Traditional African society was built on a foundation of ethical and moral values. Each individual’s identity was based on his or her role and responsibilities within the family and the community. These values are still very much alive, but the foundations of traditional African society have been slowly eroded by major migratory movements—particularly to cities—confrontations with other cultures and the individualism encouraged by both the consumer society and the exaltation of competition. Much too often the result is scorn for the good of society, abuse of positions of power (of which corruption is one sign) and indifference with regard to the long-term consequences of our acts and their impact on our descendants. Society is ill at ease with this cynicism because it recognises its destructive potential.
When we look at the point of convergence of the traditional ethical foundations of society, our current religious and community values and the interdependence that connects us to the world, what values do we see that could give African societies, in all their diversity, another chance to take charge of their destiny and build their own governance project? These shared values, with which all actors can identify and to which leaders can formally commit are absolutely necessary, for without them governance is nothing but a technique for exercising power for its own profit.
During the conference, and in association with the international dynamic of the Charter for human responsibilities, an African Charter for responsibilities will be drawn up.
Every country has a constitution; it is often based on the model of the former colonial power. Far too often, these constitutions were drafted by groups of law professors working alone; the society as a whole was not invited to participate in discussions or the definition of founding principles.
Constitutions have of course been formally voted on, but they are still foreign to the society. Instead of bringing States and their societies closer together, they have only helped drive them apart. So it is not surprising that these constitutions–which should give governance a solid and enduring foundation on which to build–are treated lightly, as if they were just pieces of paper to be changed at will to meet the needs of elites in power.
To be legitimate in the eyes of an entire people, the principles of governance should be a reflection of the way the society itself thinks it should be managed. These principles should be alive and well and echoed in collective management at all levels, from the family, village and neighbourhood to the nation as a whole.
Constitutions—written in words that everyone can understand and in national languages, discussed at length and reflecting the way society wants to see itself in the future—should be a vibrant expression of the commitment to live together and the capacity to do so.
Using inter-African and international thinking on constitutions as a basis, the conference will identify the main lines of a new constitutional effort that Africa should impose on itself.