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Media’s role in governance, democracy

IN 2007, the African Union (AU) created the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) as a strategy to promote good governance on the African continent.
Zambia signed and ratified the charter under the leadership of former President Rupiah Banda but the charter is yet to be domesticated.
Since its formation, there has been a general lack of knowledge about the charter by Zambian citizens, which has recently encouraged collaboration between ActionAid Zambia and the European Union (EU) on a pan-African project that seeks to promote the operationalisation of the Africa Governance Architecture (AGA) in eight African countries where ActionAid operates.
AGA is a mechanism for dialogue between stakeholders mandated to promote good governance and democracy in Africa. It is structured around a prescriptive framework that is set up by the AU shared values as outlined in ACDEG which African leaders have committed to implement.
The project aims to increase and strengthen the part that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play in ensuring all AU member states are more democratic and accountable to their citizens in alignment with legal instruments, institutions and processes of the AGA.
Recognising the role that the media plays in sensitising the public on matters affecting society, ActionAid Zambia recently held a training for journalists in Zambia on ACDEG and how to report issues relating to the instrument.
ActionAid Zambia country director Nalucha Ziba said the training is in line with ACDEG and is important to journalists in the context of deepening democracy in Zambia.
“The project aims at mobilising civil society for the implementation of the AGA, which is based on objectives and principles that have been defined in various AU shared values that member states have signed and ratified,” Ms Ziba explained.
She said Zambia has signed and ratified ACDEG, implying that the Zambian Government is committed to the principles of good governance.
“There is need to ensure adherence to the various pieces of legislation, transparency in the management of public affairs, promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and inclusivity in decision making processes,” she emphasised.
ActionAid Zambia also stresses the need to promote progressive practices that enhance good governance such as the domestication of ACDEG by Zambia.
Ms Ziba notes the need for Zambian citizens to advocate the domestication of ACDEG but the general observation is that many do not know about the instrument and are unaware that Zambia signed and ratified it.
For instance, chapter five of the charter relates to the culture of democracy and peace and how State Parties should undertake to develop the necessary legislative and policy frameworks to establish and strengthen a culture of democracy and peace.
Chapter six of the charter delves into how State Parties to the charter shall establish public institutions that promote and support democracy and constitutional order.
ActionAid is therefore of the concerted view that the media is better placed to raise public awareness on ACDEG and the power of the media in the governance process cannot be underestimated.
ACDEG also has a youth charter which is not yet fully domesticated by Zambia but spells out mechanisms about how the youth will be incorporated in the governance frameworks of the various countries aligned to the charter.
Speaking to journalists during the training, governance activist Macdonald Chipenzi shared how the media can play a part to enhance participation and accountability in the implementation of the charter.
“The charter has a lot of issues that the media should be interested in. Governance and especially good governance is an ideal which is difficult to achieve if the media is not active and so very few countries and societies have come close to achieving good governance in its totality,” Mr Chipenzi said.
He notes that in order to ensure sustainable human development actions must be taken towards the ideal aim of having good governance in totality which can only be done when the media becomes active and understands the role it has to play under the charter.
Citing Article Two of the charter, he said it aims at nurturing, supporting and consolidating good governance by promoting democratic culture and practice, building and cultivating governance institutions and inculcating political pluralism.
“Sometimes we misunderstand when there is political pluralism and we ask why there are so many political parties but the charter which our government ratified advocates for this,” he stated.
Just because the charter was ratified does not mean it is domesticated, Mr Chipenzi reminded, because a ratification does not automatically mean that it can work in totality.
The charter also desires to promote the establishment of necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, transparency, access to information, freedom of the press and accountability in the management of public affairs.
Additionally, the charter promotes the creation of conducive conditions in order for civil society to thrive, which includes the media that makes up civil society and has a unique role.
Accountability, Mr Chipenzi said, is an obligation by power holders to take responsibility for their actions but he noted that sometimes the interrogation aspect of the media lacks in holding institutions to account.
“Accountability is a very key component of good governance. You cannot have good governance when people are not accountable in different aspects of life. The media also needs to be accountable and not just the private sector, CSOs and government institutions.”