New Era for Democracy in Africa

Members of the Pan-African Parliament

After five years of campaigning, the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance (ACDEG) will finally come into force in February after Cameroon became the 15th country to officially deposit its instruments of ratification – following swiftly on the heels of Niger (November 2011), and Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria (January 2012).

Adopted in January 2007, the Charter seeks to promote adherence by each State Party to the universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights premised upon the supremacy of the constitution and constitutional order – and there is hope that the ratification of the Charter will signal a new era in Africa based on the links between free and fair elections, good governance and promotion of the rule of law.

In a continent that was so long renowned for its military coups and civilian dictators, the coming into force of the ACDEG is another postive step forwards and another sign that Africa is leaving its turbulent and un-democratic past behind. The Charter proclaims a new dawn of democracy rooted in the rule of law.

The African Charter is remarkable in a lot of respects. It reaffirms Africa’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law. It clearly abhors unconstitutional change of government and provides in article 25(5) a possible framework for international prosecution of people who forcefully take over government.

It furthers restates the principle of transparency and accountability in government and provides for the independence of the judiciary. It reaffirms the primacy of the rule of law and calls on state parties to initiate appropriate measures, including legislative, executive and administrative actions to bring State Parties’ national laws and regulations in conformity with the Charter.

Initially, countries were very slow to ratify the Charter. But a lengthy advocacy campaign by civil society – including AfriMAP’s 11 ratifications before 2011 campaign with the Pan-African Parliament – has finally paid off. However, considerable work still needs to be done. Along with the 15 countries (listed below) that have deposited their instruments of ratification, two other countries have ratified the Charter but not yet officially deposited their instruments – leaving 37 African States that have still not ratified the Charter.