Only realism can help Africa
Not to focus on negative things only is a prayer-wheel-like demand raised against reports on Africa. The German weekly Die Zeit had the courage recently to resist that. On its cover, Michael Naumann noted that "for four decades
the continent's gross domestic product has fallen by 0.2 per cent per year", and on page 2 the paper's longtime Africa correspondent Bartholomäus Grill painted a gloomy picture of African politics. To be sure, in recent decades certain achievements have been made more people have clean drinking water, infant mortality has declined. But those are successes financed by foreign aid, and as soon as that were to stop the successes would falter as well. At the same time, state authority has disintegrated in two dozen African countries, and hundreds of thousands of people have been murdered in civil wars. A self-promoted and self-sustaining development has not yet come to pass in Africa South of the Sahara (with one exception: Botswana and in Mauritius, which, however, in ethnic terms is part of Asia), and the reason is that the power structures have not changed.
More than 11 years ago, in its issue of April 1992, E+Z (the German 'parent' magazine of D+C) featured the Focus theme "A New Wind of Change in Africa". At that time, following the fall of the totalitarian systems in East Europe and the beginning of the democratisation process in South Africa, it appeared for a moment as if the time was ripe for democracy in the whole of Black Africa. But it soon turned out that while in fact there were now elections and multi-party systems, the Opposition parties were so split that they could not win any poll, and where they did (as in Benin and Zambia), a new autocrat, worse than the old one, came to power. The reason was that nothing was changed in the system of rule: all power is concentrated in the presidents' hands; the parliaments have no control function and are merely yes-men bodies. American political scientists call countries in which elections are held while the system remains an authoritarian one, "illiberal democracies". The statistics (such as those of Freedom House) show, then, growth in the number of "Free" countries, meaning democratic states. But the term "illiberal democracy" is a contradiction in terms. Democracy exists only where human and civil rights are guaranteed and the government has to account not to the president but to Parliament and the voters. The presidential regimes are the doom of African politics.
Hope for Africa is proclaimed time and again. As of late, this is to stem from NEPAD. Indeed, NEPAD's policy document pronounces the insight "that development without true democracy, respect for human rights, peace and good governance is impossible". By means of a peer review mechanism, the African countries are supposed to ensure, among each other, observance of these principles. Great. But immediately came the qualifications. As early as in October 2002, Thabo Mbeki, one of the guarantors of NEPAD, spelt it out: the peer review did not cover political issues, only economic ones (D+C 2003:1). This was taken back later, but the peer review has no prospect of realisation. By July this year, Ghana was the only African country prepared to subject itself to the process. NEPAD and the Millennium Renaissance Programme linked with it will end up like earlier big declarations of African politicians, the Lagos Plan of Action of 1980 or the Alternative Framework of 1989: they will remain pieces of paper..
It remains to observe what happens in the individual countries. When Bill Clinton made his African journey in March 1998 hope was still placed in a new generation of African leaders, such as Kagame in Rwanda and Zenawi in Ethiopia. Both later waged new wars against their neighbouring countries. Then, in March 2000, came the elections in Senegal. During the election campaign Opposition leader Wade promised to scrap the presidential regime and set up a government responsible to Parliament. Forgotten after the elections were won the present prime minister, according to his own words, strives above all "to give the will of the President better expression". (In the Freedom House statistics, Senegal counts as "Free".) In Ghana, the election that resulted in a change took place in December 2001, and here the chances for democracy appear to be somewhat greater; the Electoral and the Human Rights Commissions are independent and competent. Still, the scale of patronage in appointments is considerable. The latest and at present unrestricted hope for Africa is Kenya, where elections were held in December 2002. It is possible that civil society there has become so strong that a stable democracy can emerge. All eyes are on Kibaki and his team.
Civil society is the keyword that must now be set. The changes in Africa cannot come from above, but only from the bottom. In Kenya, a new political culture has been built up over many years, with some help from outside (such as from the German political foundations). Senegal and Ghana also have relatively strong civil societies. In many African countries that is not yet the case. Here, development cooperation must make an approach in order to contribute to the countries getting on the path to development. And if, as in Kenya, system-changing elections have taken place, it must help to stabilize the new systems so that the people sense a democracy dividend. In the case of Kenya, German development policy has reacted quickly and done the right thing. But is the Development Ministry as a whole geared up to make the promotion of democratic institutions a priority if it comes to democratic developments in other African countries?
Reinold E. Thiel