AU: The state of the Union

Pambazuka News The 2010 State of the Union Continental Report ranks 10 African countries in order of most to least progressive based on a number of areas of focus, including the promotion of human rights amongst the citizenry and the level of democratic governance. The African Union comes under scrutiny in this report in a bid to effectively promote development. Lucy Bamforth takes a look at the report’s findings and implications for the countries investigated, and the continent at large.

Ranked in order from most to least progressive, ten African countries are vying to be among the most progressive nations on the continent in accordance with the 2010 State of the Union Continental Report. Constructed and researched by both international and continental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs), this newly launched report aims to deliver a powerful message to the African Union (AU): By delaying protocol ratifications, you are denying millions of Africans their political, educational and medical wellbeing.

The State of the Union Continental Report marks a departure from focusing on single governments, instead shifting attention the entire AU body, whose agreements and instruments are supposed to safeguard the fourteen areas of African society that were used to measure progress in the report.

The 10 countries reviewed by the report committee: Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa, were drawn from each of the five regions of Africa. This continental report was born out of the need to analyse the progress being made by African governments since the AU agreed in February 2009 to ratify all outstanding agreements by July 2010. At the time there were 1,800 agreements to ratify; in the 18 months since the meeting only 800 have been ratified, leaving 1,000 ratifications to be made by the end of July to reach the targeted deadline. Unfortunately, this is virtually impossible.

Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s Pan-Africa Policy Advisor, called the results of the report the ‘stark reality of non-implementation’, as he presented the findings, which unveiled the effects that non-ratification have had on countries such as Nigeria, whose democratic governance earned it last place among the ten ranked countries, and Cameroon, whose women were the least equitable.

‘It just shows you that while sitting in your country you think you’re doing everything good but compared to other people you have to do a lot more work,’ said Ghanaian Hannah Opoku Gyamfi, a programme administration officer at the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG). As IDEG was one of the members of the report’s research team, Opoku Gyamfi was able to foresee the impact of the report while it was still being pulled together.

‘As part of the [research] process we had the validation workshop and some of the government officials were there. They could attest to the fact that this is the truth being put on paper and it helps you in advocating for good governance reforms,’ she said.

Opoku Gyamfi’s fellow researcher Alexis Nkurunziza, of the Rwandan Collective of Leagues and Associations for the Defense of Human Rights (CLADHO), agrees that the report will likely have an impact on policy makers and the AU:

‘It was a bit difficult when we were doing research because people are not accustomed in this kind of research, but there is really good interest. People want to know about what everyone is doing at the AU. Citizens want to hold governments accountable for what they are signing at Addis Ababa. They want to know why they are not consulted.’

Wole Olaleye of Fair Play for Africa, however, wasn’t quite ready to whole heartedly herald the report’s success:

‘I think it’s a very important initiative and I think it’s a very welcome one, but I think we need to go beyond a very descriptive report around which countries signed, which countries didn’t sign to begin to really go behind some of the reasons why countries are failing to sign.’

His critique is one that is echoed by the report’s architects, who make several recommendations for supervisory bodies and review boards, and call on governments to uphold their commitments and CSOs to hold governments accountable.

But Olaleye makes another point about the focus of the report, commenting on the way it breaks down the issues facing the AU into different areas of study:

‘An African person is a whole person. An African person is not just an electorate. An African person is not just a person that is suffering from food. This is a whole person that is experiencing all those things all at once. Questions around food, questions about education, questions around health, questions around good governance, everything has to be in it. I think collectively we have to find a mechanism by which we begin to address these issues simultaneously.’

The report pares the agreements down into fourteen key areas, which are further reduced into seven score cards on which the ten reviewed African nations are listed in rank order from most to least progressive. The findings of eight summary areas: human rights, status of ratification on AU protocols, democratic governance, food security and environment, healthcare, rights of women, rights of the child and rights of the youth, were used to make the report’s final recommendations for the progress of the AU.

