Transitions to Democracy in Africa
As authoritarian regimes in Africa increasingly are being challenged across the continent, participants were hopeful that competitive multiparty systems might emerge in Africa. Nevertheless, they pointed out that emerging democratic governments would have to confront a legacy of poverty, illiteracy, militarization, and underdevelopment produced by incompetent or corrupt governments. Some wondered if the new demands being placed on African nations by international donor institutions as well as heightened individual expectations for better lives could be met by the nascent democracies.
Participants indicated that, although contemporary authoritarian regimes in Africa have taken a number of forms, they fall within the general models of one-party systems, personal dictatorships, and military regimes. The postcolonial trend toward one-party systems in Africa was justified on a number of grounds, including the alleged tradition of a single unchallenged chief, the idea of a democratic majority expressed through a single party, and the need for unity in the face of ethnic, linguistic, and cultural differences. Competitive politics was rejected as an imported luxury neither needed nor affordable in developing countries. In Malawi, for example, the idea of an opposition was rejected on quasi-theological grounds: "There is no opposition in Heaven. God himself does not want opposition—that is
why he chased Satan away. Why should Kamuzu [President Banda] have opposition?''3
In a number of African countries, participants pointed out that the national liberation movement had evolved into a party that either legally or effectively monopolized power, often under the banner of preserving independence from foreign interference. Access to power was through the party organization and its rule was enforced through ideological persuasion or coercion. The governing party became the instrument of elite groups that held onto power at all costs and were unwilling to tolerate dissent or serious competition.
In the three workshops, much consideration was given to how, over time, the postcolonial government of newly independent African states had evolved into domination by a single party in a one-party system, which in turn often became a personal dictatorship. It was pointed out that power in the state had depended on access or proximity to, dependence on, or support from the dictator. In some cases, military dictatorships were created by coups d'état, which overthrew democratic or civilian governments. The military leaders exercised power on an institutional basis, governing collegially as a junta or by circulating top government positions among military generals. There was clear agreement that, whatever the form, one-party states and other forms of dictatorships suppressed both competition and participation, undermining the potential for a healthy civil society and the necessary institutions for democracy.
Participants recognized that in many African countries the institutions of civil society and democratic government are weaker today than they were in the immediate postindependence period, making the transition to democracy a daunting challenge. Some argued that, in order for democracy to succeed, power must shift from authoritarian and military rulers to leaders who would be representative of and sensitive to the diverse ethnic groups in African societies. These new leaders, they said, must direct a move to the protection of civil rights, establishment of agreed-upon modes of governance, and greater political accountability in order to sustain the move to democracy.
There was agreement among participants that the period of postcolonial suppression had produced a broad-based popular understanding of the need to share power and to have the ability to hold governments accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, some thought that this new thinking, although necessary, was not a sufficient basis on which to start building democracy. As Larry Diamond has argued, "It is unrealistic to think that countries in
Africa can suddenly reverse course and institutionalize stable democratic government simply by changing leaders, constitutions and/or public mentalities. If progress is made toward developing democratic government, it is likely to be gradual, messy, fitful and slow, with many imperfections along the way."4
MODES OF TRANSITION IN AFRICA
Although the nature and circumstances vary from one country to another, two basic patterns in the modes of transition to democracy were identified. Transitions from above occur when functioning rulers respond to an impending or actual crisis by initiating democratic reforms. Transitions from below occur when there are mounting popular pressures from the people resulting in national conferences, popular revolutions, coups d'état, or pact formations, all with the goal of moving toward a more democratic society.
Some scholars argue that transitions from above are more promising in terms of their ability to "deliver" democracy, because they tend to be more specific about their time frame, procedural steps, and overall strategy. Transitions from below are said to be plagued with a great deal of uncertainty. Other writers contend that every historical case of regime change has involved some negotiation—explicit or implicit, overt or covert—between government and opposition groups. Transitions may also begin as one type and become another, particularly if the government is unsure of how far it wants to go in opening up the country. In many cases, however, they combine elements of the two transition processes.
The participants analyzed the behavior of entrenched leaders with reference to transitions that had occurred elsewhere, finding that some African leaders still had the ability to suppress or, at least, retard democratic transitions. One observed that "much will depend on the government leaders who will be in power during the transition phase to democracy. They can set the stage for a peaceful and democratic change, or can obstruct the entire process." Another view was that "we ought to be cautious not to expect much from governments [in creating a conducive climate] in this process. Most are unlikely to give up their position of power and advantage." With regard to discussions concerning the overthrow of African dictators, some participants said that the point was not whether citizens had the right to overthrow authoritarian or dictatorial governments, but whether the dictators removed would be replaced by democratic regimes. One com
mented: "We have to examine certain principles in the constitution to see what kinds of guarantees they offer as far as the limitation of power is concerned."
