Background and Purpose of the Workshops
The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the ending of the cold war has created opportunities for democratic transitions, not only in Europe and the former Soviet Union, but also in Africa. The East-West competition in Africa that provided support or at least protection for authoritarian governments came to an end. The model of a one-party state controlling all sectors of the economy was demonstrably bankrupt—not only in the Soviet Union, but throughout the African continent—as the economies of country after country disintegrated. A sea change in political and economic systems was gaining support in Africa. General Obasanjo, a former Nigerian head of state, as chairman of a conference of the African Leadership Forum in April 1990, commented:
The changes taking place in Eastern Europe have far-reaching political implications for the Third World in general and for Africa in particular. The winds that swept away dictatorships and autocratic one-party systems and State structures, inefficient economic systems and unresponsive social institutions in Eastern Europe, and fueled a democratic rejuvenation and the observance of human rights, are not unfamiliar to Africa. The winds of change in Eastern Europe are providing considerable opportunities for the African people and oppressed peoples the world over to intensify their just struggle for democracy.
Accordingly, the U.S. Agency for International Development (A.I.D.) has expanded its efforts to encourage and support transitions from authoritarian rule to democracy and from state-administered to market-driven economies.
In this undertaking, A.I.D. recognizes that political and economic transitions will be influenced by each country's particular history, culture, and traditions; and that the paths taken in Latin America, Southern Europe or Eastern Europe may not necessarily be those that will be followed in Africa.
In order to better understand the dynamics of contemporary democratic movements in Africa and African opinions about how democracy can be most effectively encouraged, A.I.D. asked the National Academy of Sciences, through the National Research Council's Panel on Issues in Democratization, to organize three workshops in Africa. Held in January through March 1992, the workshops involved participants from over 40 African countries. Those attending included scholars, government officials, officers from nongovernmental organizations, journalists, lawyers, and political activists. They had in common a record of involvement on behalf of improved social conditions, political freedoms, and human rights. The first workshop was held in Cotonou, Benin; the second in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and the third in Windhoek, Namibia.
The format of the workshops was to use current research on various aspects of democratization as a springboard for discussions about the prospects for democratization in Africa and the role that donors, such as A.I.D., might play in supporting that process. The theme of the three workshops was "Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices." The agenda was broadly similar in each meeting, with some variation to take into consideration the particular concerns of the individual regions. Although the emphasis of the discussions varied somewhat by region, there was a remarkable degree of consensus in all three gatherings as to the issues that will be most important in determining whether the move towards democracy in Africa will be sustained in the coming decades. This report is an attempt to synthesize the key issues in the three workshops and to capture the highlights of what proved to be an intense and often exhilarating series of discussions.
Throughout this volume every effort has been made to let African views, perspectives, and words speak for themselves, as they did in the workshops. However, because the political climate in certain countries could imperil the personal safety of citizens who openly express controversial views and their remarks could be used against them, the consensus of the group was not to identify each speaker in the published proceedings. In compiling this volume, great care has been taken to present faithfully the words spoken without revealing the speakers' identities. In this way, we hope to convey the excitement of the discussions without jeopardizing the safety of those who participated.