For democracy to thrive, institutions must be transparent and accountable
At a conference on democracy hosted by African Democracy Forum in partnership with Never Again Rwanda in Kigali, the South African statesman spoke to SHYAKA KANUMA on Africa and governance
There are a number of crises of governance and democracy on the continent: Coups, referendums marred by violence or intimidation of civilian populations, removal of presidential age limits, and the like. Is Africa destined to suffer issues like these forever?
Not really. On balance, the situation is a mixed one. The fact is that the majority of the countries on the continent are holding regular elections, which are by and large free and fair, but this exists side by side with instances of erratic behaviour. So there is the ever-present danger of reversals, but there are also prospects for forward movement.
However we have to be honest with ourselves and not gloss over real problems, or the enormous challenges. For instance, if you have deterioration in the quality of democracy in a country, it is a reflection in part of the deterioration of inner-party democracy.
Since political parties ask for (and get) a mandate to become custodians of the process of building, consolidating and sustaining democracy in countries, they must show commitment to ensure that there is democracy inside the party itself; that the leadership operates as a collective; that the leadership upholds the constitution of the party and therefore, when they have taken the oath of the public office they respect it.
That is the main challenge — how to get leaders to uphold their oath of office. It can only happen when institutions are strong and capable of playing as checks and balances role. That is what we have to strengthen in Africa because that is how you avoid coups, violent referendums and other erratic behaviour.
Situations like these create the impression that party leaders do not have a collective institutional memory, making you wonder how they have been working as a team.
The rule of law is not gaining much traction across Africa. Why?
Well, laws do not enforce themselves. Society needs to have checks and balances within the system, which ensure that the institutions of government are open to public scrutiny. There must be transparency about how people execute their mandate in government. We have had an instance in South Africa where a sitting head of state violated his oath of office and when parliament was supposed to take action, the majority of MPS voted to protect him.
That is a very bad example set by those legislators communicating to the public that they can bend the law in order to serve a narrow political party interest. It is critical that leaders are seen to be steadfast in their commitment to upholding ethical governance.
What about the role of civic society and why does it still appear so feeble when pitted against governments?
Again talking of South Africa, I think it was good that civil society, including members of the very party whose public representatives I mentioned before as having acted wrongfully. Actually took to the streets to express their disapproval of what the MPS did. They demanded that the president (Jacob Zuma) vacate office. And he did.
That is an example that should be emulated elsewhere. But for that to happen governments, too, have to act in utmost good faith, to accommodate the wishes of the people by allowing them space to organise.
If we get to a point where the public can rise up against blatant wrongs, then Africa is in a good space.
Is social media really a driver of democracy and beacon of hope for societies? What does social media imply for the future of democratisation?
These online group forming mechanisms have proved to be quite useful in facilitating the coming together of people who hold certain ideas about happenings in society and what is and is not acceptable.
We saw massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, others in Tunisia and elsewhere that have driven real change.
But again, if you look at Egypt today, the type of mass action that preceded the removal of president (Hosni) Mubarak gave you the impression that by now Egypt would be in a much better space and would not relapse into the type of disguised dictatorship that exists.
So it seems to me that it should not be a question of “either-or” we need to embrace social media as a mode of organisation and mobilisation. We also need the traditional ways of organising direct interaction by the masses.
While social media remains a very powerful tool, the jury is still out.
Your parting shot on democratisation?
Our fate remains in our own hands.