Friday, May 1, 2009

H.E. Sir Ketumile Masire, at the Consultation on the EU's Role in Democracy Building in Africa Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

source: Republic of Botswana (27/4/09) TAUTONA TIMES no 12 of 2009
The Weekly Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"


Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Let me at the outset express my sincere appreciation to the African Union Commission and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) firstly, for organizing these consultations and secondly, for inviting me to participate.

2. I would also like to express my appreciation to the government and people of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia for their generous hospitality.

3. Madam Moderator, although many of us have spent much of our lives in the exercise of shaping and re-shaping democratic practice, we are humbled by the reality that there is much we don't know and there is always space for learning and the reconstruction of our ideas on democratic practices. It is indeed this spirit of learning and the possibility of evaluating and re-shaping democracy building policy perspectives that makes this particular consultation attractive and warranting attendance. I am thus most pleased to make a few remarks to assist your reflection over the next two days.

4. Whilst I will share some reflections on the exercise of (democracy building) from an African perspective, I am aware that the interactions are directed at shaping EU policies on democracy building in Africa. I would imagine that such an exercise would best be done by understanding the African democratic context and reality. This will also help us to avoid the temptations of going into a process of African pessimism and European bashing as we engage on the details of the current EU policy orientation. This consultation is as much about African perspectives on democracy building, as it is about European Union approaches to democracy building in Africa.

5. As we engage in reflection on the challenges in the African democratic space and reality, let us not underestimate the influence of the historic relationships between Africans and Europeans and between Africa and Europe. Whilst Africa has a rich democratic history and modalities for collective decision-making evolved in different ways, we all recognize that the African historical trajectory faced a number of disruptions (Slavery, Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism).

6. These disruptions were of such a nature that often the dialogue and discourse of democracy that some are accustomed to remain foreign to many of our people. It is precisely within this space that we need to think of the responsibilities and role of the European Union in democracy building.

7. In sharing the burden of responsibility for the construction and reconstruction of the democratic process in Africa, it does stand as a reasonable request that this be done as a partnership, rooted in the history and reality of fundamental disruptions, through colonialism and neo-colonialism, of the democratic trajectory in Africa, the solution, for which, cannot lie in the promotion of certain values and particular models of democracy, no matter how good these might be. All of us must be acutely aware that democracy and values cannot be imposed and often such approaches fail to achieve the objectives they were set out to achieve.

8. Good practice for collective decision making and participation in the body politics evolves with time and through experience. We are indeed very far from a situation where we can proclaim, with certainty, that the values that are espoused at the political level are indeed shared-values that emerge from people-to-people interactions.

9. All too often, we seek to impose democratic practice through conditionality and then find ourselves struggling with the reality of opposition to such practices from ordinary people. This tension between value expectations and the realities that are experienced on the ground is indeed one of the central African challenges we face. Many of us know that the imposition of particular democracy building solutions have unintended consequences, resulting often in the loss of life and deep conflict.

10. It is indeed for this reason that we need to think differently, creatively and courageously when reflecting on democracy challenges in Africa and introducing supportive interventions to make things better. Otherwise, we might think that we are contributing to improved democratic practices, but might, actually be contributing to practices that give rise to war, genocide, poverty and state collapse.

11. I am hopeful that, if anything, the more recent difficulties that we experienced in Africa would serve to help our thinking when demands are made that we act in accordance with values deemed universal. Whilst many of us might admire the values that have evolved within the European community, the realities we face suggest that we always have to be mindful that these values can and often do become the basis for conflict and deep confrontation for political power.

12. A further and more significant challenge in Africa is the link that is established between development and democracy. I am certain that we are all aware that democracy and development are mutually re-enforcing. However, in practice we find that many often overstate the value of particular models of democracy without any careful reflection of the relevance of such approaches in face of particular developmental realities.

13. In the face of such strategies, it should not be a surprise that people become disillusioned with the democratic practices we promote and search for alternatives that would result in improvements in their living conditions. A fixation, for example, on national electoral practices without considerations of broader democratic practices in the economy and social sphere creates scepticism.

14. There is much in the African experience that suggests that a broader view of democracy building that encompasses social dynamics is not only necessary, but absolutely essential for any of the policy perspectives that we are seeking to establish.

15. As we should not be naive to the significance of Africa to the world, we cannot also be naive to the positive developments that have been attained over the past decade. We have and continue to witness a level of commitment, to shared values and democracy building that we have not witnessed before. Through collective action, at the level of the African Union, regional organisations and individual action at the level of Member States, we stand witness to a visible shift towards democratic governance and the application of relevant declarations on human rights.

16. Even before the end of the Apartheid system in South Africa and the Cold War, we were witnessing the shift towards democratic governance and its spread across the Continent, albeit slowly and unevenly, but undeniably a march forward. Most African states have introduced constitutional guarantees, with provisions for periodic elections and mechanisms for the effective transfer of power and the renewal of leadership. Effective electoral processes and more inclusive political systems are common phenomena.

17. Whilst democracy and governance take many different forms, the change in Africa is likely to be permanent. The democratic aspirations of the African people are firmly implanted in the popular consciousness and civil society involvement in important national and regional issues which has become an integral part of the African political landscape.

