The Movement Toward Democracy in Africa
The workshops were convened against the background of what many observers have called the ''second wave of liberation in Africa.'' Authoritarian regimes are being challenged by individuals and movements in search of more democratic forms of governance. Africans in many countries are showing remarkable persistence in forcing their leaders to comply with popular demands for political pluralism to replace the common one-party regimes. Calls for open and democratic governance, characterized by popular participation, competitive elections, and free flow of information can be heard in many African countries.
This new disposition toward democratization in Africa is a consequence of pressures both internal and external to African societies. To be sure, the continent's declining economic fortunes have made people more skeptical and critical of their governments, with new African thinking prompting individuals to move beyond old taboos. Demands from within African countries are pressing leaders to deliver on the promises of economic growth and prosperity they made in order to encourage the acceptance of structural adjustment policies supported by international financial institutions. The new insistence by external aid donors and creditors on good governance also has provided a window of opportunity for African democrats to push for transparency and accountability in their countries. Likewise, the worldwide democratic revolution and its corresponding summons to protect and promote individual human rights have contributed to generating protests
from outside the African continent against regimes accused of encouraging corrupt practices and committing human rights abuses.
In the past, Western aid donors accepted the justification that Africans endorsed authoritarian rule, but now they increasingly express their preference for countries with representative government and a good record on human rights. This new attitude was reflected in recent remarks made by former Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations: "It is not our role to decide who governs any country, but we will use our influence to encourage governments to get their people to make that decision for themselves." In the future, it is likely that Western donors will be selective with their assistance, focusing on countries undertaking both political and economic reforms.
This thinking is also shared by some former African heads of state, prominent Africans, and African organizations that have become increasingly resentful of corruption, repression, human rights abuses, and gross economic mismanagement under one-party rule. For example, the Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Salim Ahmed Salim, and the former Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, were among the many prominent African and other international statesmen involved in the Stockholm Initiative on Global Security and Governance held in April 1991. Its Memorandum on Common Responsibility in the 1990s states: "Certain democratic requisites are crucial to sustain development. . . . The following are necessary parts of the concept: respect for human rights; constitutional government and the rule of law; transparency in the wielding of power, and accountability of those who exercise power." The memorandum points out that, although democracy has to evolve from within a society, there is nevertheless "a duty for the international community to support the respect for human rights and the development of democracy. Human solidarity demands it . . ."
Furthermore, the OAU has shifted its emphasis from decolonization and is now giving priority to economic recovery and good governance. At the twenty-sixth OAU summit in 1990, OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim spoke in favor of democratization: "Africa could not ignore the global consensus on the value of democracy; but democracy must be home-grown." When President Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria delivered his speech as incoming OAU chairman in June 1991, democratization figured prominently. He stressed that, in the process of development, Africans faced the simultaneous tasks "of solving acute problems of economic restructuring and of creating free and democratic institutions for social expression." He told fellow leaders that they "must recognize that the time has now come to re-examine the concept and practice of power and leadership on our continent. . . . Democracy is not only an attractive option but a rational one. . . .
Today, the clamour for democratization and party pluralism is on the ascendancy in Africa."
In this "second wave of liberation" across the continent, Africa is rediscovering itself through intensifying struggles for democracy. Yet support for democracy in Africa is not new, having been a common ingredient of nationalist politics at the end of the colonial era. Those few years constituted an important period of self-determination that many Africans believe should not be separated from the current quest for democracy. Only recently, however, has the demand for democracy focused once again on political pluralism, respect for human rights, official accountability, and popular participation.
A common theme in the three workshops was the reminder that democratic concepts are not alien to the African continent, despite the impression created in the postcolonial period. Democratic forms and institutions existed in precolonial African societies, and their practice may be found today in some rural areas. For example, as a form of checks and balances, some nations exercised limits on the absolute power of their leaders by electing and removing African kings. Many rulers had to consult with community leaders before implementing vital decisions. Traditionally, popular participation was encouraged by using a process of consultation that allowed African leaders to reinvigorate their rule with community input. These examples, in the view of the workshop participants, demonstrate how traditional rulers in some African societies could not enforce obedience without the consent of their advisers and ultimately of the community itself. In the postcolonial period, too, democracy did take root in several African countries, such as Botswana, The Gambia, and Mauritius, where competing political parties, an independent judiciary, and a free press have been in existence for a number of years.
