The Role Of The African Union In Promoting Human Rights – Kim Lamont Mbawuli
African Union Building (Source: Quartz)
Amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a turbulent year for Africa. During this time of crisis and uncertainty there has been over a dozen countries that have held general elections, many of which have been married with violence. The toll of the crisis has had a ripple effect on the human rights crises across the continent, including the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. According to Human Rights Watch, areas such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria,
Somalia, and South Sudan armed conflicts persists.
Unfortunately, non-state armed groups and government forces were implicated in massacres, targeted killings, rapes, the burning and looting of villages. As well as kidnappings, forced recruitment, attacks on students and teachers, and the illegal occupation of schools. If regard is given for the sort of Human rights violations exhibited it’s time to place the African Union into a spotlight to determine whether the correct framework is in place to protect the plight the African people.
The Transition From OAU To AU
The transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) into the African Union (AU) in 2001 was placed in to central focus. The need to endow continental structures with the powers to make binding rules and regulations for the enhancement of Africa’s integrative efforts. The AU has 53 member states of which this supranational aspiration is espoused through the legal and institutional framework of the organisation. Of which two important developments extended and deepened Africa’s commitment to human rights, democracy, governance and development as cited in the Claiming Human Rights website.
The first was the adoption of the African Union’s Constitutive Act, which endows the AU with the powers to coordinate the activities of the regional economic communities, intervene in member states, and determine and monitor the implementation of common policies, it reaffirms Africa’s commitment to promote and protect human rights. It solemnises a promise made by African leaders to uphold unity, solidarity, cohesion and co-operation among the people of Africa. The second was the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which also places human rights at the centre of development of which both frameworks are to provide an opportunity to put human rights firmly on the African agenda.
Notwithstanding, the strong central drive towards the promulgation of human rights, African countries still lack a degree of transparency which is easily demonstrated through the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many African
governments introduced severe restrictions on movement and the freedom of assembly. In some cases, implementing full lockdowns. On the one hand these measures helped curb the spread of the virus in some contexts. On the other hand people were disproportionately impacted, particularly those that live in poverty. Many governments did not provide adequate assistance to cushion the impact of the economic downturn, which has exacerbated existing poverty and inequality across Africa. Furthermore there was little transparency around how government funds were being spent, to support the Covid-19 responses, triggering allegations of corruption. The pandemic has also exposed serious systemic gaps in health care services and social safety nets, thereby drawing attention to the need for African governments to make meaningful investments to improve access to quality healthcare, water, and sanitation. Bearing this in mind it brings to question how basic human needs have not been catered and how this has had an effect on the right to human dignity.
Co-Ordinating Common Purpose
The AU offers a broad dynamism through the use of non-indifference which includes the right of the AU to intervene in any member state’s affairs particularly around the recognition of human rights and the Promotion of social, economic and cultural development through the use of human rights instruments such as the; African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, and the Charter on Democracy, Governance and Election. To enforce these instruments, bodies were established and were provided with an express human rights mandate such as the African Commission on the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), and the African Court.
Bience Gawanas cites the AU as utilising a more interventionist approach to end war crimes and crimes against humanity, human rights violations, and unconstitutional changes of government, through the mechanism of employing sanctions. It represents a higher form of unity and integration for the African continent. It has also continued to develop legal frameworks and establish relevant institutions and in so doing, it has paved the way towards creating a culture of non-indifference towards war crimes and crimes against humanity in Africa.
Legislative Mechanisms To Pursue Human Rights
The Africa renewal magazine states that the pursuit of African human rights requires and enabling environment to pursue the promotion and protection of such rights. The Pan-African Parliament (PAP), Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), the Peace and Security Council (PSC), the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the African Court are all structures and legislative frameworks to ensure that such rights are upheld for all.1
The Role Of The African Court
The African court (hereinafter- the court) was established by the 1998 protocol in respect of the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples rights which endows many African governments, acting nationally and also collectively through the AU, are serious about solidification and protection of human rights. In the Journal of Administration and article written by Antigegn G.K. avers that the jurisdiction of the court extends from the determination of disputes related to the interpretation and application of the Charter, the Protocol and other instruments ratified by state parties, to provide an advisory opinion to the AU or any African organization recognized by the AU on legal matters. For many a key judicial issue, lies between the question of an independent judicial system and the question of impunity. The court can put pressure on states to lessen their hold on the courts, which they use to massively violate human rights throughout the region as cited in the Journal of Public administration.
