4
Institutions Needed to Sustain Democracy

Institutional weakness has been widely documented by scholars and policy makers as a notable problem in Sub-Saharan Africa. The weakness of African institutions has become a significant issue primarily because the difficulty of realizing the benefits of development programs and projects, especially those funded by bilateral and multilateral donors, has been blamed on underdeveloped and inefficient institutions in most African countries. In order for African countries to succeed in the development process, appropriate institutions based on democratic values need to be established in their countries that will contribute to development and improved governance.

In addition to a country's constitution and its critical provisions—freedom of expression, freedom of association, and rule of law—governance-related institutions such as the civil service, the judiciary, and other local institutions need to be developed in African countries to play a role in the development and maintenance of a democratic culture. Developing and sustaining democratic institutions in African countries with the assistance of donors should receive special attention, since the inability of these institutions to implement policies to ensure development has been an impediment to democracy. For example, donor countries maintain that political stagnation, repression, and corruption in Africa now constitute the greatest obstacles to badly needed outside investment and significant economic growth.

The workshop discussions that concerned sustaining democracy through institutional measures were grounded on the common belief that the process of building democracy is never complete. In likening democracy to an



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops 4 Institutions Needed to Sustain Democracy Institutional weakness has been widely documented by scholars and policy makers as a notable problem in Sub-Saharan Africa. The weakness of African institutions has become a significant issue primarily because the difficulty of realizing the benefits of development programs and projects, especially those funded by bilateral and multilateral donors, has been blamed on underdeveloped and inefficient institutions in most African countries. In order for African countries to succeed in the development process, appropriate institutions based on democratic values need to be established in their countries that will contribute to development and improved governance. In addition to a country's constitution and its critical provisions—freedom of expression, freedom of association, and rule of law—governance-related institutions such as the civil service, the judiciary, and other local institutions need to be developed in African countries to play a role in the development and maintenance of a democratic culture. Developing and sustaining democratic institutions in African countries with the assistance of donors should receive special attention, since the inability of these institutions to implement policies to ensure development has been an impediment to democracy. For example, donor countries maintain that political stagnation, repression, and corruption in Africa now constitute the greatest obstacles to badly needed outside investment and significant economic growth. The workshop discussions that concerned sustaining democracy through institutional measures were grounded on the common belief that the process of building democracy is never complete. In likening democracy to an

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops "ongoing experiment that never finishes," participants indicated that democracy is both a process and a goal. They pointed out that where democratic ventures have been successful, there has been continuous consultation, multiple points of access to decision making, and the empowerment of individuals to participate. "This is why the democratic experiment remains an experiment and why the structures put in place can continue to be reshaped as time goes on." Botswana was cited as an example of an African country that has transparency not only in decision making but also because it offers an example of "input that continually recharges the batteries" of government, and that the "doors of government are open." One participant commented: "One can voice a complaint and get things done—and not just through one's representative in the national assembly. . . . Because party politics in Botswana are partially separated from the administration of the country, one can get a complaint processed through one's party representative, local chief, or local councils, because the government listens [to these actors]." Thus, the significant point to note here is that the existence of plural institutions within government guarantees to various groups alternative mechanisms by which they can get a response from government. It was also pointed out that the more individuals participate in building a democratic society, the less power particular groups, such as ethnic groups, economic interest groups, and, perhaps, even the military, are able to exercise: ''Empowerment to participate may have its dangers, but it certainly can mitigate the strengths of veto groups in society.'' Participants indicated that retaining the possibility of change may be the greatest secret of success in democracies. They made the point that the multiple possibilities for redress and change in democratic systems is what drives citizens to participate. As one put it, "In the case of Botswana, what has kept the system going is that elections have been relatively honest; the government has, in fact, kept its promises by and large, and has remained popular; and the opposition continues to act as a loyal opposition, believing sincerely in the possibility of alternation." There was general agreement that, if there is a formula, it is to maintain the possibility of change: "By keeping open the various doors to political innovation, it becomes possible to change policies, to continue the experiment under different auspices." In sum, participants underscored that the possibility of change in a system, honestly believed by its citizens, is a key factor in sustaining functioning democracies. Effective institutions to sustain democracy are needed in Africa given the failure of formally organized structures, most of which were inherited from the colonial period. The workshop participants discussed political and other institutions that in most cases symbolize a commitment to democracy, such as separation of powers, an independent press, electoral systems, civil

