My country, Botswana, recently signed the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Gender Protocol for Development.  This is a protocol that we took part leadership in developing, yet we were the second last country to sign in the region, long after the 2015 deadline and following relentless advocacy.  Now, as we celebrate and welcome this new achievement, I just want to remind us all that it’s been 20+ years since Beijing and the Maputo Protocol, and we are have not moved much.  In case you don’t keep up with trends very well, ACCOUNTABILITY is the latest trending word in the Development world – and I promise you this is such an attractive word that even if you have not heard of it yet, you will find yourself abusing it imminently… until you start to examine it.


Here is where we are: Our leaders clearly have no problem with signing human rights treaties.  In fact, if development was the unequivocal result of signing treaties, be they treaties on human rights, democracy, peace and security, women’s rights, environment, technology, I could go on.  Regardless of the treaty, you will definitely find us Africans in the list of signatories.  If this meant anything, Africa would be home to the most developed countries in the world.  Instead, after so many years of celebrating signatures, the civil society movement is fed up with lack of implementation.  The sector is tired of being bought off by cosmetic tinkering of signatures disguised as political will and commitment to delivering on human rights.  This is why this word ACCOUNTABILITY has become famous in this spaces – now people are saying it is high time leaders were held to account to deliver on the commitments they have made.

I believe this is very fundamental process especially of governance, and I very happy to see we, the people, now demanding answers and not just waiting.  We can no longer tolerate incompetency justified by a retrogressive adage that “in Africa there is no hurry” – that is admitting that we are exceptionally comfortable with being last, eating the crumbs that are left after all is taken.  I also admire the growing boldness of civil society movements across Africa, where leaders are taken to task and shown the door when underperforming.  This has been reflected a few times during most recent elections in The Gambia and Kenya.

As great as this progress seems, we are moving at a snail’s pace in holding our leaders accountable for human rights treaties.  These are vital instruments in delivering on basic human rights and justice, yet it remains a challenge to call our Governments to remember these, let alone expect them to produce progress reports. Why is that? Because many of these treaties are left to GOODWILL.

When I was a child in primary school, and even at home, I learnt that people hardly act on goodwill as opposed to when a commitment is obligatory.  Many of these fundamental human rights instruments are not binding, not enforceable, and certainly don’t carry heavy penalties for lack of implementation.  It almost as though we either think that all our leaders inherently have a healthy appreciation of human rights or that a high tea in New York will simply convert them.  After many of such high teas, maybe we should realize that this mechanism is not effective.

Human rights are very important that I personally feel that it is a human right violation for them to be left to goodwill.  It sounds counterintuitive, but I always have a moment of silence when treaties are signed and lots pictures are taken, as I know that in decades to come, we will still be advocating at the top of our voices as though no such instruments exist.

To my fellow compatriots in the civil society movement, we need to advocate for domestication before we demand for accountability.  As a citizen, it is more productive to hold your leaders to account for a legislation than a high tea outcome document.  I believe these treaties are great policy guidelines, but only if incorporated into legislation.  We must do the difficult work of demanding this formalization with more than just public relations.  We cannot wait any longer.