Courts Response To Human Right Violations
According to UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity between 2006 to 2020, 174 journalists have been killed in Africa, and unfortunately only 10.3% of the cases that were reported have been judicially resolved. The above paints a grim picture albeit there are a few landmark decisions made
by the court on Human and Peoples’ Rights directly contributed to strengthening freedom of expression and to fight impunity for crimes committed against journalists on the African continent.
End Impunity: Promote Free Speech
In the case of Norbert Zongo, the Court has undoubtedly made a direct contribution to ending impunity for crimes against journalists wherein the Court found that the delay in prosecuting the assassination in 1998 of investigative
journalist Norbert Zongo and his companions constituted a violation of their rights to a fair trial, namely to have their cause heard within a reasonable time. In what is known to be one of its overall landmark judgment on the merits, the Court found that the Respondent, the State, failed to uphold its duty to due diligence as no trial was conducted in more than 15 years in a case where Zongo was allegedly about to release a report on investigations involving officials including the brother to the then President of Burkina Faso.
In its judgment on reparations, the Court also awarded a quantum of 1 million USD compensation to the beneficiaries for material and moral damages suffered as a consequence of the violations established.
Similarly, in the case of Lohe Issa Konate exemplifies the contribution of the Court to the protection of journalists in Africa. The issues at hand were strongly focused on the freedom of expression rather than an attempt to the applicant’s life. In its ruling on the merits, the Court found that the one-year imprisonment against Konaté for publishing newspaper articles that were critical to the prosecutor constituted a breach of his freedom of expression as it was disproportionate.
Further to this the Court held that authorities who discharge public functions should be prone to a higher level of criticism and prison sentences would therefore deter journalists from performing the very critical duty of exposing shortfalls in public governance. As a result of the violations found, the Court ordered the Respondent, the State, to amend its laws accordingly and reinstate the Applicant’s banned newspapers, and pay compensation.
Finally, it is worth referring to the judgment rendered by the Court in the matter of Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza regarding freedom of speech in a political setting. The matter relates to statements made by opposition leader Umuhoza which were found by domestic courts to constitute denial of the Tutsi genocide. The findings of the court were that the remarks made by the Applicant did not constitute minimisation of the genocide against the Tutsi and therefore found her conviction to violate her freedom of expression. Although the case did not involve a journalist, it provides an interpretative position to understanding limitations to freedom of expression in instances such as genocide where states may use the restriction to silence critics, including media professionals. In the Umuhoza case, the Court ordered the Respondent State to restore the Applicant’s rights and pay her compensation for material and moral loss suffered by herself and her family members.
Therefore, the effect of such outcomes is the greatly wedged against the domestic systems of each country involved and must be evaluated from a normative, regulatory and judicial perspectives. Human rights are not just a construct based on ideals. They have deep roots in the traditions of all peoples. The primary focus for the promotion and protection of human rights is at the national level, an African level and an international level, it is the primary responsibility of Africa and all its people to ensure that human rights are promoted, protected and fulfilled.
“Our experience over the last 20 years has shown that indeed people must themselves become their own liberators. You cannot wait for somebody else to come and rescue you.” Thabo Mbeki
Written by: Dr. Kim Lamont-Mbawuli
Nigerian-Born Ayomide Idogun On Creating Impact
Ayomide Idogun is the co-founder at the New African Movement, an initiative aimed at ensuring Africa is conducive for Africans. Ayomide is a development strategist, policy analyst, and military historian with a major flair for transformative change through strategic thought, leadership, and empowerment.