Still, participants cautioned that the movement toward political pluralism in Africa is not universally endorsed. Entrenched leaders resist change, but they have often been obliged to make at least some concessions to appease donors and domestic critics. For example, Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi denounced multiparty advocates and vehemently criticized those who proclaimed political liberalization. When external assistance was all but terminated, however, he reversed his earlier position to declare on December 2, 1991, his support for multipartyism. Similarly, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was moving his country toward creating a de jure one-party state, until donor nations and outspoken individuals in Zimbabwe persuaded the government to abandon the process.
In the early postindependence phase, people justified one-party systems as national unifiers or as vanguards to unite diverse ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups; but, thirty years later, these arguments are being discarded.
Today, many African countries are moving in a democratic direction, even though the degree of commitment and speed of change vary considerably.
The problems of instituting democratic government in Africa include overcoming the resistance of entrenched governments to the pressures of local activists and aid donors, consolidating political changes, and legitimating democratic concepts in Africa. Nevertheless, over the last few years, there have been successful revolts against authoritarian leaders in Ethiopia, Somalia, Mali, and Lesotho. In addition, long, drawn-out wars for self-determination such as the Eritrean and West Saharan conflicts have terminated hostilities and are now engaged in preparation for referendum. Competitive politics also has reemerged in some states with the democratic replacement of leaders through the ballot box, as the cases of Benin, Sao Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde, and Zambia illustrate. For these reasons, the workshop participants expressed some degree of confidence that the changes taking place would have a better opportunity for success than the transitions from colonial rule.
IMPACT OF NEW EXTERNAL ACTORS
Although pressures for change had been building in a number of countries, it was widely agreed that the ending of the cold war served as a catalyst for action. During the cold war, some countries capitalized on superpower competition, seeking military and development assistance from either the Soviet Union and its allies or from the West in exchange for strategic considerations. The Soviet Union, like the People's Republic of China, also provided an alternative development model for African states to emulate. The end of the cold war has left the leaders of these countries exposed and scrambling to establish a new set of relationships on the continent and in the world community. One person observed: "For the African heads of state who played Western and Eastern support against each other, the collapse of the Soviet Union came as a shock. . . . African states now have to either rely on themselves or submit to external pressures for democratic reforms."
There was agreement in the three workshops that African dictators will find it harder to justify authoritarian rule and dictatorships and increasingly difficult to maintain power. In short, the impact of internal events within some African countries, coupled with external pressures from donors, had direct and indirect effects on the democratization process. Certainly, as one participant commented, the "globalization of ideas and the myriad of changes in the world have emboldened African individuals to speak up." The failure of authoritarianism has opened up the possibility of democracy's providing a new start in Africa.
COLONIAL LEGACY AND DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICAN SOCIETIES
The process of democratization in Africa, several participants pointed out, includes confronting the past. The colonial legacy is significant to the understanding of postindependence erosion of democratic institutions. Some participants, however, took exception to an emphasis on the precolonial past, cautioning that one should not glorify the past in order to justify present mistakes: "Turning too often to the past betrays a fundamental problem, in that we cannot deal with the present. . . . As Africans, we try to turn to the past when we wish to maintain our illusions."
Nevertheless, participants stressed that colonialism was not a democratic system and that the so-called colonial masters were not teachers of democracy because "they took self-governance away from Africans." As one participant stated, "The colonial experience was one of a minority imposing its will on a majority—a colonial apartheid, in which there were European and non-European areas in some countries, and where there was legislation for Europeans, but the Africans were relegated to customary law." Participants were also resentful that former colonial rulers are now showing little patience or understanding about African politics, largely because of Africa's declining strategic importance in world politics in recent years, forgetting that they were the ones who took away Africans' dignity and self-respect, "maintaining they were too incompetent to understand their own rights.''
It was also argued by many participants that colonialism had destroyed indigenous democratic values and institutions without building stable replacements. Examples of the community palaver1 and the Botswana kgotla2 were given. Some participants argued that colonialism had disrupted these traditional African practices. African family life, which some believed was based on equality, freedom, and unity, was overshadowed by the authoritarian and centralized nature of colonialism. However, other participants noted that colonialism did not entirely destroy indigenous practices. They argued that the survival of some African traditions and their vitality, especially the kgotla was one of the continuing bases for Botswana democracy. Furthermore, they pointed out that legislative sessions and debates in francophone and anglophone Africa resemble the traditional palaver modes.