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops service—institutions that have not been effective in African countries. But the central focus of the discussions on sustaining democracy centered on constitutions, the military, independent commissions, and a transnational democratic center. These were believed to be the key institutions that can significantly contribute to sustaining democracy if they become effective in their roles. Participants chose not to spend time discussing the traditional institutions in detail, electing instead to address the problems that prevent such institutions from performing effectively. CONSTITUTIONS A significant development in the three workshops was the renewed advocacy of constitutionalism in Africa. African regimes, under domestic or external pressures from donor countries, and perhaps to reinstall their credibility with the Western world, are experimenting with their constitutions on the path of political liberalization as seen in recent constitutional amendments in countries such as Sierra Leone, Ghana, Algeria, and Uganda. Africans are now challenging the deep-rooted primacy of the African chief by consulting constitutions and inserting new devices in them with the intention of decentralizing power. There was clear agreement among participants that, if the central problem of democracy is the relationship between the individual and the state, then the quest for limited government, embodied in constitutionalism, is a feature of every society and not just a Western concept. Just as many precolonial African societies shared unwritten rules regarding tyranny, a practice of limited government could be identified in few postindependence African countries, although it failed in many. Participants devoted much discussion to why constitutionalism had failed. They were careful, however, to frame the discussion from the perspective that "Africa was ushering in a period of liberalism and democracy after 30 years of authoritarianism in most countries, whereas it took Europe 300 years to consolidate that process." In general, colonialism was said to have been a poor school of constitutionalism. The colonists had offered Africans the opportunity to organize and practice limited government only in the terminal years of their rule, but, in a number of countries where liberation was achieved through armed struggle, this opportunity was not offered. It was pointed out that "one doesn't learn democracy in haste, but over time, through trust in others, linkages, and coalition building." Participants noted that constitutions had been developed in great haste, some of which proved totally unworkable. For example, in several countries, the constitutional protections for minority groups and whites ran against majority preferences, leading to subsequent efforts by majority coalitions to overturn the constitution, as is cur-

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops rently the case in South Africa. Several participants recalled the history of moves to de facto single-party rule in their countries. One participant noted that the "alien character of new constitutions posed problems of acceptability, which were compounded by unpropitious conditions and the inheritance of the colonial state." As the constitution became the center of controversy in African states, "it was not long before the freedoms and rights in the constitution were eroded by the state." A participant with legal experience observed that constitutions in the postcolonial period "have been in the desk drawers, having been honored more in breach than in observance," and cited a number of the commonly circulated justifications for the failure of constitutionalism in Africa. "The notion that, in the past, decisions were arrived at by consensus; the fact that African leaders were chosen by heredity or emerged through proven leadership, were obeyed, and were rarely removed; the idea that individuals are more concerned with their daily bread than with constitutional rights; that issues of hunger, famine, health, roads, etc., were the real priorities—these arguments do not tell the whole story and are sad echoes of the ideas advanced by the colonists at the end of the colonial period." Then turning to the notion that "constitutions are inspired by imported, alien Western principles," the same participant noted a double standard to the argument, pointing out that "the arguments made by Africans rejecting constitutionalism were similar to the arguments they advanced justifying the adoption of [Soviet-style] authoritarianism.'' Yet another participant illustrated the failure of constitutionalism somewhat differently. Africans, he said, had created incentives for excesses and abuses by those in power, and they occurred. "Our own impatience," he then offered, "had led us to think the constitution had failed, even if a particular crisis is supposed to be part of a learning process. African militaries are guilty of making this judgment." In Nigeria, for example, manipulation of the ballot box was said to have provided the excuse for military intervention in order to "save" the constitution, which actually resulted in its suspension. Moreover, the lack of congruence between written and unwritten constitutions in Africa, between formal rules and unwritten norms, in his opinion, also had contributed to the demise of constitutionalism. There was agreement among participants that at the close of the colonial period, the newly written constitutions had not been rooted in the societies in which they were to operate. By advocating an examination of the colonial constitutions, participants believed they might shed some light on why limited government survived or did not. It was further suggested that one relate constitutions to their contexts in order to avoid another backslide to authoritarianism. In this current effort, "democracy must take into account the realities of the people, their political experience, and their history." Yet several participants cautioned that "African heritage would not

