The Context

In 2011 the Africa Union Commission (AUC), through its second Strategic Plan 2009 – 2012,1African Union Commission Strategic Plan 2009 – 2012 – introduced the concept of Shared Values. The African Union (AU) defines Shared Values as those norms, principles, and practices that have been developed or acquired which provide the basis for collective actions and solutions in addressing the political, economic, and social challenges that impede Africa’s integration and development. The Shared Values as espoused in the AU strategic plan exist at different levels. At the individual level, the values include, universal and inalienable rights, basic freedoms, identity and opportunity, tolerance, participation in governance and development processes, and reciprocal solidarity in times of need and sharing. Others include dignity and respect, justice, sense of fairness, equality of persons, respect for the elderly, integrity, community cohesion and inclusive societies, and control of one’s destiny. At the national and regional levels, the values include sovereignty, self-determination and independence, adherence to the rule of law, democracy and representation of the will of the people, care for the vulnerable, economic and social justice, public order, equality, fairness, solidarity of States, and sustainability of the environment.2ASSEMBLY OF THE AFRICAN UNION (Thirteenth Ordinary Session 1 – 3 July 2009, Sirte, Libya, Assembly/AU/3 (XIII) – Strategic Plan 2009 – 2012 (page 32) – African Union Commission The Shared Values are encompassing and reflect key normative frameworks that have been adopted since the organization came into existence.

AU Shared Values: A background

This article explores the premise that democracy and governance are shared values, and therefore a business model which enables AU member-states to advance the course of Africa integration. From the foregoing, it is expected that democracy and governance will promote social cohesion, accountability and probity, enhance political participation at all levels as well as imbue the continent with transformative leadership without which the main goal of Agenda 2063 cannot be achieved.

The concept of a “Shared Value” is rooted in a business strategy which enables companies to tap into the “values” drawn from their host-communities. A Shared Value is considered an important tool for ensuring economic success,3Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer, “Creating Shared Value,” Harvard Business Review 89, nos. 1-2 (January–February 2011): 62–77. and enables company leaders to maximize the competitive value of solving social problems in new markets, and promoting cost savings, talent retention, and more.4What is Shared Value?

The AU is appreciated for possessing progressive normative frameworks which have been adopted since the founding of the organization in 1963 (then as the Organization of Africa Unity- OAU). However, while the AU may not have problems in norm setting, ensuring compliance and implementation of the norms remain a challenge. In adopting the declaration “Towards Greater Unity and Integration through Shared Values,”5“Towards Greater Unity and Integration through Shared Values – in 2011 the AU identified some of the challenges affecting full integration of the continent. Some of these challenges include the slow pace of ratifying and domesticating its instruments, the lack of a coordinated approach, and constrains to the attainment of democracy. Others include the rather uneven implementation of norms and standards as well as ownership and low level of awareness of the instruments by the citizenry. The Shared Values was therefore articulated and included in the 2009 – 2012 AUC Strategic Plan as a tool for achieving the vision of the AU. The AU acknowledges that Shared Values are a means of accelerating Africa’s integration agenda through values and principles that are embodied in the various instruments, decisions and declarations that have been adopted by the organization.

While the list is not exhaustive, some of the instruments that embody the  African Union Shared Values include the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (1981), the Protocol on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), the African Union Convention on Preventing  and Combating Corruption (2003), the Protocol to the Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003), the African Peer Review Mechanism and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007). The AU expresses confidence in the Declaration Towards Greater Unity and Integration Through Shared Values as promoting and encouraging democratic practices, good governance and the rule of law, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for the sanctity of human life and international humanitarian law. These efforts at promoting democracy, people’s rights, and preventing conflict are necessary for achieving sustainable development.

As in the case of company shared values, the AU Shared Values present a formidable tool for the African Union Heads of State and Government to pursue a collective agenda for accelerating continental integration and building a solid foundation for achieving the vision of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want: “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.” The AU Shared Values set standards for measuring performance as they provide an opportunity for comparative analysis of achievement/compliance.

The state of governance in Africa

The IDEA International Global State of Democracy 2019 report acknowledges that while challenges abound, “Africa is the region that has made most progress in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16) since 2015, if measured by the number of indicators that have seen more countries advancing than declining.”6The Global State of Democracy 2019 Addressing the Ills, Reviving the Promise, page 61, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Reprinted 2019. However, while Africa is good at norm setting, norm implementation remains a serious challenge on the continent. The joint African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the African Governance Architecture (AGA) African Governance Report (2019) also note some progress in the state of governance on the continent.  However, the joint report expresses concern about the slow pace of progress in relation to political governance, rule of law, and peace and security. Also, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) of 2019 indicates that “progress achieved over the last decade has mainly been driven by improvements in economic opportunities and human development.” However, the IIAG report also notes a decline in overall governance in Africa. According to the report, this is “the first year-on-year score deterioration since 2010.” The abysmal performance in 2019 is attributed to “worsening performance in three of the four IIAG categories: Participation, Rights and Inclusion, Security and Rule of Law and Human Development.”


Interestingly, all the areas of slow progress as reported above form the core of the AU Shared Values. It is evident that adopting normative frameworks alone will not achieve the Pan-African vision of the ‘Africa We Want.’