Participants agreed that where authoritarian governments had suppressed the evolution of an enabling environment, the transition process must start from below—by the people. In the Namibia workshop, participants identified four such models of transition—national conferences, popular revolutions, pact formations, and actions by the military—that have been used in African countries to remove dictators from office and to create or restore political pluralism.
In the last three years, national conferences, particularly in Francophone countries, have emerged as vehicles for representation, accountability, and consensus formation. These conferences have been convened as a result of citizen and elite pressures for public dialogue about the democratization process in countries such as Benin, Mali, Gabon, Zaire, Congo, Nigeria and Zambia. In addition, opposition groups in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Guinea, and Côte d'Ivoire have called for national conferences in their countries. In some cases, national conferences have unceremoniously reduced or eliminated the powers of incumbent rulers. In Benin, for example, where the first national conference was held, Mathieu Kerekou broke down and wept as a national conference of ruling-party members and other leaders pronounced his repressive regime corrupt, incompetent, and illegal and even rejected an interim leadership role for him. In Togo, the national conference facilitated the emergence of the formerly clandestine opposition, although President Gnassingbé Eyadèma called out troops and declared the end of the transition effort on the final day of the national conference.
Participants underlined the importance of viewing national conferences as the beginning of an ongoing struggle toward democracy, rather than as an end. As such, national conferences should be regarded as part of a broad process resulting from a crisis situation. They would be best understood as opportunities to define and classify issues, establish accountability, and mobilize a broad cross-section of popular constituencies. Participants stressed that national conferences do not establish functioning democracies. Some participants in the Benin workshop noted that because the surprise effect of national conferences had vanished, it is unlikely that entrenched rulers would permit future national conferences to be held.
The common threads among successful national conferences were identified: the persistence of a crisis and agreement that it ought not continue; a prior change in government or government's explicit recognition that it must engage in dialogue; the recognition that all significant groups, including elites, participate, although no elections are held to determine those participants; and independent sponsorship. They indicated that national conferences have produced either constitutional review or a new constitu-
tion, have sometimes brought about a transitional government, and have led to elections.
After examining national conferences, participants also identified other alternative routes to democracy: popular revolution, as in the recent case of Ethiopia; action taken by the military, as in Mali and Sierra Leone; top-down concessions, as in Swaziland and Senegal; the top-down concession of self-imposed transitions to civil rule by the military in Nigeria; and pact formation, such as the Lancaster House Agreement, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), and negotiations in both Angola and Mozambique. Although each route was said to be loaded with problems, it was suggested that pact formations give the impression of a deal achieved undemocratically, thereby undercutting subsequent democratic legitimacy.
FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGES TO DEMOCRATIC TRANSITIONS
In the three workshops, participants identified fundamental challenges that will have to be confronted if the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy is to be consolidated in Africa.
The Cult of Personality
African politics has been described as a matter of personality, not programs, especially under single-party systems. In the Ethiopia workshop, one participant indicated that rulers have tended to encourage personality cults by having their portraits prominently and extensively displayed, assuming folk titles, and encouraging the use of slogans: "The idea of the president as the father of the nation, the big man, or being above the law is the prevailing political culture in Africa." Because of the high level of illiteracy in Africa, many politicians resort to such symbols in order to express their views to the masses. Another participant illustrated how this practice had manipulated the electorate: "During presidential campaigns in some rural areas in Benin, the people asked why they have to elect a new president when the old one is still alive." The issue of exploitation was further advanced by another participant, who stated: "In a country where there is 60–70 percent illiteracy, the campaign speeches by politicians, when translated to local languages, often are violations of conscience, because they provide only threads of information while deviously attacking the opposition party.'' In the transition to democracy, then, "the challenge is to break down the idea of the president being above the law and to stop looking at the other person who thinks differently as one's enemy."
The winner-take-all practice in African political competition has been responsible for the elimination of an opposition as well as any political competition subsequent to elections. Participants in the three meetings proposed that bargaining become the new political culture in Africa: "The basic rule of the democracy game is that the winners do not forever dislodge the losers. It is important for the consolidation of democracy that losers believe in the system and think that they can get back into the game." They further suggested that the uncertainty of democracy through the ballot box—win today, lose tomorrow—had to be understood and accepted by any society in its transition to democracy. In the Namibia workshop, one participant described how former President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, after the election, went to the radio station to broadcast his resignation, and then personally removed the presidential flag from his car. The significance of Kaunda's action, which participants hoped other African leaders will emulate, is the public recognition that the president is subordinate to the people.
