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

The East African - - OUTLOOK -

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.

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