Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Democracy in Africa -- Another president for life

The BBC's Focus on Africa magazine reported on the wave of democracy that has gripped Africa in the last 14 years as well as its setbacks. The piece also noted that accountable government was not introduced to Africa by European colonials. Legendary Nigerian singer Fela Kuti wanted Africans to look to their own traditions for political development. Pre-colonial Africa had its military dictatorships, but many regimes were bound by constitutions and forms of accountability. Oyo kings were obliged to commit suicide if presented with a calabash by a delegation of elders. Ashanti princes could be dethroned. African civil society, nice and nasty, goes back much longer than today's non-governmental organisations. Authoritarian dictatorships (and repressive pseudo-democracies, for that matter) are far less authentically African than representative democracies. Though the article does underline the fundamental hurdle sub-Saharan Africa must overcome if it wants to recapture its tradition of accountable governance: politics remains too often an expensive game with the spoils of office being shared between members of the same elite wearing different political colours. Economic uncertainties chip away at idealism and new style regimes find it easier to co-opt and corrupt rather than to bludgeon their opponents.

There was little surprise in Chad where parliament approved an amendment of the constitution that could allow President Idriss Deby to seek a third term in office. No need to rant here. This seems to be an epidemic in Africa. Tunisia. Guinea. Togo. Countries wisely put term limits in their constitutions, but at the first moment those limits might come into affect, constitutions are changed due to "popular demand" (ie: the strongman's whim). Somehow, this tendency was rejected in Namibia, despite normally forceful leadership of Sam Nujoma. It seems that Namibia is one of the few places where the party (SWAPO, in this case) actually asserts its authority against the wishes of the big man.

The BBC and the Christian Science Monitor reported on the happiness at the supposedly historic peace deal between the Sudanese military regime and SPLA rebels signed last week. Though the joy surround supposed end to the two-decade long civil war was tempered by the continuing ethnic cleansing in the the eastern region of Darfur, which is not affected by the peace deal. While praising the agreement, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "Sudan will not be at peace until the problem of Darfur is resolved."

The UN's IRIN service reported that Togolese strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema followed up his call for dialogue with the opposition by jailing nine activists of the main opposition UFC party. They were accused of being involved in the destruction of a petrol station and the explosion of a handmade bomb in a French restaurant in the capital Lome.

National Public Radio did an audio piece on illegal charcoal in Kenya. The American broadcaster reported that In 1986, Kenya banned the harvesting of trees from public lands to make charcoal in an effort to slow deforestation, a major problem in the country. But the government is having a difficult time enforcing the ban in a country where more than 85 percent of the population relies on charcoal as a main source of fuel.

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