Though African leaders committed themselves to universally ratifying all African Union (AU) treaties,
18 months ago, at the 15th Ordinary Summit of AU in Kampala, their commitment remains dismal. Experts argue that such an act of oversight undermines the continental organ and its vision of unification both politically and economically.
“What we have noticed is that largely the instruments that are not enforced are those that have been adopted in the last few years; for example, the African Charter on the Values and Public Service Administration which has been in effect since January 31st 2011. This particular document has been ratified by one country alone,” said Ben M. Kioko, the Director of AU Legal Council during the 18th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Summit held in Addis Ababa from January 29 to 30, 2012.
Since the Kampala Summit, no government has ratified all the 42 legal treaties prepared by the union. Only four countries which represent 10 percent of the members of the union have ratified five or more instruments. These are Burkina Faso with seven ratifications, Gambia, Zambia, Gabon, and Rwanda which have approved five treaties. This pace of ratification will not transform the poor record of approval since 1963 when the predecessor of AU, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) existed.
“The concern we have with the ratification of AU instruments is that they came in to effect after a long time. We believe that when member states meet and agree to adopt after negotiating it, they should move rapidly towards ratification. But that is not the case. It takes three to six years for an AU resolution to come in to force. The impediment for ratification is lack of political will. The attention of the head of state that an instrument is lacking. The other reason is bureaucratic red tape; the processes that are used by states to approve an instrument are cumbersome. In some countries it is by parliament while for others through a council of ministers. Lack of proficiency of the people assigned from member states about the issue under consideration coupled with lack of capacity is another major reason,” explained the director.
The performance of member states in ratifying, domesticating, integrating the continental body decisions at the national level must be included in the criteria for electing commissions and chairpersons argues a legal expert.
“We must reject the election and selection of applicants whose countries have no commitment to the continental integration. For example, the current chair country, Equatorial Guinea, has a dismal total of 12 approvals out of the possible 42 rectifiable instruments. This trend must be addressed as a matter of urgency,” argued Ben.
Since the OAU was formed 49 years ago, only 25 out of the 42 legal instruments passed by the continental body have come in to force after receiving the required number of votes from member states. This rate of approval shows that the continental political body managed to put into effect one treaty every two years on average.
“Unless the AU reverses the slow pace of approval of AU legal instruments and their implementation, the growing disconnects between continental promises and the day to day reality of most Africans will continue. The shared values of democracy, justice and prosperity will not be translated across the continent and there will remain a serious credibility gap in the eyes of men and women in the continent,” adds the director.
Since the inception of the continental body almost half a century ago, only Mali (33), Rwanda (30), Niger (30), Libya (29), Senegal (27), and Burkina Faso (27) have ratified more than 26 legal documents which can be categorized as best performing countries in terms of ratifying, domesticating and integrating the continental body decision in to their national policies.
Out of the 54 member countries of the AU, only 19 countries have ratified at least the two-thirds of all the legally binding instruments while 17 countries have ratified less than 15 instruments.
“One example of an AU treaty that would be ratified very quickly is the African Charter on the Right and Welfare of a Child. That instrument took 10 years to come in to force. Why would an instrument on the rights of children take ten years to come in to force? Of course all leaders profess to love children. When you look at this particular example and the Universal Convention on the rights of child by the United Nations (UN), you feel sad. The UN convention took only six months. Most of the countries that ratified the UN convention are African countries. The one adopted by the then OAU was adopted six months later than the UN. The African country leaders rush to go and ratify the international one but not their continental one. That is the sad story regarding AU treaties,” concludes Ben Kioko despairingly.