“If you don’t plan, you plan to fail” is a common saying in the business world. During my 20+ years’ career in development, I’ve had many occasions to ascertain that what happens tomorrow is defined by the diligence of today. This is why I view the adoption of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, a 50-year development blueprint for transforming the continent, and of the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 for sustainable development as the preparations to be made today for a successful tomorrow.
The AU Agenda envisions an Africa that is “integrated, prosperous and peaceful, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena”. This is called the “Africa We Want”. To achieve this, the AU has adopted normative frameworks or treaties to encourage cooperation among its member states to promote peace, stability and democratic principles, all necessary conditions to achieving the vision.
The AU will only be able to fulfil its mandate and development aspirations if the adopted treaties are ratified and domesticated by its Member states. However, the pace of ratification, domestication and implementation of the treaties has been slow.
Seeing this as a concern, UNDP is working with the African Union and member states to address the challenges and bottlenecks associated with ratification, domestication and implementation of the African Union treaties. Specifically, the partnership focuses on the ratification, domestication and implementation of 6 treaties that are considered critical for achieving the SDGs and the Agenda 2063 in Africa: 1) the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, 2) the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), 3) the African Youth Charter, 4) the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 5) the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and 6) the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.
Treaties and COVID-19
The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights sets standards and establishes the groundwork for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa. The Charter specifically provides that “State parties shall take the necessary measures to protect the health of their people and to ensure that they receive medical attention when they are sick”.
This Charter is now even more relevant because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help member states succeed in bringing the provision of the Charter to life and address health emergencies, the AU established the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in 2013. Unlike many treaties that require between 15 and 22 ratifications to enter into force, the statute of the CDCP came into force upon adoption in the same year in 2016. Following the wisdom of preparing today for a better tomorrow, the African Union leadership did not subject the Africa CDC statute to the ratification and domestication processes like most treaties. This is commendable as it helps obviate the politics which accompany treaties ratification, domestication, thereby delaying implementation. Issues of health and health emergencies cannot and must not be a subject of politics.
The Africa CDC has been able to respond swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic by adopting the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak. UNDP also responded swiftly in support of the implementation of the Strategy with a series of risk communication webinars, toolkits and materials to support communication on COVID-19.
But the implementation of the Africa CDC statute alone will not be enough in addressing the pandemic. Legal frameworks that address compliance with governance, human rights and transparency and accountability, peace and security also need to take centre stage for a durable response to the pandemic to be achieved. Otherwise, other “pandemics” may emerge, such as the rise in gender-based violence (GBV) and inequalities.
For instance, in South Africa alone, police reported receiving more than 87,000 gender-based violence complaints during the first week of the 21-day national lockdown. These are the people that the Maputo Protocol seeks to protect.
But, as important as it is to have the treaties, more important is the need to implement them. In this regard, I conclude with another African proverb - “Rising early makes the road short”- the journey to building back better starts now, without which the promise of a better tomorrow will be elusive.