In trying to understand the African past, it was suggested that certain continuities and discontinuities about the colonial period needed to be understood. In other words, to what extent did the pattern of colonial administration shape the politics of African nations after independence? Colonial rulers, participants pointed out, never pretended to be democratic; they were autocratic and tried to destroy indigenous structures of traditional societies. Furthermore, the colonists did not build institutions that could contribute to democratization, such as labor unions, African ecumenical movements, or other nongovernmental organizations. Some participants disagreed with this view, arguing that labor unions were legalized, even encouraged in parts of francophone and anglophone Africa after World War II, between 1946 and 1960. Ecumenical movements, such as the transterritorial parties in West Africa, they argued, also arose with varied colonial support.
The artificiality of Africa's boundaries and of the societies within them was mentioned by participants as an additional problem to deal with in their transition to democracy. In other words, the question was raised whether the creation of democracy is liable to lead to the dissolution of existing African states, or whether it will strengthen and preserve them. This is certainly an existing issue in northeast Africa, and opinion was divided among participants on this issue.
One participant observed: "In their mission to transform an artificially carved colony into a nation-state, the colonists did not recognize any modernity in indigenous knowledge," primarily because they believed the task of nation building had to come from above. Also, the autocratic nature of colonialism conflicted with African power sharing. Traditionally, one particular group could not hold power for too long, the army was recruited from outside the ruling family, and members of the local population often were incorporated as advisers. African royalty was tightly governed by tradition—kings followed custom or risked removal. Some African systems also respected the rights of women and human rights in general.
Despite the relevance of the past to the contemporary democratization process, the participants agreed that discussions should also focus on the shortcomings of precolonial Africa, as well as on the democratic heritage that had been lost. Participants noted the difficulty of agreeing on the applicability of precolonial democratic concepts today. Some participants argued that traditional practices were not democratic as such. Not all palavers, for example, were inclusionary. Moreover, in African consensus politics, there was no tradition of an opposition. Still other characteristics of precolonial Africa that do not lend themselves to democracy are that the individual was not at the center of society and that political succession and rotation in power were not peaceful and routine matters. There was agreement in the three workshops that the traditional roles and responsibilities of women, for example, are inconsistent with current concepts of democracy.
Today, some practices retained from the precolonial period, such as the traditional zero-sum nature of African politics and the fragile transitional period when one head of state succeeds another, were also identified as obstacles to democracy. New institutional arrangements are needed to choose rulers, to check their power, and to remove them. One participant noted that this should not be an impossible task, as many African languages had proverbs reflecting the notion of "finding the necessary power to limit power." There was also agreement that a new approach was needed to replace the current winner-take-all practice in Africa.
Although the precolonial rulers were blamed for improperly schooling Africans, it was acknowledged that certain basic rights that were present in the precolonial period are today being denied in many African countries. Participants pointed out that, during the period preceding independence, there was solidarity among Africans regarding the freedoms implicit in the call for self-determination, but authoritarian regimes had succeeded in repressing individuals and organizations that later espoused those freedoms in their opposition to single-party rule in African countries.
DEMOCRACY AND AFRICAN VALUES
In the three workshops, there was a striking amount of consensus on certain experiences and assumptions. Participants agreed that democracy is not the exclusive property of the West; it can be found in almost all cultures. Yet defining democracy proved elusive, as the forms for expressing it remain controversial in many African countries. Does democracy necessarily mean Western democracy? Is there only a single model for every country, regardless of its traditions and conditions? In answering these questions, participants agreed that "democracy is not a luxury for Africans" but a necessity if people are to lead free and secure lives. The authoritarian state in Africa, which is a postindependence revival of the colonial state, corresponds to economic stagnation and disintegration. Democracy, participants suggested, should therefore be regarded as a process to tackle problems, but should not be seen as a solution to all of Africa's problems. Still, a clear understanding is needed among Africans as to the kind of democracy being suggested by donors: "Are donors advocating Western democracy or democracy that will take into consideration African values and traditions?"