In my view, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the underlying development challenges, growing socio-economic inequalities and vulnerabilities – all linked to governance deficits on the continent. For instance, the health sector which has been underfunded and badly managed is unable to cope with pressure from Covid-19 cases without the injection of extra resources. Resources are now being repurposed from other sectors and mobilized from internal as well as external sources to address the new Coronavirus pandemic. International Financial Institutions (IFIs) are giving loans and grants to countries to help in prevention, suppression, and treatment of Covid-19. Considering existing transparency and accountability concerns on the continent, the weak participation of critical stakeholders in decision making, monitoring and reporting on implementation, the inadequate oversight functioning of parliaments and flagrant abuse of rules and impunity, one can rightly conclude that governance needs to be strengthened to enable citizens’ benefit from the new funds being mobilized. Failure to do so puts the Shared Values in jeopardy.

Democracy fit for purpose

The AU rejected military rule because it is not constitutional, democratic, accountable, representative, and violates rule of law. Democracy is hinged on a system of representative governance based on checks and balances between three arms of government – executive, legislature and judiciary. Under military regimes, the executive ruled by decree, powers of the judiciary were often circumscribed, and there was usually no legislature. While legislatures were in some cases tolerated, their powers were largely symbolic and circumscribed by the authority of the Executive. With the emergence of democracy, much was expected in terms of increased accountability, transparency, political participation, respect for human rights, and equal access to justice. Progressive democratic governance can create an environment conducive for achieving long term investment in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and AU Agenda 2063.

We are quick to celebrate political transitions, the removal of long-term incumbents and the victory of opposition parties at the polls. The victory dance and song disappear almost as soon as the new government takes power. Why? How different is the newly elected party in power from its predecessor? How independent are the democratic institutions? Why is it that in most cases political transitions do not lead to any fundamental change? The “benefit of the doubt,” therefore, becomes the unending ingredient which sustains lackluster performance, as campaign promises keep drifting and shifting without timeline for delivering them.

Governance as the silver bullet

When democratic governance is successfully promoted and implemented, it becomes the silver bullet – and a catalyst for achieving sustainable development. The African Union Constitutive Act, in Articles 3 and 4, underscores the significance of good governance, popular participation, the rule of law and human rights in the overall development of Africa. This recognition was buttressed and strengthened with the coming into force of the African Charter on Democracy, Election and Governance (ACDEG) in 2012.

If democracy and governance must be achieved as shared values, legal frameworks that embody them must be ratified, domesticated and implemented. Effective ratification and implementation of AU treaties is critical if they are to impact national policymaking. They are also essential for the AU to achieve its vision of a peaceful, prosperous and integrated continent as articulated in the AU Agenda 2063. ACDEG emphasizes a break from the past by prohibiting, rejecting and condemning unconstitutional change of governments. It promotes and protects the independence of the judiciary which is crucial for building confidence and trust in governance and key component for strengthening Ease of Doing Business to promote investment.

Upholding the conduct of periodic and genuine elections as provided in ACDEG is also an obligation under the AU Charter (Article 17 [2), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 21[1), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 25[2). Holding transparent and credible elections on a regular basis as established by the relevant constitutional and legal framework is a critical component of the democratization process. In fact, periodic and genuine elections are generally seen as a key component for enhancing the legitimacy of a government and strengthening the social contract between the government and the governed.

However, there seems to be elections for elections’ sake. There are more elections which do not necessarily produce radically new results. The success of any election is ideally about change and delivery – security, freedom, equality, justice, and welfare. In the absence of these and visible efforts that governments produced by the successive elections yield the desired results, the likely result is an invitation to crisis and protest. Lessons from the 2020 Global Peace Index indicate that cases of civil unrest in Sub-Sahara Africa rose dramatically from 32 in 2011 to 292 in 2018.7Global Peace Index 2020 – The message is clear – economic development or improvement without corresponding improvement in political governance is not sustainable.


There is no better way of summing up the utility of democracy than in the words of Dr. Khabele Matlosa8Matlosa Khabele, 2018, “The Nature and Future of Democracy in Africa: The Essence of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance,” in African Journal of Democracy and Governance (AJDG), Vol.5, No. 3 Special Issues. who argues that “whatever democracy we conceive for Africa, it must be a democracy that addresses the basic and fundamental rights of Africans first and foremost. These include the right to life, dignity, food, clothing, housing, water and sanitation, health and nutrition, social security, education and scientific innovation, academic and media freedom, environmental protection, peace and security, and social economic development. In sum, democracy must put bread on the table for Africans if it is to be meaningful, relevant, and responsive. This is simply because people do not eat democracy. People eat food. So, if democracy does not put food on the table, it is meaningless, irrelevant and unresponsive. Africa does not need democracy for democracy’s sake. Africa therefore needs democracy for food and democracy for development sake.”

Democracy is run by democrats; therefore, suffocation of democratic institutions and processes will not deliver the “Africa We Want.” Citizens must see democracy, touch democracy and feel democracy.


  1. Member states should recommit to the ideals of the African Union Shared Values by bringing national laws, policies and legal frameworks in conformity with AU instruments on democracy and governance.
  2. In addition, member states should disseminate the Shared Values instruments to ensure ownership while strengthening democratic institutions to implement the Shared Values instruments.
  3. Following the adoption and expansion of the mandate of African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) to monitor and track AU Governance commitments, AU member states should promote universal accession to the APRM, strengthen APRM to be able to carry out the revised mandate including regular payment of dues to avail resources for the work of the APRM. The APRM should be strengthened to track implementation and oversee monitoring and evaluation in key governance areas of the continent (Assembly/AU/Dec.635 (XXVIII).
  4. AU member states should strengthen the African Governance Architecture (AGA) Platform to enhance information sharing, coordinate monitoring and evaluation of compliance to governance and democracy codes and standards.