Participants argued that the notion of winner take all had heightened ethnic tensions, especially in countries with many ethnic groups. In such countries, it was suggested that there should be coalition building, bargaining, and a sharing of the rewards of power, which normally is what civilian politicians elsewhere in the world have to do in order to gain and keep power. As one participant put it: "The phenomenon of winner take all in competition is important in the context of ethnic problems. There must be bargaining, some give and take, because we cannot put the ethnic genie back into the bottle."
In one workshop, participants studied the electoral system of Mauritius, whose institutional arrangements recognize the losers as the loyal opposition. In Mauritius, because the "best losers" are reserved seats in parliament, they do not lose everything, a fact that, to some extent, reduces the zero-sum game. One participant argued that reserving seats in parliament for the opposition can hardly be regarded as a major innovation in the continent. However, participants stressed that the period of transition must include bargaining and essential compromises between state and society for the existent problems of political competition in Africa to be resolved. Participants agreed that there no longer should be a systematic throwing out of parties when they lose. In discussions of regional and local devolution of power, participants explored the relative advantages of these arrangements as a means of providing a power base for parties that lose at the national level.
Another key challenge is how to deal with one of the major contestants for political power in Africa: the military. Participants argued that, if the military is not transformed in the process of democratization, it would be difficult to have a dynamic civil society, because some actors would have an inordinate access to force: "The role of force in African politics must be examined. . . . There are difficulties in affecting democratic transitions in Africa when there are people who can and are playing the ethnic game of winner take all with guns. Where such force exists, the nightmare scenario of societal fragmentation into a series of armed warlords, such as in Liberia and Somalia, can emerge." However, as argued by another participant: "The problem with all militaries around the world, and not just Africa, is how to control them—not their access to force."
As one participant characterized it: "The plague of military intervention in politics by coups d'état has descended on Africa since independence. As a matter of fact, the first coup in sub-Saharan Africa occurred in Togo in 1963, that is, three years after most states became independent." There was agreement that African militaries do not respect the boundaries of the barracks, intervene in politics less out of altruistic motives than for a host of personal reasons, and arrogate to themselves the role of prescribing national goals and ideologies. Some thought the military threat is more severe today than in prior periods because the large-scale militarization that resulted from the cold war competition. Participants agreed that the arms race in Africa left tragic results. For example, prolonged periods of warfare and collapsing economies have left large numbers of young men with no skills, other than warfare, and few opportunities for civilian employment, even if they had the skills. Participants argued that the presence of formidable military forces in newly democratic or democratizing countries poses an ever-present temptation for intervention: "All issues become much more difficult to manage when some actors have access to force. The real issue we face, then, is violence, as potentially exercised by the military." Although much discussion focused on the military, participants did not agree on how best to confront the military threat in African politics. (Various nonconsensual suggestions that were advanced are discussed below.)
The ethnic variable, as participants labeled it, proved to be a contentious issue during the three workshops. There was a recognition that ethnic tensions in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, and Zimbabwe have led to violence and even civil wars. A widespread view evident among participants was that ignoring or suppressing ethnicity had failed in Africa.
Many participants advocated that ethnic groups be considered as integral parts of civil society and their strengths be recognized as an opportunity to solidify it. They argued that African countries currently undergoing transitions to democracy must find ways to deal with diversity among various ethnic groups, by managing ethnicity and recognizing the rights of individuals to promote their ethnicity. One participant commented: "Don't make tribalism disappear. Manage it, recognize the strength of it, but provide guarantees against the dreadful side of it, which can include patronage, expulsion, and massacres. In other words, tame it, because tribalism can be both satisfying and terrifying at the same time." Other participants, however, argued against the promotion of ethnicity, fearing that it might cause a redrawing of the map of Africa.
Participants identified two possible outcomes when leaders of ethnically diverse countries fail to address ethnicity during the transition period. First, a continued suppression of ethnic identities might lead to the emergence of open conflict, in which groups demand equal treatment and equal access to development. Second, in cases in which the state imposes an assimilation policy, depending on whether the needs of various elements are met adequately, there would be a distinct possibility that the groups would reject the imposed national identity. In this instance, either the assimilation policy would fail or a bargaining process wherein multiethnicity is recognized would begin. In addition, a number of participants voiced the opinion that multiethnic societies do not necessarily result in violence or exclusion of conflict, pointing out that "in most African societies, there is a fluid interaction among ethnic groups, through marriage and the marketplace."
