(en) African Summit

sage (jesse@tao.ca)
Thu, 6 Mar 1997 01:05:10 GMT

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Title: AFRICA-POLITICS: Seeking African Solutions to Governance Woes

By IPS Correspondents

GABORONE, Feb 26 (IPS) - To expect African heads of state and government who began a summit on democracy Wednesday in Botswana to come up with earth-shattering solutions might be asking a bit much.

The two-day parley in the northern resort town of Kasane is being attended by representatives of 16 African countries that belong to the 53-member Commonwealth. They are meant to explore how 'Commonwealth Africa' can live up to universal standards of democracy, according to Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku.

Their brief includes examining proposals worked out at a Feb. 24-25 preparatory meeting which, however, could hardly be said to have come up with innovative ideas even though the fact that it brought together government and opposition politicians from 16 countries was an achievement in itself..

The politicians and academics at the preparatory conference agreed to propose to the heads the establishment of constitutional frameworks and state structures that would facilitate democratic practice in their countries.

They also concluded that universal tenets such as people's right to elect their political leaders, freedom of association and freedom of expression should be entrenched in constitutions and respected.

A democratic culture should be established in their various countries, they said. The oft-repeated maxim that democracy goes beyond periodic elections was also highlighted.

''An efficient election management body and a successful election do not add up to a successful democracy,'' Anyaoko said at the prepcom. That idea was also echoed by Professor Peter Anyang N'yongo of the Kenya-based African Academy of Sciences. ''Elections do not build democracy,'' he said, ''they simply initiate the process.''

The 16 countries participating in the 'Roundtable of Commonwealth Heads of State and Government on Democracy and Good Governance in Africa' have varying records in these areas.

At one end of the scale, the 1994 elections in South Africa=7F gave that country its first democratic government following decades of institutionalised racial discrimination that disenfranchised three quarters of its people.

At the other are countries like Zambia, Swaziland, Cameroon and Kenya.

Zambia earned itself widespread criticism last year when its parliament passed a constitutional clause barring first and second generation Zambians from running for president -- an obvious attempt to sideline former president Kenneth Kaunda, whose parents were Malawians.

Swaziland's opposition and labour movement have been waging a years-long battle to get the rulers of the Southern African kingdom to unban political parties and allow direct elections.

The governments of Cameroon and Kenya have been accused by the opposition and international human rights groups of rigging elections and committing widespread human rights abuses.

Opposition politicians who participated in the preparatory meeting drew attention to other practices that inhibit democracy. Rodger Chongwe, head of the opposition Liberal Progressive Front in Zambia, bemoaned constitutional provisions that enable that country's president to nominate additional parliamentarians. This, he said, exacerbates undemocratic practices.

Zimbabwe, too, has such a provision. It allows the president to nominate 20 of the 150 parliamentarians, while another 10 are elected by a college of traditional chiefs.

The constitution of the Southern African country also limits state funding to parties that obtain at least 15 seats in parliament, a requirement that only the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) satisfies.

One of the proposals that came out of the preparatory conference was that political parties should get funding from the state ''on a basis to be agreed''.

Other countries represented at the summit are Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Tanzania and Uganda. (end/ips/mm/kb/97)

Title: AFRICA-POLITICS: Anything New From Commonwealth Mini-Summit?

By IPS Correspondents

GABORONE, Feb 28 (IPS) - As Commonwealth African leaders met this week in Botswana, in nearby Swaziland four union leaders were being freed by a court after spending 26 days in jail.

They were imprisoned for their part in a general strike the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) began four weeks ago to press for political and labour reforms in the landlocked monarchy, where political parties have been banned since 1973.

And as the 16 leaders pursued their Feb. 26-27 discussions in the northern Botswana resort town of Kasane, students in Kenya were protesting against the murder of one of their leaders, suspected to have been killed by the police in one of numerous human rights violations imputed to the Kenyan state.

But the leaders, who included Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi and a member of Swaziland's cabinet, highlighted ethnic division, poverty and under-development among hindrances to the smooth development of democracy in Africa, according to a statement issued at the end of their two-day retreat.

The meeting -- a Roundtable on Democracy and Good Governance -- did, however, include the weakness of some institutions essential to sustainable democracy among the drawbacks.

They also identified another hindrance: some non-governmental organisations (NGOs). According to the statement, the African leaders expressed concern about ''the role of those NGOs which, with foreign funding, were promoting activities detrimental to a stable democratic process''.

''We are not saying they (NGOs) are all politically undesirable,'' Botswana President Ketumile Masire said here at a press conference Thursday at which the statement was released. ''...it's those that come dressed in sheepskins.''

Neither Masire and Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku, who also addressed the press conference, identified the NGOs or the nature of their activities.

Thus few except the participants in the private discussions held in Kasane know if the offenders included groups like the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) which has been blowing the whistle on abuses in Kenya or the many NGOs which have criticised the handling of a controversial presidential election in Zambia last November.

Still, the leaders did declare their determination to work towards consolidating democracy in their countries, reaffirming their commitment to a declaration on the protection and promotion of democracy, issued at a 1991 Commonwealth Summit in Harare, Zimbabwe, according to Anyaoku.

Anyaoku reported that the nine heads of state and top government officials from seven other countries also acknowledged the importance of opposition parties as partners in ensuring democracy.

But they made no joint commitment on proposals worked out at a Feb. 24-25 preparatory conference by government representatives, opposition politicians and academics from their countries, and which were presented to the summit.

The proposals included the setting up of constitutional frameworks and state structures that would facilitate democratic practice, as well as the establishment of a democratic culture in the various Commonwealth African nations.

Anyaoku said the heads found the recommendations ''to be useful and worthy of wider debate in Africa and within the Commonwealth''. However, the meeting left it up to each government to implement the proposals, according to the Commonwealth Secretary-General.

If the preparatory meeting's submissions are implemented by governments, opposition parties would receive funding from the state which, Anyaoku said, is already the case in countries such as Malawi, the Seychelles and South Africa.

Not so in Zimbabwe, where state funding is reserved for parties which obtain at least 15 of the 120 elected seats in parliament. Only the governing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has thus far qualified.

The countries represented by their heads of state in Kasane were Botswana, Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Cameroon, Ghana, Lesotho, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland and Uganda sent top government officials -- vice-presidents, prime ministers and deputy prime ministers. Nigeria, suspended from the Commonwealth in late 1995 following the execution of nine minority rights activists, was not invited.

If the statement is anything to go by, the two-day retreat was nothing to write home about. However, the heads did not go to Kasane with the idea of coming up with a panacea for Africa's governance problems, judging from a statement made by Masire.

''It was not a meeting of perfectionists,'' he said. ''It was to check on and help progress towards democracy in our countries.'' (END/IPS/MM/KB/97)



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