Africa has good accountability, but mainly only in theory

Africa as a continent and its countries mostly have good laws, standards and policies on accountability. But they have mostly weak institutions for implementing those laws and standards and policies.

This is the conclusion of a book just published by the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA) based at Wits University in Johannesburg.

“African Accountability; What Works and What Doesn’t”, was edited by Steven Gruzd, head of SAIIA’s governance and African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) programme and his deputy Yarik Turianskyi.

It comprises analysis by African and international experts on a wide range of national and continental accountability institutions, including the African Union (AU), the APRM, the courts, Parliaments, election management bodies and ombudsmen.

“It’s not rocket science,” Gruzd said at the launch of the book in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.

“We are going about building institutions on our continent. We are trying to empower them. We have good laws in some cases. In some case we don’t have good laws. We have some of the most progressive constitutions in the world. We look at the hundreds of standards our leaders have developed over the decades. (like the APRM) So we are not short of policy; we are not short of constitutions.

“[But] we have weak institutions that are often not well funded, not well staffed, politically vulnerable, sometimes politically penetrated and that struggle to find their way and find their voice.

“But, as in all things, we also struggle with executing, with putting plans into practice, spending our budgets, really making a difference and doing the work, rather than just talking about it.

“Generally the more independent the institution, the better the results in terms of where it is on governance.”

Gruzd said that Nicole Fritz, founder of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) in Johannesburg, had written the chapter on the role of the courts in accountability, citing several case studies.

One was how the threat of legal action by SALC had persuaded Sri Lanka not to appoint a military general, suspected of committing atrocities against Tamils in the country’s civil war, as deputy high commissioner (ambassador) in Pretoria.

In another legal case SALC had got the High Court to force the South African police to investigate a case, where very senior Zimbabwean political and security force leaders were accused of torturing members of the political opposition.

But Fritz also illustrated the limits of court action by citing the case last year where the South African government had ignored a High Court order secured by SALC to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a fugitive from the International Criminal Court, when he visited South Africa.

Gruzd said the French academic Ivan Crouzel examined how bad elections undermined the legitimacy of governments.

Turianskyi cited the Nigerian researcher Shola Omotola, who concluded that despite all the AU’s efforts to promote and monitor democratic elections, elections remained the weak link in the continent’s democratic chain and often proved to be a liability not the asset they were supposed to be.

Gruzd said the University of KwaZulu Natal academic John Mubangizi had compared the role of ombudsmen around Africa and had found that Malawi’s was particularly bad and that South Africa’s equivalent, the Public Protector, was one of the best.

But he also noted that even South Africa’s current Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had come under enormous pressure from the ruling ANC party, and had even been accused of being a CIA agent.

Gruzd said the Dutch academic Lia Nijzink, working from Cape Town had concluded that African Parliaments – theoretically the linchpiin of democracy – mostly had considerable powers, but often did not use them.

– African News Agency