Time to Ratify the AU Charter on Democracy

Time to Ratify

The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance

Reflections on the International Day of Democracy

As we reflect on the just passed International Day on Democracy we find it worrying that Zimbabwe has not ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance [link].  It is a long time since the President, as one of his first acts on taking office, signed the Charter, and now would be an opportune time to do so.

A charter is the same as a treaty, that is, a formal agreement entered into by countries.  A State Party to a treaty is any country that has signed and ratified the treaty, and is therefore bound by the terms of that particular treaty. It is essential that a State Party ratifies a treaty;  ratification is a declaration by that State to be bound on an international plane by that treaty.  The African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (‘the Charter”) was adopted on 30 January 2007 at an AU Assembly of Heads of States.  The Charter draws inspiration from the Constitutive Act of the AU and seeks to promote and emphasise “the significance of good governance, popular participation, the rule of law and human rights” and speaks strongly against “unconstitutional changes of governments” and encourages instead, “… change of power based on the holding of regular, free, fair and transparent elections conducted by competent, independent, and impartial national electoral bodies.”

A majority of AU States and most SADC States have both signed and ratified the Charter and it is becoming the accepted blueprint for democracy, elections and governance for  successful African States.

How Far has Zimbabwe got in Ratifying the Charter?

The President signed the Charter:  There was a great deal of favourable publicity when President Mnangagwa’signed the Charter at his first African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government on 21st March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.

The next step after a treaty has been signed is to get it approved by a country’s Parliament – if the country has a constitution that provides for this, which Zimbabwe does.  It was at this point, however, that the Government’s enthusiasm for the Charter seems to have evaporated.

Veritas lobbied Parliament to get the Charter approved by Parliament before the general election in 2018.  Unfortunately , that did not happen.

Approval of Ratification by Parliament

Nevertheless Veritas continued lobbing the new Parliament and after all the Budget hearings had the support of the Speaker.

Eventually, a year after the President had signed the Charter, resolutions by both Houses of Parliament approving the Charter were passed during March 2019

This approval did not mean, however, that Zimbabwe was now a full State party to the Charter.  Parliamentary approval of the Charter should have been followed by the President signing Zimbabwe’s Instrument of Ratification of the Charter and the deposit of the Instrument of Ratification at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa by our Ambassador to the African Union.  Ratification is the necessary final action by the Government to make Zimbabwe a full State party to the Charter – both in terms of the Charter itself and under international law principles.

This was not done.

Reminders to Ratify the Charter

Bill Watch 16/2021 of 13th March 2021 described the issue being raised in a question by Hon Mpariwa in the National Assembly:  “When will Government ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance?”

The whole of Bill Watch 35/2021 of 29th May 2021, distributed to all Parliamentarians, was devoted to the importance of ratifying the Charter.

Current Position

The Instrument of Ratification, if it was ever signed, has still not been deposited.  The African Union website updated Status List for the Charter confirms that Zimbabwe signed the Charter on 21st March 2018, but shows that ratification has not taken place to date [link].

The Government is Urged to Ratify the Charter

Whatever the reason for the delay in ratification, the Government risks the accusation that it no longer subscribes to the ideals of democracy, free and fair elections and good governance embodied in the Charter.

With Zimbabwe coming up for a UN Universal Periodic Review and also seeking admission to the Commonwealth and needing foreign investment, Veritas urges the Government to deposit the Instrument of Ratification of the Charter at AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Ratifying the Charter will join Zimbabwe to the majority of SADC and African nations that aim as States Parties to implement the Charter and bring political stability and the subsequent peace and prosperity to all peoples of our continent.

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2021