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops be too useful in the sociopolitical point of view with regard to formal institutions in the political field, such as the separation of powers." The starting point of rooting and anchoring constitutions in Africa, suggested another participant, "would be to go back to the people, who must decide, define, and approve their system of government. Such a process has a chance of resulting in individuals with an interest in safeguarding their constitution, because they will demand the rights due to them as inalienable and their birthright." Other participants concurred on the need to bridge the gap between the ideal and reality by "incorporating the values a political community holds dear," because "African history reveals that the problem is how to bring theoretical norms into practice. In the past, our liberal constitutions were not respected or practiced." It was also pointed out that because constitutions are intended to derive their whole authority from the governed, ratification would be essential in this second round of African liberation: "Power must originate from and then evolve with the participation of the majority of the people." There was general agreement that, if democracy is to be sustained in Africa, new constitutions should be written, setting down a covenant between state and society in which political and other state powers are bound by rules. It was suggested that new constitutions should constitute "the organic or fundamental law of the state, establishing the character and conceptions of its government, organizing the government and regulating, distributing, and limiting the functions of its different departments, as well as prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of its sovereign powers." By adopting new rules of the game, it was suggested that the legacy of arbitrariness might be curbed, while giving room for civil liberties. In this manner, "democracy will serve as a contract between the rulers and the ruled for a period—for some people, four years; for others, five years. Then one renews the contract. We have the power; the power belongs to the people. Within this period, government will give us the opportunity to exercise that power, that sacred trust of surrendering one's power to rule oneself, to this body of people, for that period of time, for definite purposes, such as to protect one's life. These are the conditions in which, by organizing the state, one is allowed the freedoms of association, assembly, religion, economy, and so on." In the Namibia workshop, a minimum of guarantees was identified to ensure that democracy would be upheld by the constitution. They included a bill of rights, limited tenure in government office, regular elections and the power of impeachment, protection for various groups (including ethnic groups, parties, unions, etc.), checks and balances, an independent judiciary and legislature, and an amendment process. The latter was of particular significance, in the view of several participants, because the "constitution

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops should be seen as a document outlining the rules and/or guidelines of a process and not be static." Although participants in the three workshops were hesitant to spell out the contents of a typical bill of rights, they did underline that new constitutions must enshrine human rights and "not only be based on the rule of law." One telling example in support of this principle was the case of a citizen who had written a letter to the editor of his local paper in which he accused the president of bankrupting the country, economically and politically. Through a manipulative penal code and legal system, the state was able to jail the individual for the basic expression of political belief, try him as a common criminal, and pronounce sentence, although public outrage resulted in the latter's suspension. One view was that it would be more appropriate for "government to enforce rights and obligations by allowing an effective and freely elected parliament, with the recognition of the value of an opposition, as well as to facilitate academic freedom in the universities." On one hand, several participants advanced the idea that, in order to enable citizens to work nonviolently against the emergence of future dictatorships, the rights to dissent, to demonstrate in public, and to stage popular uprisings should be enshrined in the constitution. On the other hand, although specific checks and balances were not endorsed, many suggestions were floated, including a bicameral legislature, budget and control over the military assigned to the legislature, and a presidential veto. In the Benin workshop, one participant pointed out that a great challenge for constitution writers and founders today in Africa is to make decisions about elections and representation. He advocated a careful examination of the "different devices of elections—such as proportional representation, single-member districts, electoral colleges, proportional representation with preferential voting, and primaries—the sorts of devices that have been used in the past in other societies, as well as the relationship between those devices and the establishment of democracy in a fashion that is more likely to be sustained than if other systems are used." The participants in the Namibia workshop were of the opinion that the implementation of constitutional provisions would require demystification of the constitution through its wide dissemination and through civic education; a neutral, highly motivated, and effectively decentralized civil service; a strengthened legislature with its own trained staff, institutional memory, and adequate facilities; an independent judiciary; a free press; and a reconstituted military, which is discussed below. Participants suggested that the legislative and judicial branches of government could be strengthened by the presence of a strong civil society and an independent watchdog press, strong subnational institutions at the state and local level, adequate pay, and a code of conduct.

