Time for Africa to Rid Itself of Indignity
Date: Saturday, December 18 @ 08:49:28 UTC
Topic: Africa

The Herald (Harare)
December 17, 2004

THE time has come for Africa to rid itself of the indignity of having all its elections vetted by the West, Tanzanian President Cde Benjamin Mkapa has said.

Addressing the 17th session of the plenary assembly of the Sadc Parliamentary Forum in Tanzania on Tuesday, some of the countries clamouring to observe elections in Africa denied "us democracy for many years, or were (guilty of) complicity to such denial".

"We cannot be heartily independent if we incline to subdue ourselves to the stamp of approval of foreign governments every time we go to the polls," said Cde Mkapa.

He said Africa should not tolerate disrespect and patronising or condescending attitudes towards its countries and peoples.

Political parties, even those in the opposition, should not agree to be used as conduits for such attitudes.

Democracy support organisations have been formed in the West with the express aim of financing opposition political parties in Africa.

But Cde Mkapa said such organisations could best be used to build the capacity of all registered political parties.

He said political parties and civil society should desist from being used to manipulate and destabilise the continent.

The Western media had also become judgmental in their reportage of elections in Africa.

"But to whom are these global news channels accountable? The greatest tragedy is when we Africans allow our thoughts and perspectives to be shaped and clouded by them," he said.

Cde Mkapa said Zimbabwe will always find itself in the news in Europe and America not because of its commitment to the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Elections, but for strident demonisation of President Mugabe and prejudicing the March 2005 parliamentary elections.

"Efforts at democratic governance in Africa are disparaged and presented in the worst possible light. The positive things happening in our region, such as the recent free and fair elections in Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique, are hardly mentioned," said Cde Mkapa.

He said Africa should take time to correct the negative image portrayed of it by the global television networks and newspapers.

He said Africa should learn from older democracies, but should not be misled into believing that what is preached and lectured by the West is the truth about democracy.

"We have a Swahili proverb: Avumaye baharini papa kumbe wengine wapo. (The shark may be the most famous fish in the sea, but there are many others)," he said.

Cde Mkapa said democracy was contextual and in the African context what the people freely determine passes for democracy.

"One difference is that the Western liberal democracy model puts emphasis on the individual rights. In Africa, the community comes first. And Africa will make a big mistake if it sacrifices its community approach to rights and duties, and embraces wholesale the imported individualistic approach".

"I believe passionately in democratic good governance, in legitimacy that only comes from popular will expressed freely and fairly, in participation and inclusion, and in transparency and accountability of those in power.

"But I resent, equally passionately, when democracy is imposed from above and outside, rather than being nurtured and built from the grassroots. I resent it when democracy is treated as a gospel of a few, being preached to the many. I believe that there are better ways to spread democratic values and principles."

There are people who believe that for elections in Africa to be determined free and fair, the party in power should lose, he said.

He said Tanzania fully supports the objectives of Sadc Parliamentary Forum that seek to promote parliamentary democracy and defend human and people's rights.

Cde Mkapa said the whole of Sadc viewed the forum as the nucleus of a future regional assembly that would effectively benefit the region in the formulation and implementation of development policies and programmes.

"We are equally encouraged by the constructive role that the forum has begun to play in the area of democratisation," he said.

The forum has taken an active role in the observance of elections in the region and has encouraged uniformity with mutually agreed principles and guidelines.

Member states are encouraged to learn from each other's experiences.

Cde Mkapa said before the forum was mandated to observe elections, the task was done by observers from outside Africa, mostly by people who came with other motives other than observing the elections.

The findings of these missions were often at variance with the reality of the African situation and experiences.

However, Cde Mkapa said Africa should not tolerate elections that exclude ethnic or religious groups, adding it was futile to suggest that with free and fair elections in Rwanda and Burundi, stability would come.

"In this case, it has proved that a constitution that gives all power to the winning party cannot work. In 1993, a free and fair election was held in Burundi, fully endorsed by the international community. If a free and fair election, of the Western liberal model, was all that Burundi needed, its problems should have been over. They were not over," he said.

Today Burundi is trying a new constitution that Africa has helped promulgate with parameters that take into account the realities of its historical experience and provide for more inclusive forms of politics and governance.

Angola's 1992 elections were also declared free and fair by the international community, but that country relapsed into civil war soon after.

He said if the West was serious about entrenching democracy in Africa, it should commit itself to poverty reduction and the education of its people.

Cde Mkapa said if after an election violence erupts, people should not be quick to blame the government, but should carefully study the situation.

"For in many cases, the reaction of the government, and its organs such as the police, is elicited by things done by political actors and their supporters. A local proverb is instructive: Do not blame where you fell, rather where you tripped," he said.

Multi-party politics should also not be an excuse to weaken the government's capacity to deliver. He said multi-party politics would be favourable to the people if it addresses social and economic problems.

He said the Sadc Members of Parliament had a duty to project the positive evolution of democratic institutions in Africa.

"I ask you to find ways to explain to the rest of the world, especially in Western democracies, that Sadc is a torchbearer of democracy and good governance in Africa," he said.

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