‘No freedom after expression in Africa’

A PRELIMINARY report on the implementation of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), has revealed gaps in implementing the African Union charter on human rights such as freedom of expression and association.

BY VENERANDA LANGA

Presenting the preliminary findings of the report, which is yet to be fully unveiled, at an ActionAid workshop on ACDEG in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Johannes Chiminya — an ActionAid Pan African governance adviser, said freedom of expression is still a pipedream and is not guaranteed in most African countries that are ACDEG member States.

ACDEG is a charter that emphasises the significance of good governance, popular participation of citizens in governance issues, the rule of law and governance issues, and its mission is to help African countries strengthen institutions of good governance, continental unity and solidarity.

This African Union (AU) charter has been signed by 46 countries and ratified by 33, with Zimbabwe having ratified ACDEG in March this year.

“On freedom of expression, we found that in all countries, legal provisions are in place, but in practice, it was not being implemented,” Chiminya, a Zimbabwean, said.

“Most people in African countries are free to say what they want, but there is no guaranteed freedom after expression.”
In Zimbabwe, several people have been arraigned before the courts for their anti-government rants and for criticising President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his predecessor Robert Mugabe.

This is despite the country having a beautiful Constitution which stipulates freedom of information and expression.

Binga North MP Gabuza Joel Gabbuza (MDC Alliance) is currently grappling with a court case under the harsh Criminal Law and Codification Act, where he is accused of referring to Mnangagwa as a clueless “dog” with no capacity to solve Zimbabwe’s economic malaise.

Another opposition legislator, Zengeza West MP Job Sikhala, has also been arraigned before the courts and is facing treason charges after saying Mnangagwa’s government will soon be removed from power while addressing a political party rally in Masvingo.

These cases show that while section 61 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the media, there is no freedom after expression.

ACDEG article 2 (10) stipulates that all member States must “promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, transparency, access to information, freedom of the Press and accountability in the management of public affairs”.

Chiminya said their findings also revealed that whenever citizens demanded an end to corruption in most African countries, they were often harassed or victimised.

Zimbabwe currently does not have a Whistleblower Act, which is pivotal to protect people that report corruption so that they are not victimised.

Mnangagwa vowed that his government will have a no-nonsense approach to corruption, and that all corrupt people would be arrested despite their political muscle.

Some bigwigs in Zanu PF, including former ministers Ignatius Chombo (Finance), David Parirenyatwa (Health), Saviour Kasukuwere (Local Government) and several other government officials were arrested for corruption, but people have seen this as mere targeting of political opponents that served in deposed Mugabe’s government.
There has also been very few convictions of bigwigs facing corruption charges, with only the small fish being jailed.

Chiminya said in most countries, laws were passed to constrain activities of civic society organisations so that they stay mum on corruption. The laws hardly empowered citizens to speak out against corruption.

Article 3 (9) of ACDEG stipulates that: “State parties shall follow the principle of condemnation and rejection of acts of corruption, related offenses and impunity.”

ACDEG article 33 emphasises a lot on effective and efficient management of State resources, promoting transparency in public finance management, preventing and combating corruption, preventing and combating corruption and crime and implementing economic development strategies to combat poverty as well as strengthening of transparency and accountability institutions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.

Billions of dollars from natural resources such as diamond cannot be accounted for in Zimbabwe and billions more having been lost through illicit financial flows.

Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has, every year, produced damning reports on financial impropriety at public institutions and ministries which have resulted in several millions of dollars being lost.

However, the same anomalies that she points out keep recurring every year.

Ghanaian academic Kwame Karikari told journalists at the ActionAid workshop in Ethiopia that there is need for citizen capacitation to speak out against corruption.

Batlokoa Makang, the AU peer review mechanism liaison officer, said the AU charter also placed a lot of emphasis on the fight against corruption in Africa.

He said although the AU can penalise countries that do not adhere to what is stipulated in its charters, it still follows former Organisation of African Unity principles of non-interference on member States.

“African civic society needs to be strong enough to pressurise governments to do what they are supposed to do and exert pressure against corruption,” Makang said.

Women and children are at the receiving end of economic maladministration.

On independent institutions such as commissions, Chiminya said their study found that in most cases, these were infiltrated by members of the ruling elite and were very poorly funded to execute their mandate.

In Zimbabwe, the Constitution stipulates that those who sit on independent commissions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), the Zimbabwe Gender Commission and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), among others, should be chosen through public interviews, where 12 are shortlisted and the President then appoints nine out of the 12. This should also follow tenets of gender equality.

This has been successfully followed, although there are still complaints that the electoral body Zec is made up of ruling party sympathisers, despite government denying the allegations by opposition political parties.

ACDEG article 14 (1) and (2) stipulates that: “State parties shall establish public institutions that promote and support democracy and constitutional order,” and (2), “State parties shall ensure that the independence or autonomy of the said institutions is guaranteed by the constitution.”

Chiminya said: “In most institutions, there is no trust by citizens because most top level officials in public institutions are nominated by the President and there is high interference. There is also a perception that most public institutions are corrupt; for example, the police in Zimbabwe.

“There is need for openness and transparency in selection of public officials rather than leaving it to the President because at the end governments (should) be run at the mercy of citizens.”

He said lack of funding means institutions like the ZHRC cannot adequately fulfil their monitoring function, thus good governance and monitoring is weakened.

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