AU human rights expert: Free expression an African shared value

By Sanna CamaraImage

“We at the African Union level have recognized the fact that each and every African loves to speak out his or her opinion. This makes freedom of expression an African shared value,” said Dr. Salah Hammad Sidiq, human rights expert at the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 53rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights currently taking place in Banjul, Dr. Sidiq said, equally, they also know that each and every African today will be thrilled at the chance of free movement in the continent without going through check points and borders posts.

“Freedom of movement for us is an African shared value,” he told reporters at the meeting attended by representatives of government, academia, civil society, security forces, economists, private citizens and students of the University of the Gambia.

Bringing the concept of African shared values to the people

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Dr. Sidiq said the African Union is committed to bringing the concept of African shared values to the people of Africa in ways that they can understand and accept. He defined the concept as “the basic beliefs, ideals and principles that we as Africans agree can best unite our continent”.

“For more than six months now, we have been travelling the continent talking with people about shared values to better understand what they think are the essential values we need to follow in order to create a united, peaceful and prosperous Africa,” the AU expert added.

He said they at the African Union aim to get people at all levels excited and committed to shared values – values such as freedom of expression, freedom of speech, solidarity between nations, respect for differences, and supporting each other in times of need, despite national borders.

Integration from an economic point of view

Dr. Sidiq explained that the whole idea of an African shared values mechanism began in 2007 at the African Union to try to pave a way to expedite the integration of the African continent.  He said the Lagos Declaration in 1993 spoke about African integration (during the time of Organisation of African Unity) “but from an economic point of view, which led to the creation of regional economic communities such as ECOWAS and SADC.

Although they are the building blocs or the African Union, today the issue of African integration is still taking a bit longer. This is why we sat around and tried to define some shared values,  values we all share as Africans which can be utilised as mechanism to expedite the process, he said.

After brainstorming and subsequent debates, a long list of such values were drawn. “Then the idea of looking into the African instruments – the charters, conventions, treaties and all that were signed and agreed on by our heads of state and governments. After scrutinizing these, we realised they were full of provisions and values that can become African shared values,” he added.

Civil society’s role in the implementation of shared values

Hannah Forster, Executive Director of the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies spoke on the role of civil society in the implementation of the African Shared Values. She said it is common knowledge that states ratify international instruments but become reluctant to domesticate and implement the instruments in their respective countries. Hence one of the roles of the civil society is to help in this process.

She also spoke of the need for civil societies to enhance information sharing with the grassroots people who are most times unaware of what have been signed on their behalves, noting that through engagement in education, sensitization and popularization, civil society will be an effective partner in the implementation process.

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Tolerance is an African shared value

Africans are more united in terms of values than politically, Dr. Saja Taal, Political Science lecturer at the University of The Gambia said. He said such a feeling is mutual across Africa as evident in encounters with people from other parts of Africa.

He said Africans have the ability to be more tolerant than any other race in the world. “Despite the odds against us, we have never declared a world war. We have never asked for reparation for slavery and colonialism. This means that Africans have a lot to offer the world, and that is why other people come to Africa ro study our values as a way to enhance global peace,” he said.

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