N°1 - Reflections on democracy in Africa This diary is divided into five parts: Part 1: Why Democracy? First of all, we must decide on the meaning of the words being discussed. As such, this reflection begins with a general definition of the rule of law. Mr. Jean-Baptiste Monkotan, Professor of Civil Law in Benin, clarifies the distinctions to be made with other interdependent concepts such as multiparty system, democracy, fair elections, etc. After presenting this theory, he explains the political-economic issues in Benin in the late 90s. Next, Mr. Alessandro Palmero, Ph.D. Sussex University, believes that the rule of law can exist only when certain values, particularly democracy and economic growth, are stable, [...] "without stability, there can be neither education, nor a health-care system, etc." According to him, the cases of Botswana and Mauritius serve as good examples. He believes eliminating illiteracy is essential for democracy. The places that custom and law occupy within the African context are not necessarily those generally expected. Custom can be just as restrictive as the law. Jean-Paul Bado, a researcher with the Institut d’histoire comparée des civilisations in France, provides the example of a rape victim who, according to custom, could be accused of having worn too short a skirt, while the suspected rapist is acquitted by the courts. In this case, the custom is contradictory to the law. This mentality must change and it must be done so particularly through education. At this point we must look at how democracy comes about: citizen participation and understanding the democratic process. For Jean Peeters, a graduate from the Institut Supérieur de Hautes Etudes du Développement in Belgium and a sociologist working in the field, understanding the democratic process initially begins at the local level (family, clan, districts, cities, schools, associations, etc.) and leads to active involvement by all of society, at the various levels within a country. The last step, which is a source of conflict, is the length of time that power is held, the transition towards democracy. According to Mr. Victor K. Topanou, Professor of Political Science in Benin, it is essential to limit power in terms of time (regardless of the term of office) by consolidating the institutions and establishing national and international safeguards. Mr. Topanou believes that otherwise the path to democracy remains vulnerable to many pitfalls: oppressive changes to electoral codes (Côte d'Ivoire), electoral fraud and civil war (Congo among others). Professor Topanou presents this issue, which continues to remain unresolved today. It must be recognized, however, that this is one of the grievances generally addressed to our fledgling democracies. In order to assess this, we examined two cases: first, the multiracial elections in South Africa and second, the change in government in Senegal. In both cases, the ballot boxes conferred a mandate and legitimacy to Mandela’s anticipated successor, Thabo Mbeki, and to Abdoulaye Wade. The difference between the two cases was that, in Senegal, jurisdictional immunity was granted to former president Abdou Diouf: "I hope the opposition will make an example of Senegal and not threaten the current heads of State in the event of transition," President Wade emphasized. Part 2: A Single Model of Democracy: Putting an End to the Myth Traditional African societies provide a good basis of observation for evaluating democracy in Africa. According to the moderator, Alphonse M. Tshilumba, even though a Western democratic model cannot necessarily be applied to African countries due to different cultural conditions, elements of a democratic process are present in these societies, which have
"involved citizens in managing public affairs (democracy of participation versus one of exclusion)." Although there is no single model of democracy, freedom and human dignity, in respecting cultures, are essential requirements. To get an idea of these African communities, Jennifer Seely, Ph.D. University of Washington, tells us about her experience in a Bete village in Côte d'Ivoire where everyone is involved in deciding community matters based on consensus. This experience demonstrates a simple and profound reality: "the mode of decision-making was debate, in other words, reaching a consensus, first, at the village assembly (under the baobab tree), then between the delegates of regional assemblies, then of kingdoms or empires.” Thus, a contradiction appears: where do these African dictatorships originate? According to Jennifer Seely: "it is possible that the remnants of the biased colonial tradition are what account for African dictators." Given these conditions, Mathias Hounkpe, Ph.D. Yale University, believes that it is important "to continue investing in our societies’ understanding in order to create (or to adjust) our institutions and make them more democratic and effective." Thus, this undertaking also contributes to the uniqueness, richness, and complexity of African societies. Alain-Claude Djate, founder of the association Action Sourire in Congo, stresses that in Africa, like elsewhere, democracy means freedom. But democracy can only begin in African countries when the people are no longer hungry. Last, Maître Sadikou points out the essence of democracy: "power of the people, by the people, for the people." But when we consider the high rate of illiteracy, participation by the population is very limited. So, what can be done? Mr. Sadikou goes on to say that on the one hand, "the governments must educate and raise the population’s awareness about the way in which they are governed" and, on the other, "the people must make an effort at maturing during election periods in order to choose leaders that are representative, informed and who truly want to work for the good of their countries."