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops Although the discussions on separation of powers were brief in all three workshops, there was a clear understanding that the branches of government must have the means to carry out their tasks competently. In newly democratic countries, it was noted, "the legislature often has no power and is not respected. It cannot even adopt its own budget, because the state itself is of the opinion that the resources are not available for this. Without financial autonomy, can there be a state of law? Can the legislature play the role it was assigned?" An additional measure to enable the legislature to serve as an alternative center of power to the executive, participants suggested, would be the empowerment of opposition political parties. One participant, however, cautioned that there must be a concomitant democratization of political parties. In order to ensure the independence of the judiciary, participants indicated that independent commissions could be established to appoint judges in each African country. As there was much concern voiced about whether the judicial system would be able to reach the rural areas, one participant suggested that judges could be required to go on circuit. Another suggestion was that perhaps practitioners of customary law could be incorporated into the judicial system at the grass roots level. In general, there was a sense among participants that the branches of government, "whether we are talking about the legislature, the judiciary, or the executive, are institutions with new roles to play. They have to know the rules of the game and stick to them. It will be incumbent upon them to act in conformity with the stipulations of the constitution." It was the opinion of many participants that African states would not overnight become democratic; they will make mistakes. Yet the hope was that institutionalizing democratic norms in the constitution would go a long way toward sowing democratic culture within African societies. RECONSTITUTING THE MILITARY In the three workshops, there was clear agreement that, if the constitution is not to live under constant threat, the capacity of the military to seize power at will had to be removed. Participants displayed a remarkable determination to examine and confront the role of force in African politics. "We are at a stage in Africa where, for the most part, one should concentrate on those social and political forces, such as the potential for military coups d'état, that may possibly endanger the early sustenance of democracy." As the discussion focused on the need to provide incentives for some form of disarmament and reduction of the sheer size of the military in African society, participants were quick to identify the central dilemma: How to persuade present-day militaries that reductions are in their interest.

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops Participants assumed, for purposes of the discussion, that the military would be placed under effective civilian control following the transition, and the policy problem would be how to keep them there. From this point onward, opinion was divided, with most participants arguing that the military should be kept out of politics and redirected into productive sectors of the economy, while a small yet significant number advocated that the military establishment should not be kept outside the transition process to democracy. In addition, participants in each of the workshops questioned the necessity to maintain militaries in Africa, particularly in light of the large share of national resources they consume. In discussing strategies to contain the military and reduce the burden they impose on fragile economies, several participants pointed out that, historically, efforts to reduce military spending or numbers of troops have served "as the very reason why it [the military] has interfered in political life." One illustration was that because the military in Sierra Leone enjoys special privileges, such as buying goods at heavily subsidized prices, they would be likely to resist strongly if the economy is liberalized and their budget is slashed. For these reasons, participants in the Namibia workshop advocated confronting the military with great caution and in a gradual manner. They identified as an obvious first start having civilians define precisely the functions of the country's security forces, while phasing out paramilitary forces. Another measure would be to reduce the military's size through attrition and by suspending recruitment. They underscored that these measures should be undertaken concurrently with providing civic education to the military. Put somewhat differently by one participant in the Ethiopia workshop, it would be necessary to "demystify the gun" in African society, which could be accomplished "by educating civilians about the nature and function of the army." In contrast, a more radical approach was suggested by at least one participant in Ethiopia: "The first step toward demilitarization should be a reduction in the military budget." In the three meetings, participants held the view that African militaries would do well to become professional and disciplined, conscious of human rights standards and protections, and productive. Several participants recalled how a number of standing militaries had asked for seminars on democracy, which, they suggested, should be organized without delay, and that help in educating and professionalizing the military should be part of the assistance strategies employed by donor countries. Although the current Nigerian case of military cooperation with the transition to democracy was cited, most participants remained skeptical about the military role in politics. One person recommended that "when soldiers want to become politicians, they can't be part of the armed forces, and, if they want to go back to military service, they can't be politicians." Out of a profound distrust of the military, most participants advocated transforming

