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Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops Conclusion: Role of Africans in the Democratization Process The three workshops revealed common views on some of the important needs and problems faced by newly democratizing countries. There was some expectation that there will be regional variations on some issues but the overall consistency and commonality in views toward democracy was surprising to most of the participants. Participants acknowledged the crucial role Africans have to play in making the democracy movement continue, gain strength, or weaken. As has been noted throughout this report, external support in the right directions can help to ease the pain of transition to democracy, but the role played by Africans themselves is what is important in sustaining and consolidating it. One participant stated, "I think the ability of people to challenge the government to be responsive to popular will and face the reality of that challenge is what I think the issue is in a democracy. . . . From colonial times, somebody has always said, we will do the job for you, and I think the challenge of democracy is to say let the people face some challenges themselves. . . . They can be assisted at best, but nobody can do it for them." The importance of Africans' inventing a credible alternative model to the Western model of democracy was underscored as crucially important: "One can take as a starting point a universal model and then add to it the very specific characteristics of the continent we are dealing with. . . . In other words, democracy can generate certain contradictions and that is why we have to be constantly aware of what might happen and try to manage the
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Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops contradictions." Another participant focused his arguments specifically on the evolution of democracy in Africa: "When I talk about the evolution of democracy, I don't mean something that can come from one day to the next. . . . It is something that needs to continuously evolve and continuously change. . . . It is only through this constant evolution and development that we can achieve democracy. . . . Democracy also means constantly involving the largest number of people in the management of their own affairs. . . . In order to do this, we have to ensure that different organizations come into being and citizens become aware of what is happening, of what the different organizations represent and help them conquer power. . . . In other words, the different organizations have to form a sort of relay system or bridge to coordinate and support the process." In short, there was consensus in all three meetings that for democracy to survive in Africa there should be a commitment to the concept, the value, and the goal of democracy at the individual as well as the group level. There was also a suggestion that, rather than looking to the West for success stories on democracy, it would also be helpful to examine democratic experiments in Africa from countries such as Botswana, the Gambia, Mauritius, Senegal, and Zimbabwe, and other Third World nations (such as India and in Latin America) to analyze and draw lessons of concrete democratic practices that work in those countries. In addition to national examples, participants suggested there were also cases of development projects, institutions, and associations that have succeeded in some countries that should be emulated. One participant took exception to this suggestion and argued, "The few country examples just mentioned proves that we find success stories only in the small states where there is no problem of communication, and in European countries, democracy prevailed only when these countries reached a certain economic level. . . . I am worried because it seems to me the fundamental requirement is economic because democracy is most of all a matter of decentralization and participation, but decentralization and participation require communication, means of communication so that everybody can talk to each other, know each other and there is a free flow of information on every side. . . . The reason why we in Africa have different problems is due to the fact that perhaps we want to set an order of priorities for installing democracy, but we want to stress the importance of developing infrastructures which will enable people to communicate freely and which will enable the press and media to spread democratic culture leading to greater success." Although there was consensus in all workshops that Africans have to take the lead in the transition to democracy, it was also agreed that there is a need for external actors in helping to tackle the problems in Africa. When external actors take definitive steps, such as in Kenya, there are positive results toward democracy. Zaire has been slow in progressing towards
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Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops democracy primarily because donors have not been definitive in their actions. Participants noted the need for coherence and collaborative efforts on the part of donors in helping African countries in democratization. Although the issues threatening democracy in Africa and the disagreements among participants on how to tackle them have been discussed throughout this report, it is important in these concluding pages to highlight major differences in approaches, which stem from the fact that there is no single established method of tackling these issues. The methods used to address such problems as the role of the military, replacing dictators, the number of political parties, managing ethnicity, and the appropriate role of donors will vary from country to country, depending on the degree of significance placed on them by the individual countries. Participants' views regarding the role of the military in the democratization process usually