18. Today, more Africans live under democratic rule compared to the situation in the early 1980s. The number of significant elections held over the past decade in the continent is tangible testimony to Africa's steady march towards democratisation. Although setbacks are experienced occasionally, the numbers of civil conflicts within states are much less compared to the situation a decade ago.

19. It is imperative for us to recognise the significance of context, Africa specific challenges and the path established into the future cannot be done in isolation and with naive notions of African ownership alone. We are compelled to recognize that we live in a time and a world where the democracy and governance values that we espouse are intertwined with the values and rights of all others in the Continent and across the globe; a time when expressions of autonomy and freedom are best exercised within a framework of commonly shared values and principles.

20. We also recognise that the very idea of shared values embodies within it the complexities of balancing universality with the particularities of individual cultures.

21. In the midst of our struggle to define and redefine responsibility and action between Africans and Europeans, I am sure that we all recognize that in spite of our struggles, there is a widespread sentiment that our destinies are shared and interdependent. Africa cannot prosper without Europe and Europe cannot fully prosper unless Africa prospers. Whilst our interactions with the European Union need to be guided by a sense of mutual responsibility and partnership for the realities that are faced in Africa, we cannot lose sight of the broader value of such interactions.

22. A broadening of perspectives allows us to recognize that the European Union has and continues to provide significant support for Africa's Democracy Building efforts. Even if the assistance provided was not always what we wanted and did not lead to the results that we were hoping for, such assistance is often provided with the best of intentions and a sense of mutual responsibility.

23. We cannot afford to continue a path of looking at our relationship with the EU in a negative manner and allow ourselves to fixate on the devastation caused by colonialism. We cannot also in our policy perspectives and propositions focus undue attention only on the negative consequences of EU trade policies to Africa, the confused policy interactions that often define engagements between the EU and Africa and the propensity towards domination and control that often defines EU-Africa relationships.

24. Whilst these are all important, and I am certain will feature in the dialogue, it is also necessary that we take a broader view of the world and appreciate that there is much that we can learn and much greater value that we can derive from mutually respectful relationships globally.

25. Whilst we continue to struggle in establishing appropriate trade relationships in Africa and foster regional integration, we must recognise the achievements that Europe made in this area in their time. Out of the destruction of the Second World War and a history of dictatorial role, Europe managed to integrate and establish an effective Commission to drive forward its integration agenda. Many of us stand in admiration to what has been achieved thus far and often, despite our sentiments about our own progress; wish that many of the changes and developments could be replicated in our context.

26. As we reflect on the path for a more effective partnership and the most appropriate EU policies on Democracy Building in Africa, it would seem to me that the most pressing challenge for this consultation is how to construct a bridge between the African context and the aspirations embodied in the democracy building exercise. Of particular importance in this respect, would be the relationships that we construct between democracy and culture, and between development and democracy. Whilst we are unlikely to reach firm perspectives on these, it would indeed be essential to recognise the contradictions that are experienced in the policy perspectives that are articulated by the EU.

27. To be effective, the policy perspective that should be articulated must be rooted in a vision of the future we are all seeking. It would indeed be a time for celebration when African engagements with the EU are no longer dominantly defined by the politics of aid and are defined by mutuality, coexistence and respect.

28. In constructing such a vision, it would also be conceivable that we could witness a situation wherein Africa's economic value and political position become basis for negotiating mutually acceptable and beneficial policy propositions; time when democratic practice and effective participation, becomes a part of the overall political culture and an essential value in all sectors of African society. Such that we stand as an example to the entire world and are able to proudly proclaim a model of development built on sustained and deeper forms of democratic practice.

29. It would indeed be a great time when Africa's development serves as a foundation for assisting Europe with some of the challenges it is faced with, such as the need to re-engineer and rejuvenate its socio-economic programmes and policies. It would indeed be a great time when we have more to share than just our mineral wealth and wonderful weather.

30. Such visions of the future become all the more realistic if we place our feet firmly on the ground and focus our attention on taking responsibility for Africa's democracy building challenges, within a framework of mutuality and reciprocity for all regions and peoples of the world.

31. In placing the broad parameters of a vision for Africa's development, allow me again to reiterate what I have articulated in the opening. The EU policy on Democracy Building is as much about the EU as it is about Africa's ability to articulate its own views and strategies in the democratic building process. If we fail to articulate the view of our people, we only have ourselves to blame and invariably would become recipients to policies that are not relevant to our context. It is thus my sincere hope that the Africans present at these consultations would engage on all of the issues with the rigor and passion required.

32. Whilst I am unable to join you for all of the proceedings, I will remain eager to read the outcomes of the deliberations and would look carefully on how these serve to influence the overall direction of EU policies on democracy building in Africa. Let me again express my gratitude to all of you for this opportunity and to the AU Commission and International IDEA for conceiving and organizing this consultation and to the Government of Sweden for deciding to use these consultations to inform their position regarding democracy building as they take over the EU Presidency later this year.

33. I thank you and wish you well with the rest of the proceedings.

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