On 15 July 2023, the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Université Gaston Berger, in partnership with the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, hosted the annual Julius Osega Memorial Lecture, in Saint Louis, Senegal. The theme for this year’s lecture was ‘The challenges of democratisation and the protection of human rights in Africa’ (‘Les défis de la démocratisation et de la protection des droits humains en Afrique’). 

The Centre for Human Rights is the regional hub for Global Campus Africa, and presents the Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa Masters programme (HRDA) in partnership with 12 partner universities across Africa. Université Gaston Berger is one of these 12 partners. Further, the Centre is one of seven, soon to be eight, regional hubs of the Global Campus which each presents a master’s programme in human rights, with partners in each of the regions.

The Julius Osega Memorial Lecture commemorates the life of Julius Osega, an alumnus of the HRDA programme at the Centre for Human Rights, Class of 2001. Upon completing his studies, Julius returned to the Uganda police force, which in itself is unique because few human rights graduates join the police force, despite the police playing such a crucial and indeed central role in promoting and protecting human rights, for example, through appropriate regulation of the use of force by law enforcement, preventing arbitrary and excessive use of force, and ensuring accountability for abuses. Julius was promoted to the role of head of the human rights division within the Uganda police force. In this role, he trained local communities in Uganda and the police in Somalia on human rights issues. He was later deployed to Sudan as part of the African Union peace keeping mission to Darfur, further demonstrating his commitment to human rights. 

Julius Osega died on 8 July 2008, while participating in the mission in Darfur. He was promoted posthumously to the role of Senior Superintendent by the Uganda police. In 2009 the Centre for Human Rights awarded him, posthumously, the Vera Chirwa award in recognition of his lifelong commitment to human rights, and on the basis that he ‘embodied the essential values of the African human rights lawyer, as he demonstrated courage and a constant commitment to improving the lives of the people of our continent’.

After hearing the welcoming remarks from Prof Papa Samba Ndiaye (Dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Université Gaston Berger), and Dr Michelle Maziwisa (Programme Manager HRDA, Centre for Human Rights), and an outline of the programme and background from Dr Papa Fara Diallo (Coordinator of the HRDA at Université Gaston Berger), the keynote address was presented by M. Alioune Tine, founder of the Think Tank Afrikajom Center, and there were three discussants: 

  • Prof Samson Igor Bidossessi Guedegbe, UNESCO Chair: DPHD, Université Abomey Calavi (Bénin)
  • Prof Maurice Soudieck Dione, Deputy Director of the Faculty (in the absence of Prof Mame-Penda Ba, Director of Global Africa), Université Gaston Berger
  • Prof Mbissane Ngom, Director of LER-DHDAJE, Université Gaston Berger

 In his keynote address, M. Alioune Tine considered various aspects that contribute to democracy, including understanding ‘who are the people’. He noted that in many African countries the challenge has not been the absence of laws, but various factors that interrupt the implementation of these laws, such as the leadership, the respect for the right to freedom of speech, the collapse of the rule of law and governance institutions. He also noted some longstanding challenges in Africa, such as peace and security, as well as newer challenges related to information and communication technologies, such as the incidence of fake news and the potential impact of artificial intelligence on democratisation. He noted that in West Africa, despite the commitment to respect human rights and foster democracy through the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance Supplementary to the Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security A/S/P1/12101, West Africa still experiences challenges in relation to national security and impunity. He gave examples of the unrest in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso associated with coups that have presented challenges for national security in these countries. He also noted that the vertical and horizontal centralisation of power to the central government and particularly to the executive has also contributed to the lack of democracy in Africa. He posed the question, ‘how do we save Africa from this pathology of lacking democracy?’, and proposed that ‘Africa can be saved by building its antibodies’. Some of the solutions to deal with these challenges are restoring the constitutional order and nation building through elections, and recognition of women’s rights stipulated in the Maputo Protocol.

The session was  facilitated by Dr Diallo and the discussants each presented their perspectives on the challenges related to democracy in Africa in their response to M. Alioune Tine’s address. Prof Igor Samson Guedegbe, (the UNESCO Chair: DPHD, at the Université Abomey Calavi (Bénin) which is also a partner university in the Global Campus Africa) commented that democracy in Africa can be termed as ‘une démocracie Nescafé’ which can be linked to the argument by Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo that ‘thinking democracy can be exported the same way as soluble coffee is a mistake’. Prof Ndiaye provoked some introspection by flagging the heavy reliance on external funding for the work of the African Union in geopolitical matters, such as regional trade, peace and security. He also referred to Prof Jacque Diouf, and the idea of an ‘African’ conceptualisation of governance, arguing that governance has been hitherto framed by the western notions of governance, particularly liberalisation as a concept. He concluded that there is still a lack of coherence in Africa between the practice of democratisation on one hand, and human rights on the other hand. 

Prof Maurice Dione in his response questioned whether it is democracy or  the actors within governance institutions that are ‘in crisis’. He raised the question of strong institutions as opposed to ‘big men’ in the context of democratisation in Africa, and noted that the two are intertwined. He questioned the externalisation versus the internalisation of democracy and the importance of cooperation. Dr Michelle Maziwisa spoke about the importance of inclusive democracy, arguing that the lack of representation of empowered women in government can lead to a democratic deficit, and that it is especially important to ensure that electoral systems support and encourage women’s participation. The local government is often the level of government mandated to administer matters that affect women’s day to day lives as framed by patriarchal social structure, such as water, electricity, and child care, with evidence from UN Women and other bodies that women still carry a disproportionate burden of care and time tax in comparison to men, globally. Prof Mbissane Ngom noted that reflexion on democracy must now go beyond procedural democracy (which takes into account first generation human rights) and integrate substantive democracy which takes into account second and third generation rights.

Dr Papa Fara Diallo concluded that democracy presupposes the opening of civic space which guarantees the full exercise of public freedoms by citizens. At the end of this conference, a general feeling seemed to emerge; that the democratisation process has run out of steam or is  in crisis, in particular because of the intention of certain ruling elites to stay in power for ever, even if it means outrageously restricting the civic space. This causes democratic setbacks.

The questions-and-answers session was equally rich, with questions posed around the readiness of the African Union for human rights and democratisation, the role of the military, the impact of technology on democracy and human rights, ethnic tensions, the resistance by strong states such as the US, China and Russia to ratify key international human rights instruments, and the potential of a welfare state.

For more information, please contact:

Programme Manager: LLM/MPhil HRDA

Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 6703


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