The politicization of ethnic identities and the repression of one group by another were identified as primary sources of conflict. To promote ethnic coexistence, a bargaining process would have to recognize differences by striking a balance among groups. Participants advocated equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their ethnicity, and suggested also that the state transcend ethnic divisiveness and remain above all groups in society. Similarly, they argued that merit and professionalism, rather than ethnicity, should be the primary criteria for promotion to national offices or to the civil service. Because some groups had been advantaged at the expense of others, the sense among participants was that equal access to education, the recognition of ethnic languages, and some interim affirmative action would be needed to ensure that hitherto disadvantaged groups and regions would not be excluded from meaningful participation in society. Although such measures might reduce the political salience of ethnicity, participants acknowledged they would be difficult to achieve, particularly in view of the cultural traditions that virtually demand preferential treatment of one's own ethnic group in the access to public resources. Although there was agreement on democracy providing a framework within which
ethnic groups could negotiate and live together, some argued that the strength of ethnicity had to be recognized as an opportunity to build civil society, while others remained to be convinced that promoting ethnicity is not an obstacle to democratization.
The Role of Women
The crucial role of women in the democratization process was acknowledged by participants in the three workshops. Some suggested that the democratic wave has not adequately addressed the expectations of women, especially rural women at the grass roots level. They indicated that women were not consulted in the governance or transition process, despite their constituting the majority of the labor force. One participant observed: "Women make up at least 50 percent of the population in Africa and are active at the grass roots level. We need to help make other women aware of the democratization trend. . . . We face illiteracy, so we must educate women, but also lessen their burden, give them time to think, to participate in new political conditions, through family planning, child care, welfare, and income-generating activities. If they had economic independence and used family planning, they could develop themselves and be empowered, thus playing an important role in organizations."
The subordination of women in Africa, argued the participants, has strong historical roots that have been reinforced by contemporary legal codes. In countries subject to Roman-Dutch law, such as South Africa and Namibia, gender inequality is explicitly codified in law. In other countries, women may have nominal rights, but still face legal discrimination. As a participant from Zambia noted, "the National Women's Lobby Group of Zambia has identified 99 laws that discriminate against women—and these provisions are in the process of being repealed." Most participants held that women's rights would not be achieved by granting decrees of equality but through a socialization process, whereby legal rights would be recognized and entrenched in order to promote women's interests and heighten their participation. Nevertheless, participants did recognize that changes in African legal codes would constitute an affirmation by society that women and men are equal human beings. Participants further argued that the entire democratization process should be accompanied by a positive campaign of empowerment and access to the legal system, emphasizing the rights of women, children, and the poor. Participants noted that the unequal and often debased position of women in African societies is a major obstacle to democratization: "Women are overwhelmed by problems of daily survival. . . . In addition to their economic marginalization, their role is further constrained by cultural, religious, and ideological orientation. . . . Once they begin to understand and exercise their power, they will play a signifi-
cant role. Because of women's proximity to the oppressive power of the state and as a primary socializing agent, their role is crucial to any society aspiring to democracy."
Although subsequent discussions focused on decreasing the gender gap in social relations, participants also suggested an examination of linguistic and social barriers, particularly the disrespectful way in which women are addressed and language that portrays them as lesser beings. One person commented: "Women should be emancipated from economic dependence and domestic slavery. . . . Some programs of affirmative action might be appropriate, such as reserving seats for women in local and regional organizations, as is done in Uganda." Although affirmative action was encouraged by some, others stressed that democratic rights should be universal, because affirmative action, employed in excess by creating separate rights for women, could create more inequality. Nevertheless, there was agreement on the need to educate both men and women on gender issues relating to democratization.
Some participants advocated examining the cultural and religious limitations on the roles women can play, because it will take time and socialization to overcome such constraints. Yet a number of women cautioned against being prescriptive or assuming that a particular religious environment precludes possibilities. Specifically, the African women participants advocated providing women with economic opportunities that would enable them to find their own way of participating. Still others believed that the gender issue should be pursued, but with no illusions, asking: "Are we talking about feminism or of the participation of women as members of society in order to enable their contribution to the democratic process, which eventually could result in gender equality?" The discussions pointed out that democratic rights are basic rights that should include women. It was stressed that one of the main obstacles is African men, whose traditional roles give them privileges they are not willing to relinquish.