In the area of inequality, human rights and fundamental freedoms the report found that Africa is experiencing more transparency and democracy today than it has done in the past thirty years, which is evidently a point to be celebrated. To further that good news, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that despite the global economic downturn, many of the world’s 20 fastest growing economies in 2010 will be African, and improvements in basic education, agriculture and commitment to fighting fatal diseases are beginning to reverse the decades of damage caused by the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). Where the ten reviewed countries are concerned, seven had less than 50 per cent of their populations living in extreme poverty, whereas Nigeria, Rwanda and Mozambique had over 50 per cent of their populations living in extreme poverty. Egypt was marked as the most progressive country in this respect, along with Senegal and Kenya, though the income gaps in Kenya (ranked third) and South Africa (ranked seventh) are growing.

The second score card – the current status of the AU – is based on four policy frameworks adopted by the AU, two of which deal with health, the third with sexual health and the fourth with agricultural development. While every African country had ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, only nineteen had ratified the African Youth Charter, and a disappointing three had ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governments. The report cites the greatest issue facing the universal ratification of the protocols as the lack of communication across ministries and between offices when it comes to ratifying AU charters and agreements. Department turnovers and changes in office with little conferring between staff means the follow-up to protocol ratification rarely occurs, leaving potential protocol ratifications to start again from scratch when they may have been previously nearing ratification. Out of the ten member states Rwanda led the group with nine out of ten key protocols ratified by January of this year. Mozambique ranked second and Ghana third, while the final three were Algeria, Egypt and Cameroon – the two former having ratified five, the latter four. None of the ten countries had ratified the Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, though five had signed the protocol. The report recommends that supervision of protocol ratification be left to a body of the AU itself, rather than to the NGOs and CSOs who monitor the actions of African governments.

The third area covered in the report is that of democracy and human rights, where Africa has simultaneously made leaps and bounds whilst falling behind its own progress. In 1990 only five African countries were being run by democratic, multi-party governments, while the remaining 48 were administrated by governments established through military coups, armed struggled, de facto one party states or colonisers. By 2008 the number of democratically elected, multi-party governments was up to 18, though a quarter of those democracies – Togo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Kenya – have been marred by pre- and post-election violence in the past four years. Freedom of the press, a crucial indicator of democracy, is still a pressing issue in a number of African countries, while governmental corruption runs high in Kenya, Nigeria and Mozambique, leading to a general mistrust of politicians and government offices. The nature of democracy and elections made it difficult for the report composers to rank the ten reviewed countries in terms of progress towards democracy, though they noted that elections in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Egypt have been marked by disappearances, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, particularly among the rural and urban poor communities. Press freedom remains restricted in Rwanda and Mozambique, but progress has been made in the establishment of human rights commissions in five of the ten reviewed countries.

The fourth area reported, the right to food security and conservation of nature, is of particular importance at the moment as West Africa faces one of the most serious food shortages in recent memory caused by crop failures and irregular rainfalls. The report details an unfortunate regression in food security in Africa. Whereas fifty years ago Africa was self-sufficient and a net exporter of food to the rest of the world, currently the continent exports one-third of its gain and the number of food emergencies has tripled since the 1980s because of soil infertility, land degradation and HIV/AIDS. Faced with these food insecurities, the AU designed the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture in 2003, whereby ratifying countries must allocate 10 per cent of their budget to investment in agriculture. Only seven African countries have met this target, only two of which – Ghana and Senegal – were in the ten countries reviewed by the report committee. By contrast, Kenya, Cameroon and Rwanda spend less than five per cent on their agricultural sectors, though Rwanda’s agricultural output has increased by 30 per cent despite not meeting the declaration’s standards. In terms of malnourishment, Mozambique, Rwanda and Cameroon have the greatest rates of malnourishment (at 47, 37 and 35 per cent of the population, respectively), while Algeria, Egypt and South Africa currently hold the best records for low rates of malnourishment out of the ten reviewed countries (at 5, 3 and 0 per cent of the population, respectively). Pollution, deforestation, water shortages and the availability of pastureland are predicted to pose serious threats to human security in several African countries in 2010. Africa’s oil-bearing nations will likewise continue to grapple with industrial waste pollution.

