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Democratic Participation Said to Be Deepening in Africa

  • James Butty

Amos Sawyer (Courtesy: African Peer Review Mechanism).

Amos Sawyer (Courtesy: African Peer Review Mechanism).

The outgoing chairman of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Panel of Eminent Persons said the process has increased democratic participation and promoted policy dialogue across Africa.

Amos Sawyer, former interim president of Liberia, said more and more incumbent leaders are being defeated in multiparty elections.

The comments came as the APRM celebrated 10 years of its founding.

Its mandate is to encourage conformity among African countries in regard to political, economic and corporate governance values.

Some critics say the peer reviews of individual countries have lacked citizen participation.

Sawyer said the APRM has made a difference in deepening democracy in Africa.

“For a country that joins the Peer Review process, it requires that you open up space to dialogue on development issues, political issues, and issues of corporate governance, economic management, and socio-economic development. These types of issues are opened up for discussion by civil society. They talk with the government on those and, together, they do an assessment,” he said.

Sawyer said, once the assessment is completed, it is sent to the Panel of Eminent Persons where it is discussed with the government being reviewed, and then recommendations are made.

He denied the peer reviews lacked citizen participation and have not been tough on some of the governments being reviewed.

“As a consultant before I joined the Peer Review process in 2010, I had done one or two reports as a consultant on the team, and one was on South Africa in 2006, and it was indeed highly critical of the South African government on a few issues. Similarly, even here in Ethiopia, there was contestation about certain elements of the report. So, these are not reports done to sugarcoat things and provide an environment of good feelings to the leaders,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said the APRM has made significant progress in the area of electoral reform in Africa.

“I think we are making considerable progress on electoral reform because remember the days when there were no term limits and a president could change the constitution at will and stayed [in power] forever. I think those days are gone and term limits [have] kicked in. Most constitutions provide for two terms and then leaders have to retire,” Sawyer said.

He said, while there may still be African countries where the leaders may be fiddling with constitutions to remain in power, democratic pluralism has taken root in many countries.

“What we are seeing now on the front end of progress, we are seeing democratic pluralism exists in honest [ways] and [is] gaining roots, and we are seeing with it democratic alternation, where parties lose and losing parties win next time. Not only that, but we are seeing here where incumbents are being defeated, not only their parties,” he said.

On the fight against corruption, Sawyer said in some countries the fight is gaining strength, while it may be slower in others depending upon the nature of the political will and the nature of decision-making structures in a country.

“In other systems, where there might yet be strong institutions, if you don’t have strong enforcement, I think that can be a problem, too. But then, there are countries where you have strong institutions and rule of law, and you have corruption minimized. Our own peer review system has shown that some countries have done very well in the fight against corruption and some others are lagging a bit,” he said.

As of 2013, 30 countries have formally joined the APRM by signing its Memorandum of Understanding.

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