reflected the experiences within their country. Suggestions included keeping the military out of politics, downsizing the military, giving it civic responsibilities or redirecting its efforts into productive sectors of the economy, and professionalizing it. Some even questioned the necessity of maintaining militaries in Africa at all. Thus, although the disagreements were mainly centered around how to deal with the military as a major contestant for political power in Africa, there was the underlying assumption among participants of the need for effective civilian control of the military in Africa. The discussions on how to replace dictators in Africa and whether Western countries should be involved brought about a lot of divergent opinions and suggestions. Two key suggestions that emerged from these discussions basically summarize the different approaches. First, there must be a provision in the constitution that limits the powers and tenure of leaders, and it should also indicate clearly how they can be replaced before their terms end constitutionally. This suggestion was advanced particularly because of the argument that, if a dictator is elected to office, then the laws of the country have to be respected and it is not legitimate to use unconstitutional means to replace him, such as coups d'état by military officers, which has been a common device used in African countries. The second suggestion disagreed with relying on constitutional provisions primarily because they have not worked in those African countries where dictators have total control of the armed forces and are willing to use them against those who question their authority. One participant argued, ''What should we do if these guarantees in the constitution do not work and you cannot get rid of the dictators? . . . I will submit that the people are the last guarantee. . . . They are the sovereign and they have the right to assume their responsibilities by fighting for their rights." Another participant mentioned that "in some countries, the Supreme Court has the power to put an end to the rule of the President, but the structure of the forces in African countries is such that
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Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops the members of the court are the ones who might get arrested if they attempt to do such a thing. . . . Therefore, what we need to do is to call outside help by turning to donors to help us get rid of the dictators by whatever means necessary." The suggestion of relying on donors for help to overthrow dictators was brushed aside by some participants who pointed out that donors have been particularly helpful in sustaining some dictators rather than helping to get rid of them and should not be trusted. Another area of major disagreement by participants had to do with the role, number, and financing of political parties in African countries. Although in the Benin workshop a participant from Nigeria explained the rationale behind the adoption of the open-ballot system and the imposition of only two parties in his country, other participants were not convinced that it was the best method of minimizing electoral fraud and political fragmentation. With regard to running for public office and financing political parties, some participants pointed out that running for office in African countries, as in other countries, costs money and it seems that only those with money can afford to do this. One participant argued, "Only those that can get hold of finance can manage their campaigns and nobody focusses on how they get the money. . . . If democracy is only for those who have money, then where are we going? . . . We have to be able to find some solution and public funds have to be made use of in a loyal fashion." The discussions on number of parties and how to minimize electoral fraud did not reach consensus, and the onus was left on individual countries to tackle the problems based on what they thought was the most appropriate method. The question of how to manage ethnicity was also a contentious issue in all three workshops. Some participants argued that promoting ethnicity was not an obstacle to democracy, while others felt strongly that the strength of ethnicity has to be recognized because continued suppression of ethnic identities could lead to severe problems. Federalism, it was noted, is a mechanism to manage ethnic conflict, but under federalism the disagreement was whether there should be more decentralization or devolution of power. Addressing the issue of ethnicity especially in a federal system and how to share power was probably the most contentious issue in all three workshops. It is also important by way of conclusion to mention the paradox of democracy produced from outside. Essentially, democracy can only come from inside, and the amount that external actors can and should do to encourage it must inherently be limited. "Democratic" governments helped to power by external forces may be liable to lose support, because they are seen as being the stooges of foreign powers. One participant raised the question, "What responsibilities do the donors assume when they are encouraging (or even forcing) African states to adopt 'democracy'?" In re-
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Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices, Summary of Three Workshops sponse to this question, another participant argued, ''Having helped to create democracy, external powers must then be prepared to respect it. . . . You cannot assume that the interests of African peoples, reflected in their democratic governments are the same as those of wealthy external powers. . . . Having helped to establish such governments, external powers have a minimal obligation not to destabilize them, and a broader obligation to help democratic governments achieve the popular aspirations, without which democracy will surely fail."
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