Recently, he had the opportunity to be a delegate at the Arab Youth International Model United Nations Conference, now known as the Best Diplomats Conference, held in Dubai. Beyond the piquancy that came with meeting over 150 people from about 80 countries, and the experience of learning different cultures, the delegates were largely charged with proffering solutions to solving the global food crisis. Ayomide represented the great people of Guatemala, who sadly are no strangers to this phenomenon, with 4.6 million people at the least, facing the hunger crisis, and suffering hugely from food insecurity.
This led him to come up with prospective solutions, to ensure farmer empowerment, and the mitigation of factors hindering food supply minimized to the barest minimum, so as to ensure Guatemala does not just become self-sustaining, but grows to the point of exporting food produce to other Nations. His efforts did not go unrewarded as he bagged the Outstanding Diplomat Award, in recognition of his outstanding negotiation, leadership, and overall performance during the course of the conference.
He is a trainer and speaker with core area in leadership, capacity building and development. Some of his engagements amongst others, includes, training members of the African community in the United Arab Emirates, on capacity building and maximizing potentials, to ensure their time and resources are utilized to maximal effect. And at the maiden edition of DisruptHR Lagos, organized by OutsideinHR, where he spoke on the role COVID-19 played on priorities for humanity, and the ever-changing landscape of work.
Ayomide Idogun holds a degree in Policy and Strategic Studies from Covenant University, a second degree in History and Strategic Studies from the University of Lagos, and he is currently enrolled in the School of Politics, Policy and Governance, where he is undergoing the Public Leadership and Policy Programme.
Scrabble for Africa Reborn?
Kamala Harris, U.S Vice President (Image: Reuters)
In a speech presented to a group of women entrepreneurs in Dakar, Senegal early this year, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated that the United States had come as a partner to help Africa realize its massive economic potential. Arguably, Africa has long been a continent of interest to Western countries, and in recent years, their influence has been growing at an unprecedented rate. Whether it is through economic investments, military partnerships, or cultural exchanges, Western nations have been making significant strides in establishing themselves as key players on the African continent. It appears that most developed countries are trying to grow their influence on the African continent in what appears like the rebirth of the scrabble for Africa of the 19th century, albeit not through direct colonization but other different forms of control and influence.
Could it be coincidental that nearly all world power countries are visiting Africa at intervals not seen in the recent past? The first quarter of 2023 witnessed the visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, the visit of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to Senegal, Zambia and South Africa, the visit of China’s foreign Minister Qin Gang to Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, Angola and Benin, the visit of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to South Africa, Botswana and Angola and the visit of France President Emmanuel Macron to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Angola and the Republic of Congo. Each of these high-level visitors has argued that their visits are aimed at creating meaningful partnerships with African countries with France acknowledging that foreign powers are jostling for influence in Africa.
The French President added that Africa is a theatre of competition and advanced countries are seeking long term partnerships. In an interview at the white house after her recent trip to Africa, US vice President Kamala Harris argued that by 2050, one in four people occupying space of earth will be in Africa and as such, this presented a lot of opportunities in terms of the future and since Africa has a median age, the demographics have an impact on the entire globe. It appears the leaders from advanced countries are seeing the potential that Africa has and are each trying to clinch partnerships in the continent but can the same be said of African leaders? How many African leaders have taken time to visit each other to discuss the opportunities in their nations and work on actualising them?
The real question that African leaders should ask is, why is Africa becoming a theatre of Competition for foreign nations when it can be a centre of cooperation for the advancement of the continent? Is it not true that when elephants are fighting, it is the grass that suffers and in this case the grass will be Africa?
Africa is home to some of the world’s largest reserves of mineral resources such as diamonds, gold, platinum, copper, and iron ore, among others. Undoubtedly, Africa is the richest continent and therefore, its untapped trade potential is very attractive. It is no wonder that developed countries are competing to foster relations with African countries. However, it should be noted that the competition for Africa’s resources has a long history, dating back to colonial times when European powers scrambled for control of Africa’s land and resources. Today, the scramble for Africa is driven by a range of factors, which include the growing demand for natural resources, and Africa’s emergence as a key market for consumer goods and services.
