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The United Nations has stepped in on several occasions to support judicial reform in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are some concerns about accountability in the region, and the UN has, on several occasions, been implored (but not actually had the power) to investigate allegations of corruption, however the lack of a clear convention has meant that they are not able to intervene or to step forward to address any corruption that exists.
Oona Hathaway published an paper on the theory of international law in 2005, and many of the theories expressed in that publication are things that can be applied to African civil society.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a diverse region and there are numerous countries in the area that have struggled to implement good governance since they became independent. While many are working on their own development policies for both criminal justice and things like IP law, there is not a single consistent framework and this means that the quality and consistency of law and enforcement is variable from country to country. There is a clear concentration of power in some areas because there are not enough checks and balances on the elite. This is something that was highlighted by the Economic Commission for Africa in 2009, which reported on how the concentration of power can sometimes subvert the police, legislature, civil service and judiciary in a way that makes it harder to control corruption and ensure that the law is enforced.
The ruling elites sometimes use their power to influence economic activity and even to influence who is in government positions. The 1990s saw a move towards more democractic processes in Africa, and that has helped a lot ” but there are still some areas where the elite do have a disproportionate amount of control, and that is something that the United Nations could offer guidance on, if the individual countries were open to it.
Some countries, such as Venzuela, have been proactive in seeking assistance with their judicial systems. There is a growing move across Africa to improve their public services, government and legal systems, too ” with 43 African leaders signing the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in just a few years. In addition, the Rome Statute of the International criminal Court was signed and ratified by 30 different African nations between 1998 and 2008, with Burkina Faso, Senegal and Ghana being some of the earliest adopters.
Interestingly enough, it is the autocracies with the weaker rules of law that are more likely to ratify such statute, but ratification has a strong influence on their behaviour” with the least democratic governments, being more likely to terminate violent conflicts, perhaps because of the fear of prosecution.
We are a long way from a world where international trading law is standardized and every country works to protect the interests of global brands, but the situation for citizens is improving a lot and the continuing efforts of African governments should be commended.