Part 3: The Coup d'État in Côte d’Ivoire: Military Power Using Côte d’Ivoire as an example, questions are raised about the perception of the coups d'état in Africa and about the role of the military: "isn't the primary role of the military to ensure security rather than to participate in politics?" questions the moderator Alphonse Tshilumba. Mr. Sadikou Ayo Alao, a lawyer in Benin, is on solid ground in stating that: "unfortunately, with our poorly managed democracies, corruption and growing poverty, the fear is that there will be more and more military intervention in African politics." One thing seems certain: "in principle, coups d'état should not be perceived as a means of establishing greater democracy, even though it must be acknowledged that certain coups d'état do lead to liberating the people," says Mr. Sadikou. Faced with this issue, the Organization of African Unity, which was no longer going to tolerate coups d'état, is lobbying for a rapid return to democratic legality. The coup d'état in Côte d’Ivoire on December 24, 1999 brought to light some very complex issues (nationality, ethnic divisions, identity, political opposition) as well as the problems related to the economic and social frailty in Africa, which leads to immigrants, and sometimes neighbours, being placed in difficult situations. "Nationals from the North, which is Ouattara’s homeland, Senoufos and other Malinkes are grouped together under the name "Dioulas" and treated as foreigners, as Malians, Guineans and Burkinans." In his appeal to the international community, journalist, Seydou Koné states: "There is still time to save Côte d’Ivoire." So, sink or swim? Seydou Koné gives us this to think about: "In reality, we can say with great certainty that if open elections are not organized in September 2000 between Gbagbo, Ouattara and Bédié, Côte d'Ivoire will fall into civil war; a war that will end with the secession of the North." Part 4: The Role of the Western democracies
Next we go to the Burkinan village of Sapone for a discussion with André Eugene Ibudo, Director of the "Long Live the Farmer Association" (AVLP). In this interview, Mr. Ibudo demonstrates the importance of the peoples’ participation in the success of development projects: "when a group of villagers identifies a problem, AVLP’s support staff is there to guide them in the decision-making process as best as possible, without questioning the needs that have been expressed. The village is responsible for making the final decision and for planning activities at its own pace. This method is nothing like the projects where donors arrive with their money, their philosophy, their methods and their ideal of immediate results." Faced with the fact that funding does not simply make development appear, one must consider the following reality: "that those who want to work for Africa must work with Africans and not for them." It is time that everyone accepts that Africans can and must make decisions for themselves. "Without this, the situation cannot change" concludes Mr. Ibudo. He raises a point which I believe is nonetheless significant: the idea of working together which calls into question, to draw on lessons from the past, certain strategies conceived by the Western experts who are focused on the rate of return of development projects without them being a product of the people. It’s easy to land in a country and dictate the way things should be done, but what are the chances of a project’s application and success? The critical situation in Africa clearly demonstrates that this method has not been very successful. Hinda Joubbane, a documentalist with the centre for research on African law (CERDRADI), thinks that "the situation can no longer tolerate a wait-and-see approach": "[...] a solution is applied to a problem. When it becomes obvious that it is not effective, it must be remedied with a different solution." Within this context, based on the sacrifices of life made by high school students Yaguine and Fodé, professor Victor Topanou asks us to reflect on the difficult problem of North-South immigration: "here, we are at the heart of the obstacles within the immigration problem that neither officials in the North and, to an even lesser degree, those in the South can overcome and which lends this problem its sometimes cruel dimension, which is often heart-wrenching due to its affective and emotional costs." The issue of globalization raised by Victor Topanou from the viewpoint of obstructions to people’s freedom of movement is, according to professor Jean-baptiste Monkotan, an irreversible and irreparable process. He believes that "Today, no state can truly lay claim to ‘sovereignty.’ Justice has become popularized and internationalized: The state has lost its monopoly.” In the relationship between traditional Africa and the State, Jean-Baptiste Monkotan notes: "one did not question what the State was; one questioned how ‘State power’ should be used.” This reference points aids in redefining the concept of State in the following direction: according to professor Monkotan "the State is the center of the creation, momentum and strengthening of collective solidarity." Western politicians remain convinced that “globalization will not succeed without Africa’s development." And where is Europe in all this? Pierre Galand, senior lecturer at Université libre de Bruxelles, notes that the end of apartheid and the Rwandan genocide can be seen as the positive and negative poles between which black Africa is evolving. It is at the centre of this complexity that Pierre Galand places the issues and tries to respond to this concern: "[...] a number of African evils originated in Europe or are the consequence of the colonial legacy." In this area, Europe has a specific role to play due to the links woven by history: "the European Union [...] must, in the very short term, be the driving force of an appropriate reaction by the Security Council for peace and safety along the borders and in the countries of central Africa. A EuroAfrican plan for peace, security, and development in sub-Saharan Africa under the control of the OAU and the UN is conceivable and can be urgently reified" he adds. Part 5: The Conditions of a Democratic State Allessandro Palmero, Ph.D. Sussex University, begins by listing the political and technical conditions necessary for democratization, which presumes the possibility for every citizen to
