By Assane Mbaye (Alliance pour Refonder la Gouvernance en Afrique, March 2006)
The action plan produced by the forum on governance in Africa—a forum organised by the Alliance and the African Union—provides for the creation of an inter-African research group on modes of governance in Africa. The main goal of this group will be to construct the continent’s intellectual autonomy on governance issues. To achieve this objective, the group hopes to mobilise the potential of researchers who will produce knowledge useful for rebuilding governance. Both ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ modes of governance will be treated.
The governance crisis is a major factor in the difficulties encountered by the African continent when attempting to provide for its own economic and social development and play a true role on the world stage. While this crisis exists elsewhere in the world, in Africa it takes on specific forms and so requires specific responses. Unfortunately, the responses applied up until now have almost always been imposed on Africa by the outside world, or based on models designed for contexts quite different from African realities. They have, as a result, been both unsuitable and ineffective. At the same time, Africa has not managed to construct, validate and implement its own project for regulating its societies.
Today most actors from all milieus are looking for a new set of rules to guarantee the continent’s development and equilibrium as well as its inclusion in globalisation. Even actors from outside the continent now realise that the need to change the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world and establish new worldwide regulatory systems is a joint challenge, the success of which will colour the future of the entire planet, not just Africa.
There is a recognised need for new rules. It is also clear to all involved that these rules must be designed with African realities in mind if they are to be legitimate and take root in African societies. Since 1999, the Alliance for Rebuilding Governance in Africa has been committed to this battle for indepth change in the modes of governance applied in Africa—change based on a project defined by Africans, rooted in the values of African societies and capable of meeting the needs of Africans in a globalised world.
The AU, for its part, has worked since its creation to get Africa to take the initiative and construct its own vision on governance issues, while respecting universal values and principles shared by all societies.
At the Addis Forum, the premises for rebuilding governance in Africa, as stated by ARGA and the AU, were combined and confirmed. These premises are: an African project and legitimate modes of governance that take into account African values and realities as well as the experiences and practices of all actors. The Forum did not, however, lose sight of the fact that a number of challenges must be met for such an ambitious objective to be attained. These challenges fit hand in glove with the premises indicated. If the project is to be African, Africa and its people must be able to construct a credible African way of thinking about the modes of regulation currently used on the continent.
If rules are to be legitimate and take African values into account, the latter must be perfectly understood and mastered. What are these values? Do they still have the same meaning, content and pertinence that they once had? How have they changed? Are they compatible with universal principles of governance? Will they give Africa a better place in the world?
Finally, if modes of governance are to take into account the practices and concrete experiences of actors, these must be identified in all their diversity and brought together in order to distil joint principles that can be applied and with which all identify.
These three challenges reveal the continued existence of a basic requirement common to all attempts to rebuild governance in Africa: the need for knowledge. To meet these challenges, the Action Plan has provided for the creation of an inter-African research group on modes of governance in Africa. The objective of this group will be to carry out research and produce ideas, not only on the current means of regulating African societies, but also on traditional modes of governance.
The Alliance and the AU share this keen interest in research: the AU has made development of research one of its fundamental objectives, while the Alliance believes that the link between action and reflection is an inherent requirement for any legitimate form of governance.
Overall objective: mobilise African and non-African human resource potential to provide more extensive and indepth research on modes of governance and the stakes involved.
Contribute to the production, systematisation and diffusion of knowledge on modes of governance in Africa, including traditional modes.
Contribute to the transversal analysis and conceptualisation of the concrete experiences of actors in governance.
Contribute to the improvement of Africa’s participation in debates on world governance.
Contribute to the creation of proposals to improve governance in Africa.
III- Expected results
1/ Create spaces and tools for debating and exchanging on the various ways of thinking about governance
2/ Put the operational results of research in the hands of actors, in particular policy makers.
1/ Means of setting up the research group
1st principle: Use existing research networks and organisations as a basis.
The group could be launched quickly thanks to the potential that the Alliance can mobilise immediately through its directory, partners (IRG, for example) and the researchers and institutes that participated in the Forum on governance in Africa. Little by little, the group will be widened to include other African organisations and researchers, such as CODESRIA in Senegal, CDD and IEA in Ghana, universities, etc.
2nd principle: Focus primarily on university environments, while also looking at other groups that study governance issues (traditional researchers, civil society organisations, institutional and non-institutional actors).
3rd principle: Guarantee the diversity of ways of thinking about modes of governance
Debates on governance may crystallise around schools of thought that develop different approaches and strategies. The research group should reflect this diversity by including all ways of thinking.
2/ Theme choices
The group is expected to carry out research on all governance themes. It could, however, initially give priority to precise themes related to points in the Addis Action Plan and current AU expectations and to the themes of regional initiative groups set up by the Alliance: local governance and decentralisation, economic governance, building peace and resolving conflicts, judicial pluralism.
Research for third-parties: the group carries out research not only on its own initiative, but occasionally for others as well.
Publications on modes of governance in Africa: for example in the quarterly review that the Alliance plans to create, in the monthly newsletter on the website and from time to time in book form. The Alliance and the AU could consider co-publishing a review to diffuse the results of the group’s research regularly.
Organisation of and participation in encounters focusing on governance issues.
Development and operation of a system to monitor changes in objectives, practices and thinking about governance.