The Challenges for Full Democracy

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By Engel Nawatiseb TSUMEB The strengthening of democratic values within the global society promotes human dignity, stability and development. Therefore, the work of the United Nations in general and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in particular is immensely valuable for the advancement of democracy as an essential element of human development. Jose Miguel Insulza, a member of the Communities of Democracies, says that the UNDP’s report, “Challenges to Democratic Governance”, makes a significant contribution towards identifying the main obstacles faced by various regions of the world in the pursuit of full democracy. The Community of Democracies, an organisation that comprises countries with the aim of promoting democracy throughout the world, also represents a new contribution along the lines of the many efforts the international community has undertaken since the end of the Cold War. This aims at broadening the horizons of democracy from a global perspective, he noted. New Era caught up with Dr Hage Geingob, a Member of Parliament and also the first Prime Minister of Namibia, who represented the African continent during a summit of the Community of Democracies in New York, USA, last year. “It should be stated that Africa is on the march and that democracy is taking root on the continent. We are playing an active role in identifying and solving our problems. Africa and Africans are now determining their own narrative and defining our own and taking responsibility for our progress,” stated Geingob. With the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), he added, Africa has clearly set an agenda for development but will continue to work in partnership with the international community, although the partnership in Africa’s context should be based on mutual respect and mutual accountability. Geingob says although some economic progress has been made, it is not enough to lift people out of poverty, because poverty is the root of Africa’s problems. According to him, the positive growth over recent years falls far short of the seven percent growth that NEPAD says is necessary to address poverty. Higher economic growth is essential to make investments in health and education that will improve the well being of people. An atmosphere conducive for the growth of the private sector is also needed. There are also negative trends that Africans need to guard against, such as the continued dominance of ruling parties and the weakness of opposition parties, both of which work against truly democratic politics. There is also very limited tolerance of criticism on the part of governments. “We are observing a continuance of the dependency syndrome, whereby African leaders and governments ask partners for assistance without bringing their own resources on the table,” Geingob stated. On a more positive note, Geingob pointed to the expansion of the electoral democracy with more presidents being given retirement packages upon leaving office, while there is less tolerance for corruption, as well as a greater demand for transparency. He emphasized that non-state actors are playing a more active role. There is greater respect for upholding human rights and civil liberties and the press is increasingly getting more vibrant. The African Union (AU) and regional organisations, he added, are taking the lead in crisis situations. At the continental level, the AU is increasingly setting an environment that promotes good governance and democratic participation, hence the need for regional cooperation and continental and regional institutions to promote and support unity and democracy in Africa. Geingob pointed out that regional economic groupings have been active in trying to improve governance and democratic participation as well as further development on the continent. “Amongst many others, they have promoted the harmonisation of economic policies, collaboration on law enforcement and political agreements concerning migration and the movement of people. Recognising that there can be no development without peace and security, both regional organisations and the AU have been actively engaged in peace negotiations and in peacekeeping operations.” The Community of Democracies, he said, could promote the institutionalisation of democracy in Africa by encouraging and supporting the efforts of those working for democracy and political inclusion on the continent. The progress already made should be acknowledged and at the same time, governments should be encouraged to strengthen democratic processes, systems and institutions. This is important to encourage the spread and deepening of democracy throughout Africa and the world. Other valuable assistance the Community of Democracies could render is advocacy for the international community to advance both democracy and development in Africa. It could encourage greater levels of financial and logistical support that could enable the AU to undertake peacekeeping operations and promote stability on the continent. According to Geingob, increased assistance would help African countries reduce poverty and meet millennium development goals, while support for NEPAD could signal a determination to help Africans help themselves. Partnership support could equally enhance market access for African products and reduction in subsidies by industrialised countries would create a more equitable international trading regime in which African countries can compete. “The Community of Democracies can also support Africa’s march forward by forcefully campaigning for a write-off of African debt so that countries can begin again on a clean slate. These measures are important because prosperity will support and sustain democracy in Africa.” Geingob went on to say: “Building the institutions of democracy takes time, it is also costly, which makes it a particular challenge for African countries given the level of poverty there. But the seeds of democracy have been planted in Africa, and there is no turning back now. Progress may be uneven and slower than one might like, but nonetheless it is progress. For this reason, we can be optimistic about Africa, but for optimism to yield results, we must face up to the challenges and redouble our efforts to address them.” An independent analyst on democracy in Africa, Abdoulie Janneh, is of the opinion that the immediate challenge facing African countries after independence is to recreate, from colonialism, appropriate state systems and institutions that would respond to the great expectations of freedom and development that independence is supposed to bring. The objective realities of state capacity, he said, and the determination of the erstwhile colonial powers to maintain exploitative economic and political relations with their former colonies were instrumental in undermining African states’ “efforts” at development. But for Geingob, in most African countries people are demanding better services from their governments, civil society is finding its voice and the press is speaking out. Governments are therefore finding that they have to actually deliver on their electoral promises. “Parliaments are no longer rubberstamps for the ruling clique. They themselves (parliamentarians) are also finding that people expect results and that they will hold them accountable.” Janneh stated that most of Africa has been independent for an average of 40 years and the rudimentary states and governance institutions that Africans inherited from colonialism presented a serious challenge to state formation. The state machineries of colonial powers in Africa were tooled to maintain law and order and to manage the exploitative relations with the colonies. Despite all those historical realities, Africa is said to be on the road to democratisation and is steadily consolidating a democratic culture, as exemplified by contested multi-party elections, constitutional reforms, entrenched fundamental freedoms as well as better management of the economy. African countries are reportedly demonstrating great determination to improve their economies by introducing better macro-economic policies, greater fiscal discipline and enhanced state capacity that has stemmed economic decline. Turning to HIV/AIDS, Geingob stressed that forceful action against the pandemic is another challenge because without concerted action, it could continually threaten to undo the hard-won gains made. “We still have not fully come to terms with the potential effects this disease can have on the continent. HIV/AIDS is not a health problem, but a political, social and economic problem that must be placed at the front and centre of our efforts and those of our partners.”