participate in defining the rules of community life: “[…] this is a fundamental element of the credibility and of the stability of a [democratic] system.” With a difficult social context on the one hand and the need to integrate a large youth population on the other, Toussaint Hounvou, a member of the Benin commission for human rights, believes effort must be focused on “reforming the educational system,” with an objective of “harmonizing training programmes with the job market.” Within this context, Seydou Koné, a journalist from Côte d’Ivoire, suggests “the creation of an independent organization that collects funds from the private sector and international and charitable organizations in order to offer scholarships to students who have chosen vocational training over academic study.” According to engineer, André Mwinga, when put into perspective, the debate regarding reform to the educational system in Africa nevertheless highlights the fact that “colonists did not want people studying because they wanted to keep them in a primitive state to maintain their own power.” Although it may be convenient to maintain assets from the colonial era, it is also important “to encourage the establishment of technical and scientific schools in Africa rather than the academic schools left behind by the colonists,” concludes André Mwinga. Ping and Raoul Gnansounou of Changchun University of Science and Technology in China note: “establishing and consolidating the rule of law in an African country must occur through education. A well-informed population can put things into perspective and organize when the time is right. The majority of the African population is illiterate; the main problem, however, is not illiteracy, but rather a shortage of information and limited access to what is available. On this subject, Gilles Raharinandrasana, a telecommunications engineer in Madagascar, notes: “establishing the rule of law begins with liberalizing the media […].” In addition, Yahya Diallo, a sociologist at the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique noire in Dakar, maintains, “all countries, particularly developing countries, dependent on international financial institutions, which act as a spur for the western model of liberalism and market forces, find themselves subjugated.” Within this context, he draws attention to the fact that “a new crusade for freedom is necessary to reject this new form of economic slavery. […] Africa must redefine itself in clear terms within a pan-African perspective through a new critical and innovative way of thinking. […] We could look to the implementation of a crosscutting project for the whole continent. A league of African peoples and states comprising a body that goes beyond state borders and is representative of a structure of authority of the people, organizations, and various movements from the communities and fundamental components. A kind of autonomous Civil Society.” How can African women establish themselves? First, it is important to note that there is little chance of a decrease in poverty, of improvements to education, and of a reduction in maternal mortality, unless a more equal relationship is established between the sexes. Second, women’s aspirations to play a greater role in Africa must face a series of cultural obstacles, particularly the secondary role assigned to women in politics, and the difficulties they encounter in acquiring bank loans. Finally, the moderator, Alphonse concludes that “one fact is clear: there can be no sustainable development without democracy, and no democracy without the struggle to end the oppression of women.” Part 6: Addendum Changes have taken place in Benin and Côte d’Ivoire since the selection of documents for this publication ended in January 2002. But has there been progress or has the situation deteriorated in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal? We must take a solid look at the facts. Our colleague, Jean-Baptiste Monkotan, Professor of Civil Law in Benin, shares his opinions with us. In terms of the democratic process, he notes that all is well, there are: “regular,
open elections free of bloodshed. Political transition, open debates, freedom of expression, and pluralisms of and in information. He adds that “In short, all the ingredients for a normal democracy are present.” However, he does voice some reservations concerning the purpose of this democracy: “it has become the end goal, while what it should be is an instrument for development.”
Seydou Koné, a journalist in Abidjan, notes that “as of May 2003 inflammatory headlines have all but disappeared from newsstands. In the street, the words ‘foreigner,’ ‘dioula,’ or ‘mossi’ have also disappeared from people’s vocabularies.” But Seydou Koné condemns the fact that “the State media continue to air programs that incite religious and tribal hatred.” In Senegal, journalist, Mamadou Mika Lom draws up a brief outline of three years of political transition. In summary, he states that “at this time, three years later, the Senegalese people, who are constantly searching for signs of better days, continue to be confronted with the harsh reality of the times in which the gains are far from meeting their expectations.” In conclusion, it is apparent that there has been progress (in South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria, etc.) toward rule of law and democracy in Africa in terms of the legitimacy of access to power as well as the conditions regarding the exercise of power: “in short, the increased number of opposition parties, the establishment of civil society, the expansion of a free press, the approval for independent radio stations; this is the other Africa” taking shape. Of course, democracy in Africa clearly must take into account the current conditions in Africa. With respect to this, we must promote education in order to better deal with the issues and affairs. There are, however, major obstacles to overcome: “manipulation of ‘ethnicity’, militarization of society, disruption of attempts at democratization, violation of human rights, political instability, AIDS and other major pandemics.” In this regard, Africa is being confronted by three major challenges: first, globalization and the goal of re-establishing Africa’s position in international trade; second, the democratic process itself, which is difficult, and, above all, fragile due to wars, coups d’état, and poor governance and third, development, which is being threatened by extreme poverty, famine, and major shortages. In conclusion, we have proposed some avenues of solutions:
Raise awareness and educate the people of Africa: the continent would benefit from the campaign against illiteracy, a factor that slows democracy’s progress. In this area, the situation concerning women is particularly deplorable. Promote the emergence of a system that comes from Africa rather than copying western systems. In this respect, the notions of majority and opposition do not reflect the African practice of debate and consensus. To quote an eminent French legal scholar: “Shouldn’t we be looking for ways to share power, perhaps in the senate, with traditional forces, which remain powerful mediators?” Promote the emergence of a civil society that is educated, organized and equipped with the necessary resources for action.
Within this context, collective responsibility is required if we want to work toward a world that is more stable and just.