In linking democracy with African values, participants pointed out that, although there are certain essential principles of democracy, "Africa has to define democracy in its own way." They noted contradictions between Western and African understandings of some democratic concepts, such as political pluralism and the parliamentary mode of politics. Although they recognized that the African state must be divested of its monopoly on power to allow for a vibrant and functioning opposition, they cautioned against
replacing dictatorships with democracy in form, but not in content. For example, not all political parties emerging in Africa today are genuine, many having been created by the state. In order to break down the deep-rooted primacy of the African chief, some advocated the Indian arrangement of parliament's being the supreme power, rather than the semipresidential French or U.S. systems of parliamentary politics with a strong executive. Participants pointed out that Western countries often advocate their own system of democracy but, if Africans develop their conception of democracy, it ought not be considered inferior to that of the West. In this round of liberation, they said that no amount of external assistance or advice would make up for the lack of African initiatives.
In all the workshops, there was wide agreement that Africans ought to draw on elements within their societies to give local relevance to democratic concepts, rather than run the risk of having democracy transplanted without adaptation, as was done with technology. Western democratic concepts and ideals have been borrowed before without success. Although the idea of the openness of Africa to external ideas is not unique, external ideas would prove more helpful if they were modified to blend with African values, ensuring proper understanding by the populace. Participants warned against accepting lessons so easily from countries that have long experience with democracy, when Africa has experienced only three decades of independence. As one participant suggested, "If we want democracy to exist in the African continent, we as Africans will have to keep on inventing democracy. . . . The constant reinvention of democracy based on African initiatives is what is needed in Africa."
Participants advocated "building democracy with local materials, and from the bottom up, because democracy will not succeed until people at the grass roots understand and participate in it." Africans seek to redefine democracy in local terms, to solve problems by drawing on their own ideas, and not to rely on borrowed Western ideas. "We ought not think that the concepts are so sacred and understandable only to a few. . . . We need to examine our population and politics as they are, and then look at what we want to achieve."
The time dimension of making progress toward democratization was also examined. Because of heterogeneity within African countries, participants warned against not repeating the mistakes of the end of the colonial period, when there was insufficient time provided to understanding Western concepts, institutions, and practices. The challenge is to instill democratic values and elements into African society, utilizing the African values that can imbue democracy with local relevance but not allowing the call to invent African democracy to be a cover for repression. Africans would probably institute their own timetable for moving toward democracy, which would be a long and painful process. Western countries were asked to be
patient, understanding the problems impeding democracy, and contributing, where they could, to democratic transitions.
POLITICAL LIBERALIZATION AND DEMOCRATIZATION
As the decade of the 1990s is being called the age of political liberalization and democratization, participants felt the need to address the differences between the two. Political liberalization cannot be equated with democratization. Instituting political liberalization in a country, participants pointed out, would not necessarily achieve political pluralism, because such liberalization could be used by authoritarian regimes to create sham democracies. This type of liberalization entails the partial opening of an authoritarian system, short of choosing governmental leaders through competitive elections. The dismantling of authoritarian regimes was recognized as a major step toward democracy, but some participants were not convinced that a climate of liberalization would produce political pluralism. Democratization, in contrast to political liberalization, involves bringing about the end of undemocratic regimes and the beginning of consolidation of a democratic system. The overall process of democratization is usually long, painful, and complex.
The discussions about political liberalization and democratization focused on leaders, such as Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, who see liberalization as a way of defusing the opposition without fully democratizing the regime. These leaders do not wish to introduce fully participatory, competitive elections that may result in their loss of power, and some are even unsure of how far they really want to go toward political pluralism in their countries. It was noted that in South Africa, for example, "liberalization has opened up the political arena, but democratization has been postponed. . . . Political and social forces were being released without elections to determine who offered substantial leadership. In the absence of elections, this sorting out is occurring in an atmosphere of violence, coercion, and intimidation."
In conclusion, it could be maintained that democracy—in concept, if not in reality—has gained new popularity and wider acceptance as a political alternative in Africa. Multiparty democracy has become the rallying cry for much-pursued political reforms, but, in a larger sense, the agitation in Africa in the last three years stemmed from a modest question of accountability: How to hold leaders responsible for their conduct in office and how to make governments more responsive to the wishes of the people. African people need answers to these questions after decades of corrupt, indifferent, or harmful governance under single-party dictatorships. It seems that democracy is the only option that can provide the framework through which these questions can be answered.