The trade potential that each country in Africa has, if well exploited would be sufficient to end some of the major challenges faced. However, the focus has mostly been on external trade with developed countries rather than intra-Africa trade hence unfavourable outcomes. Trade with developed countries has mostly been unfair due to factors such as developed countries using their economic and political power to negotiate trade deals that favour their own interests at the expense of African countries.
Further, African countries often lack the bargaining power in trade negotiations due to being small compared to their trading partners and may be forced to accept unfavourable terms in order to access advanced markets. It is interesting that the pricing of commodities predominantly found in Africa is determined by the developed countries and Africa has no control whatsoever. The question remains, what voice do African countries have to decide on what and who to trade with as they seek to actualise their potential?
African countries should come to a realisation that their strengths lies in their numbers and the ability to work together. Why should Zambia order fuel from far countries and incur huge transport costs instead of importing from Angola, its neighbour? Africa will be respected on the global stage when economic decisions such as trade focus on inward solutions rather than continued dependency. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which should be the world’s largest single market is a key weapon to boost Africa’s economic freedom. Africa should not come to the trade table as beggars but rather equal partners because the World needs what Africa has and not only the other way round.
Working in partnership with other countries is not the problem, but having only one partner benefiting is. While it is true that scrabble for Africa is history, its reoccurrence in the form of control, power and cultural change should be questioned. It’s a call for leaders, investors, Africans and interested stakeholders to ensure that African interests and viewpoints are prioritised by all in working towards bettering people’s lives. Africa has potential to be its own redeemer instead of being ripped apart in the fierce struggle resembling the scrabble for Africa. In the context of globalisation, Africa should seek meaningful and mutually beneficial deals that are only possible when it comes to the negotiating tables as equal partners, not as directionless people who need deliverance.
By: Nchimunya Muvwende
Prof. Remi Duyile on Nigeria 2023 election and advice to the youths
Prof. Remi Duyile, Founder Legacy Premier Foundation
As Nigerians are gearing up and campaigning for the 2023 election begins, Business Africa Online asked Prof. Remi Duyile share her thoughts on what this election means to her and why everyone must be involved, why we cannot afford to get it wrong this time around, and advice to the youths. Excerpts.
I held a political role in Nigeria a few years ago, which provided me with a good understanding of the country’s political institutions. As we approach another year in the political chapters of Nigerian history, we must not only look forward with expectations but also reflect on our previous experiences in order to identify and choose the right leaders for our future.
We’ve all heard the saying “,those who fail to learn from history are likely to repeat it.” With elections approaching, it is critical that we look back and critically examine not only the people, but also the patterns that have led us here. We cannot build the Nigeria we want without learning from the past and making the necessary adjustments while preparing for the future. It takes time for change to occur, just like Rome did not rise overnight. Nevertheless, now is the time to lay the foundation for the Nigeria we seek to build, tomorrow.
There may be a question in your mind as to what these foundations are. There is first of all a sense of worth and worthiness in life. For any nation to fully develop, it must place a high value on the lives of its residents. As we prepare for the next elections, we must question which of these candidates prioritizes the worth of life and a sense of being Nigerian citizens. This includes: freedom of speech, equality and democratic processes at all levels. This is a priority because unless the worth of life and a sense of self are prioritized above all else, even the best-looking prospects will ultimately become unyielding and dictatorial.
Secondly, there is the growth of human capital and socioeconomic empowerment. It is common knowledge that every industrialized country prioritizes these two factors. No nation is more powerful than its economic potential. Our leaders must be intentional about this. Being a producing nation is one way to successfully enforce this. Nigeria is a great country, yet we are unable to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
All human capacities that can help to improve our economy include the capacity to create, invent, strategize, and engage. To think for ourselves, to maximize the potential of our teeming young people, to generate opportunities and employment, all of these are vital for progress and must be prioritized if we are to see any change in our nation.
Afripreneur1 day ago
Mary Njoki is helping startups tell their stories through Glass House PR
Afripreneur2 days ago
Deraya entrepreneurship initiative to boost job creation in Libya
Press Release3 hours ago
MoCaFi, founded by Nigerian Wole Coaxum, raises $23.5M funding to end racial wealth inequality