In this article we examine how state governance has affected the respect of human rights and democracy in Africa. Illustrated by the case study of the University of Buea in Cameroon, and looking at young people specifically, it showcases how the trilogy of governance, human rights and democracy has remained dysfunctional. Finally, the article will look at some practical actions for the fight against poor governance.

The quest to achieve a genuine and efficient system for the respect of human rights and democratic governance in the world has been ongoing. This commitment has been translated into policy instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights. In order to ensure democratic governance in Africa, the African Union drafted the African Charter of Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Moreover, the Mo Ibrahim prize encourages African heads of state to ensure good governance in their respective countries. However, the award has been given only three times in seven years. This is indicative of the dismal governance situation in Africa.

Africa has always been portrayed as a “3D continent”

To build a bridge between democratic governance and human rights, activists are convinced that the true test of the quality of democratic governance is the degree to which it delivers on the promises of human rights in the civil, cultural, economic and social context.

In this article we will examine how the state governance has affected the respect of human rights and democracy in Africa. This will be illustrated by the case study of the University of Buea in Cameroon. Finally some practical actions and recommendations will be given on behalf of the youth-led NGO Centre for Community Regeneration and Development in Cameroon (CCREAD) in the fight against poor governance will also be touched upon.

50+ years of Independence, 5+ Decades of troublesome governance, human rights and democracy

In hindsight, the trilogy of governance, human rights and democracy in Africa has been aggravating. Africa has always been portrayed as a “3D continent” (death, disease and despair), as well as an paradigm of fragile and failed states. This has been made possible by the lacking state of governance as it encourages the violation of the fundamental democratic and human rights of citizens.

The environment in which Africans live does not permit them to get out of poverty. This has been referred to as the African Poverty Trap. Over 50 years, the history of Africa has been overshadowed  by unconstitutional changes of power, ethnic conflicts, genocides, civil wars, terrorism, militantism, military oppression, natural disasters, constitutional changes, dictatorships, elections manipulation, bribery, corruption and fraud. All these matters have robbed citizens of their rights to freedom, justice and equality. One has come to realize that the source of Africa’s problems stems from poor leadership.

Youth have been the most affected by the troubles of Africa

Notwithstanding, there have been improvements in the trilogy. In Cameroon, the government has drafted the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper in order to make the country an emerging state by 2035. They have also set up a National Human Rights Commission, an Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC), an independent electoral body (ELECAM) and a special criminal court. However, these institutions are highly politicized and their effectiveness is constantly being questioned.

Out of all population groups, it is the youth that have been the most affected by the troubles of Africa. Tens of thousands of children are forced at gun point to join the revolutionary army. In June 1999, a report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimated that more than 120,000 children from the ages of seven to seventeen were being exploited as soldiers across Africa. Furthermore, access to education of a higher quality and health is problematic. There is also a lack of youth representation in formal bodies and youths have not been effectively accompanied in their strides for economic empowerment.

Case of the University of Buea, Cameroon

The highly politicized and dictatorial management system prevailing in the University of Buea from 2004 to 2013 restricted the right for students to express their views, organize themselves in defence of their interests and effectively participate in university governance.

The university administration has repeatedly ignored students’ claims to a better study and living conditions by refusing to create effective channels of communication and negotiation. This has resulted in a rise in the number of violent strikes, turning the campus into a conflict zone between students and the police force in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2013.

The university administration together with government officials prefers to solve students’ problems through repression rather than dialogue and peaceful negotiation. This is a typical scenario of the absence of democratic governance and the violation of the rights of youths at the local level.

Strike at the University of Buea.

Peacefully contributing to a more democratic Cameroon

However, what is interesting in Africa and, in particular, in Cameroon is that the governments are constantly recognizing the need to foster good governance and enforce the respect of basic human rights, especially for the poor segments of the society. As an active civil society organisation working mainly in Cameroon CCREAD-Cameroon -through its national good governance and human rights programs in collaboration with partners- continues to work on peacebuilding and human rights education, leadership training for youths, human rights advocacy and integrated social, economic and political empowerment activities which integrate good governance, democracy and human rights promotion in Cameroon.

This is important because bad democratic governance and the violation of human rights have stirred up anger and manifestations by youths, including the Arab spring. This paper is a clear call by CCREAD to African youths, civil society organisations and the international community to continue rising up in a non-violent manner to the challenge of ensuring a strong democratic governance and human rights system so as to promote peace, growth and sustainable human development.

CCREAD’s Policy Implications

  • There is a need for an adequate political will to ensure democratic governance and respect of human rights.
  • The need for education of young people and adults on the importance of democratic governance and respect for human rights.
  • The international community should be more determined to assist civil society activists and youths through grants to help them peacefully advocate for an efficient democracy and human rights system.
  • An effective channel of communication and negotiation should be set up to deal with the problems of the masses.
CCREAD-Cameroon in action

Featured Image Credit: Women’s Democracy Network

Written by Hilary & Emmanuel

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