In short, the three workshops affirmed the crucial nature of the role played by women to any modern society aspiring to democracy. It is critical for this role to be understood during the transition process, when women must have opportunities to have their own voices heard.
PRECONDITIONS FOR DEMOCRACY
One significant ingredient of democratic transitions identified in the meetings was the creation of an enabling environment, which would permit citizens to live in accordance with their beliefs and rights without obstruction from government. One view was that the proper role of government is to create an enabling environment in which traditions and values of the constitution will be able to take root and where rights and duties are set out.
In this process, the separation of powers must be facilitated. Government must allow institutions to work and must allow citizens to exercise their rights, to live in accordance with their religious beliefs and cultural values, without interference. There was no clear agreement, however, on whether government should be responsible for the creation of such an environment.
Other participants suggested that societal organizations such as nongovernmental organizations and private voluntary organizations should assume primary responsibility for creating an enabling environment. In some cases, it was pointed out, the societal organizations, which had gone underground because they were suppressed by government, must be allowed to resurface in order to contribute to the creation of such an environment. They noted: "The expectation that government will create an enabling atmosphere is misleading, as it puts the imperative on the state. The African state actually has pushed out societal needs and created an environment for itself. Societal groups must strive to ensure that an enabling environment is created. The job should not be left to government, but government should allow the society room to operate."
Regardless of whether societal organizations or the state assumes the responsibility for creating or facilitating an enabling environment, participants identified certain prerequisites for an enabling environment, which include a legal order based on human rights, societal awareness of the instrumental and intrinsic values of democracy, a competent state, a committed minority, courage, and a culture of tolerance.
Legal Order and Basic Rights
In many precolonial African countries, despotism was the rule, and societies in which basic rights could be asserted before the seventeenth century were few and far between. Such rights did exist, however. Although hardly a reflection of the existence of civil rights or of a democratic order, they set the boundaries between rulers and subjects, guaranteeing that individuals are protected from despotic control of those exercising state powers. For example, in many African societies, rulers who abused power or acted ultra vires (outside the traditionally prescribed rules governing the conduct of rulers) could be and were frequently removed from office by various means. In contemporary Africa, the state's monopoly of power and its disregard for individual liberties and freedoms generally have led to an erosion or, in some cases, complete absence of government legitimacy.
Because it is commonly understood that human rights constitute the most important concerns of human society and civilization, participants agreed that popular participation and a legal order without guarantees for individual rights would not contribute to the establishment of democracy. Identifying the state as the major violator of human rights in Africa, participants
suggested that institutions that are respected by the people and a system that has the legal authority to regulate the state would have to be invented: ''Liberal democracies respect the rights of the individual. Freedoms of the individual are critical to African participation and thus progress toward democracy." Notably, a number of African lawyers and judges at the workshops stressed that "one should proceed with caution regarding collective rights." Those that "addressed cultural rights and the freedom of assembly," they argued, ''have a valid function, but group rights should not override individual rights."
Some participants suggested that one means of strengthening human rights in this second liberation of Africa would be to publicize and explain the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Inasmuch as the fundamental rights and freedoms written into African constitutions were modeled after the Universal Declaration, participants said that the international standards of human rights applied to all, whether or not a particular country had ratified additional human rights instruments. Such discussion also turned to questions concerning the protection and enforcement of individual rights, wherein civic education and legal aid were proposed as means of encouraging people to know and defend their rights. On a practical level, there were many ideas about how to communicate concepts of freedom and political rights to largely illiterate peasant communities (discussed below).
The discussions of human rights and safeguards led to the issue of a normative order in society when individuals start to question the legitimacy of their rulers. One participant indicated that the basis of legitimacy could be identified from inputs and outputs: "Does government have the right to rule; was it elected? Is government ruling tightly, delivering the goods it promised the people?" In this context, reciprocity between state and society—between governors and the governed, between those who exercise political leadership in society and those who are led, between those who exercise authority and those who are the subjects of this authority—was identified as a significant element of democracy. Democracy requires that those who have authority use it for the public good, in a democratic system of government that begins by recognizing all members of society are equal. Participants agreed that people should have equal say and equal participation in the affairs of government and decision making in society, because, in the final analysis, government exists to serve the people; the people do not exist to serve government. In other words, governments must enhance individual rights and not stifle their existence.
In demarcating new boundaries between African states and societies, it was suggested by some that the rule of law needs to be established. One participant commented: "When there is an open process, but no legal context, the battle between the government and opposition forces has no legal reference. This is the case now in Zaire." Other participants brought the
debate full circle by advocating that human rights must be at the center of a new legal order: "Repressive laws on African statute books against personal liberty and habeas corpus are decrees euphemistically called laws. Such laws must be removed from the statute books."