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops African militaries into technicians. In Guinea, plans are under way to assign the military to work in many different fields, including road maintenance and farming, so that they would not be idle. In Niger, because the military possesses the necessary human and material resources, it is likely to be building roads through currently impassable areas, constructing schools, and assisting with other productive activities that benefit the society as a whole. Another participant reminded the group in Benin that "the Egyptian army, with all its shortcomings, has one of the best contracting engineering corps, which makes not only roads in Egypt, but bids for contracts elsewhere, producing some of the finest roads and houses around. At the same time, the Egyptian army has one of the best dairy industries in Africa." Others disagreed strongly, cautioning against reinforcing the military's sense that it is the only competent institution in society by assigning it key development roles. Nevertheless, for some participants, the underlying idea remained: the military could contribute to development if it were reconverted, but ought not be integrated into the democratic process. A distinctly opposite approach—making the military part and parcel of a democratic government—found some limited support at the three meetings. A few participants argued that institutionalizing African militaries so they would not feel alienated would make it unlikely that they would act against the democratic process. One participant advocated institutionalizing the participation of the military in some form, thereby giving them a stake in the democratic process. He recalled a former practice in Great Britain, whereby those at Cambridge and Oxford universities could vote twice in the country's elections. "If academics, then why not soldiers? . . . Although this is a bitter pill, it is a way for fragile, new democracies to associate the military with the fruits of power." Expressed somewhat differently, a number of participants indicated that the military could be fully politicized as a vanguard for democracy, but there were no practical suggestions on how this might be accomplished. A number of participants expressed profound disagreement with the notion of incorporating the military in the democratic process. One commented: "It seems to me it would be like regularly offering a bribe to a robber so he doesn't rob your house. Both as a matter of principle and empirically, if we look at societies that have given the military a special position, the problems of military interference have not been avoided. An example of this was in Brazil before Collor's election as president, where the military has given up power with the provision that everyone in the political system there accepts that the military can continue to have a kind of veto over all decisions. I'm not sure what you gain in the long run, other than getting the robber to expect a bribe." For most participants, the particularly worrisome element posed by this integration of the military is its reserved right to intervene when certain principles are violated in some

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops fashion. The vague and open nature of the military veto, feared a number of participants, could result in the military's involvement remaining a permanent feature of African politics, rather than a temporary measure of enticement. In the Namibia meeting, after a particularly intense and thought-provoking small working group, a concrete suggestion was proposed to the plenary session—that "a phased reduction of the military should be undertaken, tied to a fixed-level percentage of the gross domestic product, with a phased redeployment for national service, such as public works projects." This sentiment, although expressed somewhat differently, was offered by a participant in the earlier workshop in Ethiopia, who asked, "Could we not also aim to limit the armed forces in the constitution, with any necessary expansion being subject to a popular referendum?" A few other novel suggestions included creating an African high command to counter military excesses as they occur in individual countries and revisiting the concept that only presidents appoint personnel to important military posts. In the three workshops, participants noted that donor assistance would facilitate the restructuring of African militaries. "Donors bear a responsibility in phasing out military assistance and equipment, while supporting the redeployment and retraining of domestic militaries, because they were involved in the military build-up of Africa." The difficulty of achieving the goal of reduced military presence was, however, illustrated by the decision of the Namibian government taken during the time of the workshop in Windhoek to increase the size of the Namibian army in order to provide employment to young South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) loyalists facing widespread unemployment. INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS In the three meetings, a recurring theme was that civil society was closely linked to the institutionalization of democracy. According to a number of academicians, if institutions and leadership could be developed within civil society, creating the conditions for a reemergence of trust between government and the governed, "that would go a long way toward sustaining democracy." Much attention focused on the role of national commissions on democracy and human rights, which have been established in a number of African states. Participants noted that these institutions have begun to play an important role in monitoring human rights violations, particularly in light of their links to international human rights organizations. Participants stressed that such leagues also represent an attempt to institutionalize democracy in given countries.

