of law in Africa, it will be suicidal if we only criticize this institution without suggesting ways by which we can all improve constitutionalism and the rule of law on the continent. In this regard, it is thus germane for African youth both at home and in the diaspora, women, university professors, research institutions, think tanks, religious and civil society organisations to all play a role in enhancing constitutionalism and the rule of law on the continent. It is also important for central governments on the continent to consider the regional and local tiers of government as important actors in enhancing constitutionalism and the rule of law on the continent for better service delivery. Of course central governments must welcome these actors as equal partners in the quest for meaningful constitutionalism and the rule of law in Africa.