“Africa, the answer lies in your own hands”
18 YEARS OF LIBERATION – 50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE
About half a century after most African countries gained independence, the problems they are still suffering from will be solved by nobody else but Africans themselves. That was the conclusion of scholars gathered for a conference on democracy and governance in Africa at the occasion of Rwanda’s 18th Liberation anniversary and golden Independence jubilee.
On the issue of democracy, the scholars noted that elections and election management in Africa are often the source of conflict, and yet they form one of the cornerstones of democracy.
“One cannot talk about good governance without talking about elections,” said Dr Chrysologue Karangwa, the former director of the National electoral Commission. “Democratic and regular elections promote the rule of law, security, stability and development. Since 2001 Rwanda has been organizing various elections in order to strengthen good governance.”
Dr Karangwa however stressed that civic and voter education are prerequisites to any successful election. “Citizens should participate in their own governance system; this made Rwanda have a turnout of 97% of the registered voters.”
Moreover, NEC’s former boss said that well prepared and conducted elections constitute the bedrock of a democratic system and good governance. “Elections are an example of human rights in practice, since they promote the rule of law and development of a democratic system,” Karangwa explained.
Successful elections should be “free and fair,” yet that is often still lacking in Africa because, as Prof Geoffrey Njeru from the Nairobi University pointed out, tribal aspects still play a big role. “Do we go to vote for competence or for tribe? The huge task is for you and me to make elections free, fair and regular. When the powerful candidates win, that’s fair. But in Kenya, some constituencies have for example 100,000 voters and only 3000 vote, so which is the proportion of the people those elected are representing. Is that really a good way? ”
Therefore he stressed that when elections are based on tribal ideology, it changes the rules of the game, because elections can only be a measure of improvement of good governance when people make liberal choices, Njeru said.
Democracy, software for development
In that way, democracy and the well-functioning institutions it is supposed to engender, constitutes the software for development. “Africans should be able to access services because it their right, not because they can afford it,” said Dr Chika Ezeanya, an American university lecturer.
She gave an example from Rwanda. “Is there any other country in Africa where you can get your company registered without bribing those in charge of process? You cannot develop with such kind of corruption, and it’s Rwanda’s democracy that makes it develop at such a rate.”
Therefore, she argued, African countries should make work of mechanisms to fight corruption, because they are too often still lacking and make their democratic environment a nightmare.
Brian Kagoro Tamuka, director of UNDP South Africa, added that this also concerns elections, where often different interests are involved. “The Kenyan election was well managed but the results were not well managed, elections have become big business. Who is benefiting? ”
Tamuka also remarked that while the road is still long, there is reason to be satisfied with the progress Africa has made. He praised for example the AU’s role in solving African. “Somalia, Angola and Kenya have benefited from AU’s assistance in solving their problems,” he said.
And if those countries are then well governed, it can sometimes lead to surprising results, as Tamuka pointed out, such as former colonial power Portugal now coming to ask Angola to help it in its economic crisis.
Getting ideas to the masses
Therefore, he concluded that Africa has to rely on itself, and be the first to take care of its problems. “No one will take us seriously if we don’t take ourselves seriously,” he said, adding that Rwanda has taught the world, through home-grown solutions such as Gacaca and Ubudehe, the importance of self-belief and self-confidence.
But leadership, institutions and the people are also important, Tamuka added. He observed that in ‘failed’ African states, people with ideas have no power and those with power want people to act in their interests. “Democracy as the software of development, in our context, is letting the powerful idea win. If Africans have to react, it’s against those using them as development tools. Africa, the answer is in your hands,” he argued.
And the scholars agreed that this applies to themselves too, and that they should play their role of generating knowledge and impacting policies. Dr Chika Ezeanya suggested that intellectuals should make more efforts to get their ideas to the masses. “We will have to use blogs and strengthen our publications mainly using the language of the indigenous. This will make Africans rise to take action. And we don’t have to copy-paste democracies, but to borrow,” he said.
And Africa can certainly borrow a leaf from Western countries, argued prof Anastase Shyaka, the CEO of the Rwanda Governance Board. “Politics is politics and love is love. I don’t believe in West doing something because they are racists, but because they are looking at their interests,” he observed. “Africans should also collaborate for their own interests. We don’t have to love each other to achieve regional integration, we need to realize that our common interests are in integration rather than disintegration.”