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops In Nigeria, for example, it was pointed out that the Center for Democratic Studies has been operating since 1987, conducting research on democracy out of the belief that "it should not be assumed that people know what democracy is. Even the legislators should be taught tolerance, to give and take, and that it is not a crime to be in the opposition." Several Nigerian participants advocated that similar "centers for research in political science or the social sciences be created across the continent, so that certain democratic processes can be anticipated on the basis of research carried out." Another participant cited how, in Niger, a number of commissions had been set up to "control the activities of government," including the High Council for Communication, which "enables the leaders of various groups in the country to express themselves freely on the radio and in the press, to denounce abuses, and to engage in democratic discussions." One participant from Benin, however, in noting the plethora of new institutions in his country, lamented that they ''have been dragging their feet lately.'' One noteworthy discussion centered on what it is about independent commissions that has made them relatively successful. One participant summarized: "First, what independent institutions, associations, and projects have in common is that they all involve people in a common effort. . . . The success of some of these institutions is due to their increasing the range of participation, that is, giving people access to share their views and concerns, and letting them become partners in the enterprise." A number of participants in the Benin workshop expressed concern about the objectivity of institutions in Africa. Nevertheless, others felt that individuals could press their governments to allow independent institutions to emerge by carefully examining the international treaty obligations undertaken by their particular countries. One commented: "Under international law, the UN human rights covenants, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, African governments are obliged to create institutions that are dedicated to the promotion of democratic principles and human rights, to encourage those that already have been established, and [to enable] the separation of powers and the building of a strong and independent judiciary." Individuals, he argued, would have to urge their governments to "pay more than lip service to the obligations they have undertaken" and could seek the assistance of donor countries in the process. Other participants advocated that independent commissions be built into new African constitutions: "National commissions for democracy and human rights could be established in each country, with their status, power, and functions spelled out in the constitution so that government does not bend the constitution to suit its interests. . . . Such commissions, funded and operated independent of the government, might help build the necessary confidence for civil society to emerge." In Ethiopia, one participant indicated that, once national institutions

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops were established, "general guidelines could be made known, which would then allow for all sorts of associations at the grass roots level to become useful organs for a new political culture in Africa." To this end, another participant in the Ethiopia meeting believed that a consensus document "setting out what constitutes civil society and what democracy is should be decided at the national level and then distributed." Nevertheless, the general sentiment seemed headed in the other direction, favoring autonomous decision making within independent commissions. In the three workshops, independent electoral commissions were identified as critical to sustaining democracy. Most participants agreed that such commissions should not be appointed by government, as it would have to act as referee at the time of elections. Yet, in the Benin workshop, one participant argued that effective work can be carried out, despite an initial government role: "My organization was established with loyalty to the center. All members are appointed centrally. We are tasked with raising the political consciousness of the people toward the state or the nation, rather than toward its constituent parts. . . . Essentially, we are organizing national, state, and local elections, dividing the country into senatorial districts and federal constituencies and articulating the guidelines for the establishment of political parties." There was a clear understanding that the role of independent electoral commissions would be to register voters, organize and supervise elections, and monitor and evaluate electoral results. One participant commented: "Things have to be quite clear as far as ensuring a proper situation during a vote. The last time we had elections, there were no identity cards and no monitoring body. The next time, we can't do that. The Ministry of the Interior should no longer be solely responsible for physically carrying the ballot boxes and ballots. There has to be somebody else responsible, some monitoring agency, which would contribute to the truthfulness of the results of the ballot." One specific recommendation was that electoral commissions have consolidated revenue funds, which would be independent of the government administration. There was no clear agreement, however, on whether international observers should necessarily be a part of this process. Most participants agreed that international observers would be useful during one or two national elections subsequent to a country's undergoing or having completed a transition to democracy. And yet one participant in Ethiopia pointed out, "Although international observers are important during a transitional period, as they serve to help fledgling democracies, one might not want to be judged to be a complete failure for having failed once. In other words, a permanent provision for outside monitors cannot be accepted by countries whose citizenry feels confident with their electoral system." Still, it was clear that independent electoral commissions could help ensure participa-

