KAMPALA – With less than six months to the 2021 general election, the Government’s promise to comply with the key principles of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance(ACDEG) by holding free and fair elections remain in vain despite signing the charter on 16th December 2008.
The African Charter on Democracy and Governance (ACDEG) was adopted in 2007 by the African Union (AU). The charter is very clear on the need for states to support government institutions, political pluralism and open democratic space in member states. To date, only 35 countries have ratified the charter. One of the most important things eshrined in the ACDEG is that it seeks to address African problems such as economic development, poverty alleviation, overstay in power and increasing literacy by including everyone in the development agenda.
Under Article 8(2), the charter emphasizes the need for states to adopt legislative and administrative measures that guarantee the rights of women, youth, ethnic minorities, migrants, people with disabilities, refugees and displaced persons, and other marginalized and vulnerable social groups.
Research shows that inclusive societies are more likely to be developed than those that are not inclusive, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) estimates that by 2030 if countries eliminated gender-based discrimination and granted women greater access to education and jobs, global GDP would increase by over $6 trillion.
ACDEG empowers citizens through article 4(2), which calls on states to recognize popular participation through universal suffrage as the absolute right of the people. Ratifying the charter encourages the holding of free and fair elections, in turn encouraging democracy to thrive.
The future of Uganda remains in free and fair elections if Uganda is to maintain the peace and order that has existed since 1986. Despite having regular elections, many political analysts have come out to say elections in Uganda are never free and fair.
Whereas Article 17 of ACDEG stipulates that states should establish independent electoral commissions, many have always wondered whether Uganda’s Electoral Commission is independent enough to conduct elections. Whereas the Electoral Commission has said that no public rallies should be held, NRM candidates have been found campaigning on rallies, this further brings the question of the fairness as opposition candidates are seen being tear-gassed and their meetings blocked by security agencies.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 has exposed the need to ratify ACDEG since the Electoral commission gave guidelines that campaigns shall only be done on media. Article 17 which goes ahead provide for states to ensure that there is equitable use and access of media, opposition candidates are blocked from using some media houses.
The charter under Article 9 emphasizes the need for states to implement social and economic policies and programmes that promote sustainable development and human security. This can be achieved through processes like decentralisation which is provided for under Article 34 of the charter.
The ratification of ACDEG shall empower the local government structures and local communities to have a voice in the development process by ensuring that decisions are made closer to local people and give greater freedoms at a local level.
According to Prosper Mubangizi a policy analyst with CEPA the ratification and domestication of ACDEG will enable Uganda to match the rest of the continent in achieving the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and also the Sustainable Development Goal 16 by 2030.
If the elections are to remain inclusive, free and fair, ACDEG should be ratified because it promotes accountability of leaders by the electorate. Further, the charter remains a bridge to building stronger institutions that cannot be manipulated by the incumbent leaders.
Article 31 of the charter requires states to promote the participation of social groups in democratic governance. The ratification of this charter would allow youth and people with disabilities to fairly and freely participate in democratic processes, short of that the ground remains unlevelled giving a certain section more leverage which does not translate into participation by everyone
It has remains difficult for the youth to contest for top leadership positions since nominations fees are high. It does not stop at the nomination fees being high the whole politics in the Unganda re highly commercialised because of the increased rates of patronage which neccessitates the buying of the electorate by candidates who have money.
As we head into the 2021 general elections, the government should prioritse ratifying and domesticating ACDEG since the charter is designed to empower citizens.
Abaho Bright is a Lawyer and Advocacy and Communications personnel at Youth Line Forum