The right to health is the fifth score card area examined by the report, which concludes that Africa has made strides through frameworks to meet the child and maternal health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but that there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure those goals are met by their 2015 deadline. Only six African countries have met the target of 15 per cent national budget expenditure on healthcare, and most African countries spend only US$54 per person on essential health services. Countries such as Tanzania have chosen to spend less on healthcare than they were a few years ago, despite the fact that one in 24 mothers will die from pregnancy or other complications related to childbirth. Unsafe abortions account for 14 per cent of all maternal deaths in Africa. Many African countries have outlawed the procedure. Of the six countries responsible for 50 per cent of the maternal deaths in the world, three of them are African. The numbers for maternal mortality have been dropping, however, from 160 per 1,000 to 145 per 1,000 between 2006 and 2007. Incidences of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria have are stabilising, and drugs to fight these diseases are becoming more available. In terms of the ten country rankings, Rwanda was the only country to meet the 15 per cent target mark for national budget expenditure on healthcare, while Nigeria and Ghana both spend less than five per cent of their national budget on healthcare. Algeria and Egypt have the lowest mortality rates of the ranked countries, at 1 in 220 and 1 in 110, respectively.

The rights of women on the African continent were also evaluated by the State of the Union Continental Report, which unfortunately showed an enormous disparity gap between males and females in Africa. For example, 80 per cent of the farmers in Africa are women, yet they control less than one per cent of the land. More than 40 per cent of women in Africa do not have an education, despite the enormous health and economic gains that will be made later in life if a girl receives just six years of education. Of the ten reviewed countries, Rwanda again came out on top with the most equitable society between the genders, followed by South Africa and Kenya. Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon were rated as having the least equitable societies of those reported. In places where gains are being made, those gains may not be spreading into the rural communities where more traditional lifestyles are still the norm and where women are still subject to harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM). Ghana and South Africa, who were both making gains in equity in the past decade, have begun slowing in the progress made.

The seventh area of the report’s investigation deals with the rights of children. Of the 53 African nations that make up the African continent, only two countries, Algeria and Egypt, are set to meet the MDG target of reducing the mortality rate of children under five by two-thirds. Rwanda has been making rapid gains in reducing its child mortality rate, but Kenya and Mozambique have disappointingly experienced an increase in child mortality, and there has been little progress made in ensuring children stay in school rather than seek employment at a young age. Primary education parity is growing in most African countries and Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and Nigeria are well on their way to meeting the MDG to close the disparity gap between girls and boys receiving primary education. The report doesn’t rank the ten reviewed countries in order of least to most progressive for this area of investigation, but instead names the difficulties facing each country on their way to meeting the MDGs concerning child mortality and primary education. In Mozambique and Ghana, for example, child marriages and sexual harassment of girls have had regressive effects on the progress of parity. Discrimination still affects children born out of wedlock and of varied ability in Nigeria and Kenya, little is being done in most countries to provide children with an alternative to entering the labour force and child trafficking remains an untraceable issue in Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria and Cameroon.

The final area analysed by the review board was that of the rights of youth in Africa. With 70 per cent of its population under the age of thirty, Africa is the world’s youngest continent, but three out of five youth are unemployed and three quarters of African youth live on less than one dollar a day. With poor labour markets currently affecting most African countries and a global recession in effect around the world, this trend is likely to grow. However, the ten reviewed countries are enjoying some progress in the area of youth rights. During the report’s review period, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria all passed national youth policies aimed at getting youth educated and employed, though education about HIV/AIDS was lower than the targeted 2010 levels and HIV/AIDS testing was irregular across all ten reviewed countries.

The report, as well as the recommendations made by the review committee can be viewed in full on line at the State of the Union website. This report does have its shortcomings; it only focuses on ten countries and only on 14 areas of the AU, but it is a thorough and independent report about the progress of the AU and its member states. With over a year and a half of research to back up its findings, and with these findings likely to be used by a number of CSOs and NGOs in Africa, this is evidently a document that African leaders are not going to be able to dispute. It might be too late to meet the July 2010 ratification deadline, but armed with this report the AU might be encouraged to ratify the remaining 1,200 protocols by this time next year.

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