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops tion in the voting process by seeing that future elections in Africa would be conducted in a free and fair manner. TRANSNATIONAL DEMOCRATIC CENTER In the three meetings, there was widespread agreement that an Africa-wide reinforcement of democratization is needed. One person remarked: "I think that, up to now, we haven't referred to an inter-African dimension, which is very important as far as democracy is concerned. This is a dimension that we must not forget. That is, we ought to go beyond the state as it now exists to create certain trans-state structures, African in nature." Participants suggested that there ought to be a transnational network to serve as a support system for democracy, so that if there is trouble in one country, a group from another country could come to its assistance. The idea was that the transnational center could launch pleas for urgent action, thereby setting in motion the intervention of watchdog organizations concerned when rights are threatened. By facilitating the emergence of a pan-African network, participants noted that a transnational center also might serve to make domestic groups more professional. In Namibia participants further elaborated that the transnational center would draw on African resources in support of democracy, conduct research and training activities, and assist with information sharing in two-way exchanges. There was agreement across the three workshops that, by linking up, Africans would rely on themselves and not the West, thereby lessening the "stigma of Europeans being brought in." Nevertheless, participants recognized that limited resources might impede the ability of such a center to actually perform the tasks envisioned. It was noted that "it will be difficult for groups to create a permanent network because they lack material and there is a difficulty of movement and the free flow of information among countries." For these reasons, some participants advocated starting up regional democratic centers as a first step. Others thought that computers, modems, and electronic mail, which are appearing increasingly throughout Africa, could provide a sufficient level of infrastructure to facilitate communication among the constituent groups of the future transnational center. A number of participants in the Ethiopia workshop advocated seeking external assistance for a transnational center, declaring it ''imperative that domestic organizations be helped materially and be assisted in creating a network at the pan-African level." Still other participants cautioned that there is no particular formula to guarantee that domestic human rights and prodemocracy groups will emerge and necessarily hook up with a transnational center. Yet, there was a clear sense among participants that in order to catalyze collective action, indi-

OCR for page 46
Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops viduals and domestic groups must begin to encourage people to protect each other. As one participant pointed out, "One is one's best protector if individuals act collectively when one of them is threatened." Some participants argued that because domestic groups have been atomized, an umbrella organization would be useful, helping to coordinate civil society's autonomous groups, offering guidelines, and, when need be, exposing problems continentwide. The point was also made by some that, "if one builds an umbrella, it might be more easily torn down by the state." To that end, they indicated that informal coalitions might be more useful. Nevertheless, there was strong agreement that a forum within the Organization of African Unity was not what participants had in mind for a transnational democratic center. "The OAU has a tendency to be fuzzy. To encourage people, we must form domestic human rights organizations and then a transnational one, which will build a network among the emerging groups, similar to the Helsinki process." The strength of this idea was demonstrated by participants in the Namibia meeting, who labored well into the final night of the gathering in order to draft a charter establishing the first transnational democratic center in Africa. With a provisional secretariat in Lesotho, the group aims to build the pan-African network initially among the participants of the three workshops, with ambitious plans to expand to a presence in every African country. Underlying the above discussions concerning the institutions necessary to sustain democracy was the recognition that democracy can be a costly form of government. Accordingly, one readily identifiable fear among participants in the three workshops was that Africa's unfavorable economic conditions might limit opportunities for sustaining democracy. One participant asked, "Can one be sure in newly democratic states that the citizenry will continue to support a civilian government undertaking painful reforms without external economic assistance?" In this context, participants advocated donor assistance in developing techniques not only to manage the work of democracy, but also to transcend poverty. Some of these issues are discussed in the following chapter.