Values of Democracy
During the transition toward Africa's second independence, individuals are saying that they want to determine their own future. Yet, in order to help the transition process along, participants argued that society as a whole needs to be aware of the instrumental and intrinsic values of democracy.
In most African countries, participants recognized that a tremendous amount of information does not circulate beyond a small portion of the urban population, owing to illiteracy, language barriers, and costs. Because, as one person commented, the "individual ignorance of personal rights and understanding of what democracy means has encouraged authoritarianism in Africa," some participants wanted political education at the grass roots level about democracy. For example, someone suggested that local student councils could help teach students about real ideas and practices in democratic management. Others indicated practical lessons in democracy at the grass roots level could be learned by serving in local government—in as much as there tends to be greater accountability where government is in close proximity to people.
Other participants, however, took exception to the view of educating only the masses, suggesting that politicians should be educated about human rights and respect for the constitution. As one put it: "Masses do have a wisdom that intellectuals should learn. If we want genuine democracy, the participation of the masses has to be sought by politicians, and not bought by manipulators. . . . Politicians should try to understand what the masses know, because they sometimes lack the ability to articulate their interests and grievances. This way their contribution in society is ensured."
There was clear agreement among participants in the three workshops that some form of resocialization to promote political culture had to be undertaken, as "negative values had been inculcated for so long." One cannot legislate political culture. One must look at the issues—what have been the costs, and what do we need to move away from? In a moving plea in the Ethiopia workshop, one participant suggested that "if we are to recognize that our societies are heterogenous, maybe we can overcome the fear of transition with a culture of tolerance. . . . How to reach it? Through mutual recognition, consensus, compromise, not fear." It was then pointed out that education would be crucial to the development of a culture of tolerance, which, it was hoped, would contribute immensely to the creation of an enabling environment for democracy: "We must encourage citizens to
learn the habits of civil disobedience on a massive scale. . . . We must encourage people to go out and demonstrate, to show their opinion regarding issues, because we must eliminate the culture of fear."
The current crisis in Africa, participants pointed out, is a crisis of the state and its incompetence in development. In the three workshops, the need for an alternative view of the state was identified—a state capable of assisting in the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. Citing the government's breakdown of authority, lack of legitimacy, and unwillingness to bargain, a number of participants described African states as "lame leviathans." Similarly, another participant indicated that the problem was that African governments are not governing and, in their present makeup, do not have the capacity to do so: "The repressive nature of the African state, which is suspended over society without effective linkages to the community it is supposed to govern, reveals its weak character." One participant further argued that "the weakness of African states has been exposed by the fact that they are addicted to foreign aid. They have perfected the art of begging and dialogue with the donor community rather than with their own people." Another suggested, ''there has to be a reassessment of the relationship between state and society for democracy to succeed in Africa.'' And another said "through reciprocal bargaining between state and society, a new set of legitimate and predictable relations could be developed. In this manner, civil society would emerge as a counter to the state." It was generally agreed that state power needed to be checked, particularly because "civil society largely had fallen prey to the state or had been coopted by it." In the future, the state "must induce its constituents and not pursue them." In a phrase coined by one of the participants in Ethiopia and later endorsed all the participants, she maintained, "the state must socialize rather than mobilize." In other words, democracy depends on governments that grow out of their own societies. The attempt by many African governments since independence to mold societies into an image shaped by their own governments is doomed to failure. The same, after all, has been true of former Soviet Union.
In postcolonial society, the state had become the "desired political kingdom." The process of evolution from colonial rule to authoritarian rule, in one participant's words, "has been like playing fast forward on a tape. . . . In this context of accelerated state formation, the autonomous needs of civil society were considered impediments that needed to be broken down." There was some agreement on the imperative to create an effective public arena, as the state had been "privatized" by governing elites. Several participants, however, objected to the view that the state crisis in Africa was the primary
problem in all countries, indicating that "the problem is not whether the state is competent or incompetent, but how to prevent the state from becoming too predatory, or from turning itself into an instrument of extraordinary power." The question was raised as to how to get individuals to trust the state again after decades of viewing it as a predator rather than a facilitator: "Because the state in Africa is currently the number one owner, there ought to be a socialization of ownership. In this context, privatization and the need to reduce the centrality of the state to economic means are essential." Finally, in the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, there was agreement that "one should neither destroy the state or leave it to wither away, but should help the state find its proper role." In other words, democracy is not the same as anarchy, and it can be achieved only within an effective state structure; ultimately, a working democracy will create a stronger state—because it is legitimate and accountable—rather than a weaker one.
ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY
The significance of a lively civil society in the transition to democracy was emphasized in the three workshops. The participants took some comfort in noting that one reason that Africa did not crumble into total absolutism was because civil society managed to survive, providing a mode of expression against authoritarianism, despite systematic efforts by the state to destroy it.
A participant pointed out that civil society in Africa has been shaped by its relationship not only to the state, but also with other units in society. A recurring pattern has been the retreat of organizations of civil society into discrete arenas. The participant identified three types: a "submerged society," in which needs are met through patronage networks; a "defiant society," in which state authority is openly ignored by gangs and bandits in what may be described as a Hobbesian state of nature; and a "radicalized society," mobilized to replace the existing state, which includes such disparate groups as national liberation groups and religious fundamentalists. In all three cases, the legitimacy of the state is challenged. In the workshop discussions, it was suggested that the opening up of political space for civil society was crucial to the success of democratization.
One consequence of civil institutions operating in an underground mode is that few of them are broadly inclusive of diverse elements in the community, and so they are generally unable to bridge ethnic, linguistic, or other divisions in the community. Consequently, it was suggested that the public put pressure on the state to open up political space for civil society and that efforts be made to promote a society that includes broad cross-sections of the community. The basis of civil society is common interests, independent of the state, through which people can organize themselves and relate to one
another on a national basis. The major institutions through which civil society has reemerged in modern Africa are religious organizations, notably the churches; trade unions; and professionals—lawyers, journalists, academics.
Participants identified varying perceptions of the state in African countries. In Tanzania, for example, as pointed out by one participant, the state is referred to as "big daddy." In Zaire, the state is associated with harassment. In other countries, the state is linked with statism, taking over everything, including how one ought to think. There was agreement that it would be incumbent upon civil society to promote socialization by moving people away from thinking about the state and encouraging them to think what they want without fear. One participant observed: "Under Jomo Kenyatta, there was an entrenchment of democratic institutions; but, under Daniel arap Moi, there has been a concentrated destruction of institutions. Happily, the people of Kenya are beginning to ask what went wrong."
According to a number of participants, the extreme frailty of civil society in some African countries has left the citizenry with only the voice and exit options. Using the voice option, some individuals and organizations confronted the state and questioned state interference in their personal and family lives. In so doing, they had to contend with constant harassment from the state, which often led to violations of their individual and collective rights. The exit option has become common in countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, and Rwanda, where there was a forced exodus of outspoken individuals or organizations. It was argued that Africans have been conditioned to exercise the exit option because the state has been regarded as a hostile force. In order to build an animated civil society, participants advocated recapturing the population that has distanced itself from authoritarian power.
In southern Africa, for example, civil society has been exposed, restricted by law, or formed in secret, but it has maintained a role in articulating public values, while resisting state control. In single-party states, such as Tanzania, independent civic groups generally were regarded as subversive and therefore had been wiped out over 28 years. In several countries, including Madagascar, Zambia, and South Africa, organizations that taught elements of civic culture initially were established secretly by concerned citizens and emerged only when they gained sufficient strength and perceived a political opening. Churches united in ecumenical movements, however, have been able to resist state control, playing a major role in articulating public values in much of the southern Africa region. They also have served to integrate ethnically diverse regions.
In the three workshops, the capacity of institutions of civil society to organize upward in public life was linked to the crisis of the African state and to the ability of entrenched rulers to resist change. In Malawi, for
example, public organizations have not been able to operate openly until recently. In Zambia, by contrast, the catastrophic economic record of the government of Kenneth Kaunda led to a crisis of authority, which prompted public institutions to assert themselves. In South Africa, the churches and popular movements associated with the United Democratic Front were able to take advantage of the crisis of apartheid, which was revealed by the succession of F.W. de Klerk. In these openings, participants noted that civil society had to provide new alternatives as well as leaders whose authority was rooted in their own record. Some cited President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, whose experience in the trade union movement, political detention, and refusal to be coopted by the previous regime bears striking resemblances to President Lech Walesa of Poland. It was also pointed out that a new and vibrant local leadership had arisen in South Africa.
