The theme for the year is “Silencing the guns: creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development”. The existence of the Covid-19 pandemic has done little to stem the violence that prevails in parts of our continent. The year is almost at an end, yet countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Libya, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland, among others, continue to experience instability and conflict.
Complying with external commitments is often a challenge of many a member state of the AU. Countries form part of a continental body called the AU because they value the need for and power of a coherent, successful, collaborative, pan-African programme. Despite this insight, however, the complexity of the contemporary world has governments and political parties almost consumed by domestic pressures.
The stubborn challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, exacerbated by population growth, urbanisation, and climate change are excessively demanding, leaving little time for compliance with regional and international obligations.
The prevalence of intra-state political instability, however, transcends compliance capabilities. The state of social development in each country seems to be a source of problems itself in that it opens leadership to the temptation to pander to external interests and wittingly or unwittingly sacrifice African unity and solidarity to placate less patriotic agendas; even those well-rounded and highly skilled leaders who have a clear passion for the development of their countries and the continent.
Intra-state conflict is often not only of our own making; it is also fuelled by our vulnerability to external interests that often exploit the desperation of leaders to end precarious conditions facing their communities, by either creating or exploiting misunderstandings or divisions to compromise nation state sovereignty.
A challenge that is often promoted as a contributor to conflict is the public governance system within a country, and external interventions are often directed towards this area. While economic independence is a priority for peace, reflecting on the efficacy of a governance system has merit. Conflict, particularly war, is often an agenda of the elite.
It is largely a war of the few, in the interest of a few, purporting to represent the majority. Most often, however, the general populace seeks only stability; to get on with daily life; to put food on the table; and to love family and friends.
A sustainable resolution to conflict is therefore the institution of a governance system that constructively draws on and positively directs the energies and capabilities of the broader masses.
Peace, security and stability cannot be sustained if governance powers and authority and public resources are not conferred and distributed fairly and transparently; in a manner that recognises the importance of, and manages, a multitude of interests.
Such interests include intra-party interests; inter-party interests; ethnic or religious interests; the role of traditional leaders; the role and composition of the military; electoral integrity; judicial integrity; independent oversight; access to and control of natural resources; redress for the marginalised including women; the socio-economic developmental expectations of the general populace; as well as the mechanisms to ensure participatory and people-centred governance.
The governance configuration or the way power, authority and resources is devolved between central and sub-national government, and the people; and between the executive, parliament and the judiciary, is fundamental to managing intra-state conflict. Decentralisation rather than securitisation is the most effective form of governance for managing the challenges facing the continent.
While most countries on the continent have embraced decentralisation as a mode of governance, implementation has been slow.
Some of the factors impeding the roll-out of decentralisation are: geographically disparate distribution of economic potential, resources and activities, making revenue generation at a local level difficult in those communities that were less economically endowed; inadequate skills and human resource capacity; the real threat of ethnic conflict due to sub-national interests sometimes superseding national interests; the use of sub-national power to consolidate personal power bases and own political agendas; reinforcement of ethnic identity; and general fragmentation that makes it difficult for national cohesion around a common strategic developmental objective.
But the challenges facing the continent are so huge that they cannot be solved by central government alone nor any single institution – neither the state, nor the market, nor organised citizenry.
Decentralisation has worked in instances where there has been a strong central government that set the socio-economic vision for a country with sufficient empowerment of sub-national and local governments to, within the national framework and instruments for policy alignment and programmatic coherence across the governance levels, drive social and economic development by involving a wide, all-inclusive range of stakeholders within a given geographic area.
Legislative, institutional and implementation mechanisms to enable embedded decentralisation should be introduced in the six key areas.
First, there needs to be an appropriate political framework that clearly designates the powers and functions assigned to each sphere and pillar of the government and is supported by legislated prescriptions for intergovernmental relations and the relationship between the democratically elected structures and traditional leaders.
A strong national government must be supported by the allocation of adequate powers and functions to sub-national governments to facilitate inclusion and equal access to services and development.
Then, the allocation of powers between the president and prime minister, where allowance for both the authorities exist, should be of such a manner that the will of the people cannot be undermined.
Second, a clear political framework needs to be supported with an appropriate fiscal framework, which includes legislated oversight mechanisms related to intergovernmental fiscal relations and accountability, monitoring and control and clear punitive measures for maladministration and corruption.
The fiscal design should facilitate economic inclusion. Central facilitation should ensure equitable distribution. Allowance should also be made to promote local procurement and to ensure community benefit of natural resources.
Third, sub-national boundaries must be defined in a manner that facilitates spatial equity in terms of economic realities and potentials, to better enable racial, ethnic and religious integration. Boundary demarcation should be legislatively protected with an institutional mechanism to manage disputes.
Furthermore, there should be structured, sustainable platforms of engagement to promote citizen influence and oversight to ensure responsive and responsible leadership through enhanced accountability.
Fifth, linked to this is the need for a transparent, reliable, and fair electoral system, with the role of the military within a democratic state being clearly defined. The process and governance in general must be protected by independent oversight institutions.
Last, human resource management must be effective. Sub-national governments must have adequate capacity to manage the powers and functions devolved to them. All spheres of government need to be adequately resourced with competent, skilled staff that are able to efficiently discharge their responsibilities without political interference.
A common national framework of standards, to ensure effective and enhanced delivery of professional, quality and affordable services to communities supported by a people-centred approach to development is required.
While there is cause for concern regarding the effectiveness of decentralisation on the continent, if we tailor it in a manner that speaks to the unique conditions of the continent; ensure that it is developmental; and that it is informed by a collaborative, human-agency approach to governance that is cognisant of the non-individualistic nature and community-spirit traditionally inherent in Africa, it could be applied successfully.
Collaboration between the government, business and communities is beneficial to all.
By devolving powers and functions to governance structures that are closer to the people, we increase community participation in public administrative decision making while retaining strong central co-ordination; we access a greater pool of ideas and resources and this enables us to set our countries on the path to greater political stability and to better conditions for accelerated development – critical if the continent is indeed to attain the goals of its Agenda 2063.
*Article by Reneva Fourie