Several suggestions were put forward by participants about how to build civil society in order to enhance democratic culture. One participant proposed that an active citizenry together with nongovernmental organization, which play a role independent of government or political parties, could take center stage in public life: "The public must fully participate in the affairs of state, with the state protecting their rights to be recognized. In this context, the value of the role of citizens and civil society is to organize and articulate the interests of local communities and the grass roots to the highest levels—even bringing about the change of laws—by serving as effective pressure groups." Another observation was that "where democracy has taken root, there have been associations and groupings. These groups have acted as pressure points to democratize government. For the most part, these groups have acted in isolation. Concerted action would have made them more powerful. There ought to be more coordination of action among groups. Yet, groups must be autonomous organizationally and financially, so as not to be coopted during the process. In this manner, democratic culture will emerge in civil society." Some participants cautioned however, that state coercion over the public to participate is equally dangerous to the establishment of democracy.
Although the formation of civil society was considered a positive process in democratization, several participants cautioned that it happens only when people take risks, investing their time, energies, and lives. In the words of one participant, "many governments are not willing to create an enabling environment. I have no illusions about this. But, by standing up, individuals can insist and force government to create a space." In the workshop in Ethiopia, some indicated that an enlightened minority of society would have special responsibilities, which "would be discharged properly only when there are proper linkages extending downward and broadened to benefit the community at large."
It was also suggested that one builds civil society by developing a
culture in communities, utilizing organizations that teach people public culture. One participant advocated not relying on the "father state" to engineer the process: "National commissions set up by the state in some countries to help build civil societies can be useful, but should not be a reason for civil society not to assume its responsibilities. The community must keep the culture of resistance alive and question authority. Maybe we Africans have resigned from our responsibilities, as we rely on Amnesty International and other international organizations to do our work for us. Are we prepared to start something on a pan-African basis to be a moral force?"
In sum, a strong civil society in Africa was believed to be an essential prerequisite for successful transitions to democracy. Participants thought that the increasing presence of civic groups would be good indicators of where a government stands regarding the rights of expression and assembly as well as democracy in general.
It has been argued by some scholars that democracy is built only around democrats. As one participant put it, "Without a sizable minority of democrats and constitutionalists, the quest for democracy in Africa would come to naught" if the impetus is to be provided only by the state. Another participant spoke of citizen responsibility and emphasized the role of academics and intellectuals, arguing that "the enlightened sectors of society have to assume their responsibilities with humility and patriotism. They must initiate a constituent group in favor of constitutionalism and democracy. These individuals must be committed to liberty and justice, irrespective of the machine gun, acting as catalysts for society as a whole."
Some participants raised questions regarding the assertion that intellectuals should lead the struggle toward democracy. One commented: "Intellectuals in some African countries have become organic means of power by giving dictatorial regimes legitimacy. Because they have been provided material benefits by the dictators, intellectuals often have propounded theories to justify policies by the rulers, thereby preparing the grave for democracy." Several universities were cited as examples of how intellectuals cannot educate people effectively on democracy, because they lack popular legitimacy from having been supported by dictators over the years.
Some participants argued that a middle class might be a prerequisite for democracy. This suggestion was qualified by others, who pointed out that "it is not the middle class, as such, that promotes liberal democracy, but a section of the middle class that is committed to democracy." According to them, a sizable minority of supporters in the middle class might be necessary for the emergence of liberal democracy. Thus, the critical issue in the
democratization process which should be addressed, is how to build democracy in the absence of democrats.
The word courage often was employed in the three workshops. "Challenging the status quo, especially in African countries, does require courage because it is difficult to ask people to take big risks. . . . There is importance in surmounting the culture of fear, as well as self-empowerment among people who take risks and find tremendous power in doing so. Moreover, government can't cope when people do this." It also was suggested by one participant that, "although citizens in African countries have not acted in concert in pushing for democracy, people were not to underestimate the powers of citizenry, who should seek academics' advice to help with strategy."
In conclusion, it is important to qualify that, although the nature of the transition to democracy varies from country to country, there have been common sociological, political, and economic constraints on developing democratic societies throughout Africa. Some of these constraints include inefficient bureaucracies, fragile institutions, economies in serious trouble, and an undemocratic political culture wherein people live in fear with little trust or pride in government. Some participants also proposed that the "normative and structural aspects need to be examined, because the African state of today is both a product of colonial structures and its own indigenous forms. In this context, one also cannot ignore scarcity in Africa, particularly because economic and political resources have been distributed in a personal, not egalitarian manner."
Whatever democratic progress has been accomplished in Africa by the early 1990s still is largely structural or constitutional. The process of transition to democracy in Africa will probably be long and painful. Much success will depend on the quality of leadership at all levels operating during the transitional phase to democracy.